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A Native American woman attends a protest at Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House on July 4 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Probal Rashid/LightRocket via Getty Images)

'A Change That Should Have Been Made a Long Time Ago': After 87 Years, Washington's NFL Team Drops Racist Name

"This is the result of decades of Native activism, mostly led by Native women."

Eoin Higgins

Indigenous leaders across the U.S. celebrated Monday as Washington, D.C.'s football team dropped the racial slur that was its name for nearly nine decades. 

"The NFL and Dan Snyder have finally made the right call and Change the Mascot commends them for it," Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation Representative and head of the Change the Mascot campaign, said in a statement (pdf).

"This is a good decision for the country—not just Native peoples—since it closes a painful chapter of denigration and disrespect toward Native Americans and other people of color," added Halbritter. "Future generations of Native youth will no longer be subjected to this offensive and harmful slur every Sunday during football season."

The decision by team owner Dan Snyder to change the name of the team came after years of pressure from Native leaders. 

"This is the result of decades of Native activism, mostly led by native women," tweeted Cherokee journalist Rebecca Nagle.

In a statement reacting to the news, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), with Rep. Sharice Davis (D-Kan.) in 2018 one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, said it was long overdue.

"With decades of work by organizers and activists, public outcry, a moment reckoning with our country's racist past, and corporate sponsors willing to put more pressure on the Washington NFL team's management to do the right thing, we made this change together," said Haaland. "A change that should have been made a long time ago." 

Navajo activist Amanda Blackhorse, who has been fighting the Washington team for years, said in a statement celebrating the long-overdue decision that it was a "truly monumental day."

"It's been a massive undertaking to push the Washington team to retire their name and logo," said Blackhorse. "So many sacrifices have been made by Indigenous people in challenging the NFL and the Washington team franchise."

Still, Blackhorse has concerns over how the name change will take effect. 

"As much as I want to celebrate this day, I am concerned with the Washington team's lack of clarity around their rebrand," she said.

While the team remains silent on the details of the change, dropping the name itself is "a historic win for Native Americans fighting to humanize ourselves as living people in the 21st century," Brett Chapman, a Native American rights attorney of Ponca, Pawnee, and Kiowa ancestry, told Common Dreams.  

"We are still here and we are a part of this society," Chapman said. "We are entitled to the same respect and honor as your fellow countrymen. Being reduced to caricatures and stereotypes for entertainment does not honor us and today that message has been sent."

Chapman drew a line between Indigenous rights activism and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that exploded in May and June, noting the solidarity between the two movements.

"All the credit for this victory goes to those Native Americans first who have been advocating this change for decades and George Floyd, whose murder ignited this historic movement against racist iconography led by people of all backgrounds who support Black Lives Matter," said Chapman.

Activist Bree Newsome made a similar connection, noting that the name change came after economic pressure from companies tied to the franchise.

"When corporations like FedEx threatened to pull their sponsorship, it suddenly became possible for Washington's NFL team to change its name," Newsome tweeted. "This is what I'm saying. $$$ is the only language the owner class understands. There has to be strategic, economic disruption."

Indigenous activists made clear that while the Washington team was one of the most prominent of offensive mascots, there are still many more to be addressed around the country. 

"Tomorrow, our fight continues," said Crystal Echo Hawk, a member of the Pawnee Nation and executive director of IllumiNative. "We will not rest until the offensive use of Native imagery, logos, and names are eradicated from professional, collegiate, and K-12 sports. The time is now to stand in solidarity and declare that racism will not be tolerated."

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