Buoyed by thousands of protesters from Minnesota and at least 10 other states who converged on TCF Stadium on Sunday, activists determined to retire the Washington Redskins nickname vowed to take their campaign to every remaining Washington NFL game this season.
David Glass, president of the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, said protesters will continue to escalate pressure on the NFL football team, sending activists and banners to demonstrate at the team’s home and away games.
Washington owner Daniel Snyder has been adamant that he will not drop the team’s name, despite the growing pressure from American Indians, civil rights organizations and politicians who call the term racist and offensive.
In an e-mail Sunday, a team spokesman said that he would have no comment on the demonstration.
Fans standing in line to get into the stadium seemed more interested in football than the substance of the protest. “I don’t see the issue, but in today’s political correct world, the name is bound to change,” said Chris Wiley, 31, a landscape artist from Pennsylvania and a Washington fan, who flew in to attend the game.
Minneapolis police inspector Kathy Waite of the 2nd Precinct put Sunday’s protest crowd at 3,200, while organizers said the number exceeded 5,000. Either way it was the nation’s largest protest against the Redskins’ nickname.
Police Lt. Gary Nelson said there were no incidents or arrests.
While the demonstration brought out protesters from a variety of backgrounds, there was a large turnout of Indians, both from the Twin Cities and from reservations across the region, some of which sent buses filled with tribe members.
“It’s a good day to be indigenous,” declared Amanda Blackhorse, a member of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, whose lawsuit led the U.S. Patent Office to revoke the Redskins’ trademark in June on the basis that the nickname disparages Indians. Blackhorse surveyed the crowd and added, “I’m so glad to be here with you today. Minnesota Natives don’t mess around.”
Standing on a raised platform, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges led the throng in a loud chant of “Change the Name,” a slogan repeated throughout the day. Said Hodges, “I have a message to the Washington team: The clock is ticking on your name … it is more than an insult. It’s hate.”
Former Gov. Jesse Ventura told the demonstrators, “You don’t make a name out of genocide,” and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum said protesters were sending a message to team owner Snyder: “You are on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of human rights.” State Rep. Susan Allen, the first American Indian woman elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives, introduced the speakers.
Ray Halbritter, the chief executive of the Oneida Nation in New York state, which has been prominent nationally in its opposition to the nickname, told the crowd, “It’s important to remember the history of this word. This is a word screamed at our ancestors as they were dragged at gunpoint off their lands.”
Holding signs, children and banners, the protesters met on the University of Minnesota’s Northrop Plaza to pray and listen to speeches by tribal leaders, former Vikings star Joey Browner and Spike Moss, a representative from the Minneapolis NAACP and longtime civil rights activist.
“People wear Indian headdresses and makeup and think it’s funny,” said Lily Ross, 54, who arrived on a bus from the Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Shakopee. “Our culture is no joke.” She said her grandmother marched in the suffrage movement to win women the right to vote. “Our society changes because of people marching, of people standing up,” she said.
Not all in agreement
The march pushed off, led by young Indians in a pickup truck, pounding of a drum, and a long banner carried by women that read “No honor in racist names or imagery,” a reference to Snyder’s comment that the nickname honors American Indians.
At the head of the march and carrying a bullhorn was American Indian Movement leader and co-founder Clyde Bellecourt. Asked how he felt, Bellecourt, 78, grinned. “If I felt any better there would have to be two of me,” he said.
The marchers swung onto University Avenue, with a dozen flag-carrying American Indian U.S. veterans near the front of the procession, members of the White Earth Veterans honor guard. The march took less than a half-hour.
Outside the stadium, Paul Spies, 48, was sporting a Vikings sweatshirt, but was there to cheer on the demonstrators. “I bleed purple but reject racism,” he said.
At the same time, Nick Hjelden, a Vikings fan and Chippewa tribal member from North Dakota, called the protest “ridiculous,” adding, “I don’t find [the name] to be offensive. Everyone finds anything offensive these days.”
Among Indians present Sunday, he was clearly in the minority. Joseph Anchondo drove with his 2½-year-old son and his fiancé from Devils Lake, N.D. David Snowball drove with friend Kristi Sheldon from Waukon Junction, Iowa. Carla Cheyenne, husband Thomas and their son, Jeremy, 7, traveled from Pine Ridge, S.D., to be part of the protest.
Energized by social media and supported by reservation tribal councils, protesters came from at least 10 states in addition to Minnesota, including Kentucky, Indiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, Iowa, Wisconsin, New York and Arizona.
“We will not stop until that name is changed and we will never give up,” said Melanie Benjamin, chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians in east-central Minnesota. “We have children who want what every American kid wants — to grow up and be proud of who they are — and proud of their heritage. We are not mascots.”