This week, Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Donald Trump declared they have no problem with the Washington “Redskins” name, and that it should be kept as the team’s official nickname. The Lakota People’s Law project believes that this nickname and other use of Natives as mascots are disrespectful to Indians and trivialize important elements of their rich cultural heritage.
When asked about his opinion of the moniker, Trump declared that he knows, “Indians that are extremely proud of that name, they think it’s a positive.” However, he was unable to specifically identify any Native friends that actually did support the name.
Trump has a poor record when it comes to fair representation of Native peoples. In 2000, he funded a smear campaign against the St. Regis Mohawk tribe of New York as a response to their planned casino that would have rivaled his own. Earlier, in 1993, he testified before the House Subcommittee of Indian Affairs that the Mashantucket Pequot Nation was a fabricated group, and that they did not “look like Indians” to him. Trump cannot be trusted to authentically speak for Native Americans.
Bush offers no improvement. When asked his beliefs on the Washington Redskins in a Sirius XM interview, he replied, “I don’t find it offensive. Native American tribes generally don’t find it offensive.”
Unsurprisingly, these two white men are not offended by a dictionary defined racial slur pertaining to Natives. However, various groups and organizations collectively representing 1.5 million Native Americans have called for the team to change its name and mascot.
A spokesman for the anti-Redskins campaign Change the Name released a statement, saying, “What is surprising is that in promoting the use of this slur, (Bush) somehow believes he speaks for Native Americans and can assert that Native American people do not find this slur offensive. He clearly is missing something. What is even more appalling is the governor’s declaration that because he personally doesn’t find this slur offensive, that makes it acceptable.”
Native Americans are a historically underrepresented group in American Politics, which makes them an easy target for politicians and entertainers. Some politicians however, like Republican representative from Oklahoma Tom Cole, an enrolled member of the Chickasaw nation, agree that the mascot is offensive.
“Come on. This is the 21st century … It is very, very, very offensive. This isn’t like warriors or chiefs,” said Cole. “It’s not a term of respect, and it’s needlessly offensive to a large part of our population. They just don’t happen to live around Washington, D.C.”
Congressman Cole brings up an important point: Native Americans are often marginalized and disenfranchised in the United States, as a result of the mistaken belief that they are all ‘gone’ or living on dusty, windswept reservations in the middle of nowhere. This expressly racist perspective forwarded by men who are running for the highest office in this nation only further cements this misperception and actually compounds it.
The truth is that Native Americans are an essential part of the American fabric, and in pop culture and beyond, they deserve to be represented in a way that reflects dignity and pride, not characterized by a racist joke from the 18th century.
The Lakota People’s Law Project does not take positions on political campaigns, but we urge our followers to keep Native American issues in the topmost of their priorities when casting votes in any political election.