Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Erasing the Redskins

My father served on the Rib Lake School Board for sixteen years. One of the mascot name changing waves occurred during his tenure. Rib Lake athletes compete as the Redmen. Uniforms display a warrior in a head dress.

The school polled the student body and the community. I don't recall the results of the poll. What I do remember is the letter written to the School Board from the only Native American to graduate from Rib Lake High School.

The gentleman asked the Board to stand proudly behind the mascot. He didn't find it disparaging, rather he took pride in it. What most stuck with me was his assertion that if they changed the mascot, it would be one more step toward erasing his culture from the collective memory.

Some get indignant when told that redskin is not a racist term. Those people don't realize that Native Americans were the first to coin that term, though in French, peau-rogue. The term was later translated into English and never in history meant collected scalps.

Suzan Harjo, one of the plaintiffs in a case against the NFL, has long held that as the origin of the word without written proof.

Of course, these days no one needs something as silly as evidence to get all fired up. You don't need to know that the Washington football franchise started in Boston, then known as the Braves. Or that Lone Star Dietz, a Native American, was the first person to coach the Boston Redskins after the name change.

A quick search indicates the the leading choice is the Washington Redtails. That's a nod to the Tuskegee Airmen. I could go on about how it isn't really any different to cheer for black Americans and Haitians than it is to cheer for red Americans. But instead I'll just sign off by saying that if Redskins offend you but Redtails don't, you may be a racist.