What’s In A (Native American) Name?

October 31st, 2013

Over the last few centuries, I watched Earthlings from Europe conquer and settle the lands now called North and South America. The humans already living there were killed, enslaved, or at the very least, displaced and restricted. In more recent times, some European American-centered sports leagues took to using Native peoples’-inspired names as their own team names. And over the last few decades, these names have come under scrutiny. Many United States Earthlings say that such team names as “Indians”, “Fighting Sioux”, and “Redskins” caricaturize the indigenous people, and so are offensive.

Notable in Unites States’ history have been episodes resulting from its make-up of hyper-sensitive non-Native humans. Tensions around issues of race, sex, and other distinctions are heightened as compared to other places on Earth. This naming issue seems another episode where this sensitivity is channeled. As a group, European-American humans are more bothered by the offensive name than those from whom the label is taken. And as such, it offers an irony.

North Dakota’s hockey team has long been known as the Fighting Sioux. This was deemed inappropriate by a collegiate governing body. Local indigenous humans, however, speak out in favor of keeping the name. They have for years. No matter. Thus, I witness a federal body demanding that the Native humans lose that which want to keep.

The Fighting Sioux logo

Having their mascot namesake removed rather than, say, their physical property, land, or lives is a positive development, but it’s nonetheless interesting to note how the can of dominance seems to continue being kicked down the sidewalk in the United States of America.

Today, there’s a lot of media coverage on the United States pro football team, the Washington Redskins. In this case, the concern from non-Native Americans compared to the ambivalence of the Native American themselves is even more egregious. Many in media have openly declared the name wrong. The governing president of the United States of America has even spoken out about it. But the most important humans to ask–those addressed in the name–aren’t bothered by the name “Redskins”. At least 10 years ago they weren’t. In a 2004 study, only 10% of indigenous American humans found the name offensive. The overwhelming majority thought it was fine.

What motivates the United States Earthlings to call for a ban on Native American names if it’s not the wishes of the Native Americans themselves? I seem to be witnessing ulterior motivations spurred on by either an obsession to squash all that resembles (to them) racism or simply an acknowledgement that the names are wrong whether the Native American population speaks out against it or not.

One Native American offers this as their take:

“Indians on reservations have more important issues to worry about. Like diabetes, how we get our next meal, crime on reservations, lack of electricity, lack of toilets, lack of running water, no heat when there’s snow outside, getting a relative to a dialysis clinic when there is no transport, finding a job when there’s near 100% unemployment, near 100% consideration of suicide among our youth, alcoholism, drug abuse, elder abuse, spouse abuse, land loss, culture loss, language loss, etc. Mascots are a NON-ISSUE to us.

…media should be screaming about the real issues. Instead their main focus is on mascots. The focus on mascots and meaningless debates about redskins detract attention from the REAL issues…”

Indeed, this athletic team naming issue is by far the loudest I’ve seen in a long time where concern for Native Americans has arisen from non-Native American humans. It’s interesting, because there’s so much I’d think they ought to be concerned about. Perhaps the conditions on Reservations don’t offend non-Native American humans because it doesn’t encroach on their world. Sports, however, does set off alarms, so suddenly non-Native Americans voice concern for the Native Americans. If nothing else, this continues to speak to the exaggerated place sports plays in the lives of many Earthlings.

As odd as it is, the truth seems to be that labeling one’s team a potentially offensive name is much more important than the actual lives of those who the name is allegedly offensive toward.




What say you?