Jeff Harrel in Native Condition. Discussion »
Even Webster calls it offensive.
Look up the term "redskin" in Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary and you will find this definition on page 987:
"American Indian -- taken to be offensive."
Plain and simple in six unabridged words separated by a dash. Apparently Webster had too much on his plate defining the rest of the English language to define "redskin" in historical terms.
Apparently Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder is too enamored with good-old-days highlight reels of Sonny Jurgensen and John Riggins to distinguish between a game and offending this country's first Americans every time a NFL broadcaster mentions his team's name.
So, allow me -- the grandson of a full-blood Oglala Lakota grandmother born at the Pine Ridge Agency in South Dakota a couple of years before the Wounded Knee massacre, and the son of a part Irish, part Indian father raised in the spirit of Crazy Horse to respect the four sacred.
Native directions at the altar of Grandmother Earth.
The term "redskin" referred to my ancestors' scalps and body parts turned in by white bounty hunters who were paid for showing the red skin during the 19th Century.
In 1897, a Los Angeles Herald headline screamed: "VALUE OF AN INDIAN SCALP: Minnesota Paid Its Pioneers a Bounty for Every Redskin Killed."
That headline wouldn't make it past an editor's keyboard today for the same reason it shouldn't take an Indian to read Webster's six-word definition as a universal understatement.
After learning about the Holocaust, it's too close to stories of skins of Jews used by Nazis for lampshades, soaps and other gruesome items during Hitler's Third Reich for my Indian blood.
But try explaining that to a Washington Redskins fan, or to just about any football fan for that matter.
Their justifications are universal in historic ignorance and misguided understanding.
Take the one where, supposedly, most Native Americans aren't offended.
Most probably aren't. But modern Indians living on reservations in Third World conditions where the unemployment rate averages 70 percent and income levels fall below Haiti's are faced with far more important concerns than the trivial name of a football team -- like, surviving the Pine Ridge Reservation and its average life span of 47 years.
Or this: If the Washington team change their name, the politically correct police will force the Florida State Seminoles, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, even the Minnesota Vikings and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, to change theirs, too.
Florida State University has the approval of the Seminole Tribe. The terms "brave" and "chief" are white man's terms -- Indians have warriors, leaders and elders. The Cleveland Indians have shown sensitivity to the issue by toning down their clownish mascot. And if Notre Dame's priests aren't complaining, why should anybody?
The Vikings? Really?
And, of course, there's the justification that the Redskins "honor" Native Americans with their name, a justification proudly put forth by Snyder himself that is so profoundly insulting, insults are insulted.
Snyder has vowed not to change the name "ever," a hearty stance for a guy obviously blind to his team's history of being the last NFL franchise to field a black player, Bobby Mitchell in 1962. And that was only after then- Redskins owner George Preston Marshall was pressured to integrate the team by The Washington Post and the federal government.
"You want to honor us?" I reasoned to a black Washington Redskins fan at a friend's retirement party here in South Bend a couple of months back.
"Give us our land back."
Then I posed this scenario to him and members of his African-American family -- all also admittedly R-word fans, and all, I figured, would understand better than anybody what it feels like to have a heritage mocked.
Say the team's name is the Washington Blackskins. When they score a touchdown, their mascot Little Black Sambo does a celebratory tap dance in the end zone as the fans proudly serenade the stadium with "Hail to the Blackskins."
That hypothetical drew chuckles at first.
"How would you feel, then?" I asked.
They stared at me with blank looks.
At least Webster got how we Indians feel.
Editor's Note: Jeff Harrell, Lakota, is a reporter for The South Bend Tribune where this first appeared. It is being republished in the Native News Network with permission.
posted October 29, 2013 6:00 am edt