Small Poll of Native Americans Says Washington NFL Team’s Name Isn’t Offensive, Activists Disagree

By Kenrya Rankin May 23, 2016

The battle to strip the Washington NFL Team of its name, which is widely described as a slur against Native Americans, has waged for decades. Now The Washington Post has released a poll that team leadership is embracing as vindication for continuing to use the name.

Results from the 504-person poll were released on Thursday (May 19). Overall, it found that nine in 10 Native Americans surveyed said they were not offended by the term when asked the following question: “The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive, or doesn’t it bother you?”

Unexpectedly, the team touted the results. “The Washington Redskins team, our fans and community have always believed our name represents honor, respect and pride,” owner Dan Snyder said in a statement. “Today’s Washington Post polling shows Native Americans agree. We are gratified by this overwhelming support from the Native American community, and the team will proudly carry the Redskins name.”

But activists quickly reminded supporters and detractors alike that the nation has a long history with the word in question that extends far beyond a small poll.

“To start with, here’s what’s objective fact: Every major tribal organization in America, over 100, have come out and supported changing the name. They represent Native Americans across the country,” Joel Barkin, spokesman for the Oneida Nation and the Change The Mascot campaign, told ThinkProgress. “And it is a dictionary-defined slur. So, what are we going to do now, change the definition because of a 500-person survey? What are we really talking about?”

Change the Mascot campaign leaders also issued a statement in reaction to the poll: “Native Americans are resilient and have not allowed the NFL’s decades-long denigration of us to define our own self-image,” wrote Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter and National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jacqueline Pata. “However, that proud resilience does not give the NFL a license to continue marketing, promoting, and profiting off of a dictionary-defined racial slur—one that tells people outside of our community to view us as mascots.”

Dr. Adrienne Keene placed the team’s response to the poll into further context via an essay on her website, Native Appropriations:

This is just an investment in White supremacy, plain and simple. It is an attempt to justify racism, justify the continued marginalization of Native peoples, justify divide-and-conquer techniques that are pitting Native people against one another. It devalues Native voices, stories, and experiences. These mascots do not honor us. They are disparaging, stereotypical, and harmful to the psychological well being of our youth. They honor a mythic past that erases our current existence. We’ve been fighting this since the 1970s. This is not a new fight. We just want respect as human beings, not consensus as to whether or not a mascot is “offensive.” Today’s Native peoples are the survivors, the resistors, and are vibrant, diverse, contemporary human beings who deserve to be treated as such.

Read more about how The Washington Post conducted the survey here.