MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A coalition of tribal governments, Native American activists and supporters of the native community rallied Thursday afternoon to urge the Washington Redskins to drop their team name and mascot.
Participants first gathered for the “Not Your Mascot” march at Peavey Field Park earlier in the afternoon, before they started to march at about 4:30 p.m. down Park Avenue, ending at The Commons near U.S. Bank Stadium.
“We hope it’s something that, you know, [Washington team owner Dan Snyder] opens his ears and opens his heart and hears our voices at some point and has that discussion with us, sits down with us and starts the dialogue,” said David Glass of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe.”
This wouldn’t be the first time there’s been a protest in Minnesota over the Washington team name. Back in 2014, thousands gathered outside TCF Bank Stadium.
“Five years ago, we gathered outside TCF Bank Stadium to encourage the retirement of the Washington NFL team name,” Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin said. “Since then, nothing has changed. The Washington NFL team still unapologetically uses the worst Native American racial epithet.”
The rally included speeches from a number of politicians, including Representative Betty McCollum, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, and State Representatives Mary Kunesh-Podein and Jamie Becker-Finn.
“The name is not positive or respectful. It is the very opposite, and instead encourages a dangerous caricature of what it means to be Native American,” Clyde Bellecourt, founder and national director of the American Indian Movement and cofounder of NCARSM. “It is time to change the name. There is no honor in racism.”
Chad Germann, owner of Twin Cities ad agency Red Circle, produced an ad pointing out the hypocrisy in the “Redskins” name back in 2014, which received national attention.
For 2019, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe member produced a new spot, showing a little girl sitting with a woman reading a book. The two ask a smart speaker to define words like “cooperate” and “merch” before asking what “redskin” means. The commercial ends with the smart speaker saying “redskin, the scalp of a dead native American collected by government bounty hunters and sold for $50 cash,” along with the shocked reaction by the girl and woman.
“People aren’t afraid to speak up anymore. They’re not afraid to stand their ground and do what’s right,” said Shelley Buck of the Prairie Island Indian Community. “So I think now it’s going to change, it’s going to be different. We have people on our side who are in a higher position of power, and I think we’re going to get something done.”
On Thursday morning, the Vikings released a statement regarding the issue:
The Minnesota Vikings recognize the sensitivity of this issue. Minnesota has a significant Native American population and our franchise has strong, positive relationships with several tribal nations and Native American leaders within the state.
We have maintained an ongoing and respectful dialogue with the Native American community, as well as with other state leaders, on this matter and continue to participate in conversations regarding tonight’s game.
In terms of in-game elements, we are obligated as a member of the NFL to operate and market the game as we would any other Vikings home game.
We respect and support our local community voices having an opportunity to be heard. As with all of our games, our primary focus will be on providing a positive game day experience for Vikings fans. We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure that successful game experience.
Prior to games, the Vikings release weekly illustrations that usually include the other team’s mascot. On Thursday, however, the team chose a more Halloween-themed angle and did not include the Washington nickname or logo.
Team owner Dan Snyder has said in interviews over the years he will never change the Redskins name. In an interview last year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league would not pressure the team to change it.
Organizers say they hold these rallies across the country, and they’ve had some change over the years. They say 3,000 colleges and high schools have actually changed their names.