Redskins: Words matter

“If I were the owner of the team and I knew there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.” U.S. President Barack Obama.

We live in an era where cultural misrepresentation is rampant. Over the years, I’ve been subjected to various claims of tribal affiliation by some of my fellow artists and writers. Then there were others who just wrote unpleasant words about Native Americans

Some things change, some things remain, like the Redskins name.

Linguists and historians can offer concise historical perspectives showing that the word “redskin” has benign origins — that, historically, it wasn’t intended or used as a slur. A professional football team owner might even use their analysis to validate to justify his team’s name to those who find the term offensive, which is unfortunate.

Is the Redskins name a priority in Meskwaki affairs? No. To me, feeding tribal children, elders, and veterans is more important. Having said that, I will share thoughts from my heart, ne te e ki-otti.

Myself, I only want to be referred to as a Meskwaki or Native American, not a Redskin. Truth be told, I’ve never known nor met a tribal member who openly wanted to be known as a Redskin.

So who speaks for tribal members here? It could be the Hereditary Chief or the Tribal Council. In the end, though, it’s really the Meskwaki electorate. If this contentious Redskins topic ever came to a vote, I would hope this community endorses the National Congress of American Indians, President Barack Obama, Ms. Hillary Clinton, 50 Capitol Hill lawmakers and others who support the football team’s name-change.

Regardless of its origins, the word “redskin” evolved over time to become a negative term. The linguistic past is insignificant when marketability of the Washington Redskins trademark is the bottom line, which, according to Forbes, was $381 million in 2012.

From what I’ve seen, money can and will oft-influence decisions that are at issue in American society. As such, one can only pray for the best outcome when a decision is rendered on the use of the name “Redskins.”

As a bilingual writer, I’ve learned after forty plus years of publishing that words can go a long ways. Not only do they enlighten, they just as quickly can be misinterpreted. In today’s social media and the Internet, this process is faster. In sharing my thoughts amid this technological change, the Redskins tide could now roll my way. Be that as it may, all I can say is: I continue to live, write, and learn at sixty-three years of age.

Yes, according to my late grandmother, our tribal name reflects our tribal beginnings, a time when we were sculpted from the ochre-colored soil by God. But that has nothing to do with the color of my skin tissue.

In my humble opinion.

• Ray Young Bear is a Meskwaki tribal member and author. Comments: blackeagle@iowatelecom.net.

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