“The State reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory.
This sum is more than the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth.”
That was the news out of Winona, Minn., on Thursday, Sept. 24, 1863, according to the hometown paper.
A century and a half of Thursdays later, it was game day a few hundred miles southeast of the Red River. The news outside U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis was that the visiting football team still thinks a racist slur — one that refers to bleeding hunks of flesh carved from murdered men, women and children in Minnesota — makes for a fun nickname.
“Why don’t you guys just get over it?” a colleague asked Mary Kunesh-Podein as she was heading to the protest.
“I just about lost it on him,” said Kunesh-Podein, a teacher, state representative and Standing Rock Lakota descendant.
You don’t get over racism and genocide. You get on with the work of making America better than it’s been.
And America can do better than an ethnic slur on a football jersey.
“The term — it’s hard for me to say,” said Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, who had to explain the R-word to her 6 ½-year-old daughter the other day. “This is just part of the work we need to do to ensure that people see us as contemporary people. When you use stereotypes, or you degrade and dehumanize indigenous people, you don’t need to deal with us or our issues.”
It’s not like it’s hard to change a team mascot into something everyone can cheer.
Most Minnesota schools figured out how to do it decades ago.
St. Mary’s University in Winona dropped “Red Men” as its team nickname in 1988 — the same year the state board of education denounced the use of American Indian team mascots and imagery as “offensive” and “unacceptable.” SMU roots for the Cardinals now. Go, Cardinals.
The Monticello High School Redmen became the Magic. Go, Magic. The Centennial Chiefs became the Cougars. Go Cougars.
Dan Snyder, owner of the visiting football team, has stated repeatedly that he will never — “NEVER” — give his team a name that’s fit to print in a family newspaper.
Which is a shame, because all the man needs to do is change the name to the Washington Red Tapes, a name that celebrates the history, heritage and ferocious bureaucracy of the District of Columbia. The adhesive new mascot would be a real crowd-pleaser.
While the Vikings were curb-stomping his team last Thursday, Snyder could have spent the time researching better team names. Minnesota has the best team names. The Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms. The Roosevelt Teddies. The Sauk Centre Mainstreeters. The Moorhead Spuds.
Instead, he made a month that’s already a rough slog — from the Columbus Day federal holiday to the dubious costume choices of Halloween — that much harder for American Indians.
“Our kids are surrounded by caricatures and disrespectful imagery on a daily basis,” said state Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. “Whether it’s the butter container or the baking powder, baseball teams, motorcycles, hockey teams, football teams, dreamcatcher car decorations, Halloween costumes — October’s hard.”
Those corporate logos are covering up something a lot more interesting. Actual people.
“They’re perpetuating the stereotype,” said Shelley Buck, president of the Prairie Island Indian Community. “Either the one where we don’t exist anymore and we’re simply on a page in a history book, or they’re perpetuating the stereotype that we wear buckskin, loincloth and feathers in our hair all the time.”
Buck couldn’t talk long at the rally because she had to get to night class.
“I am Dakota, but I’m also a student,” she said. That’s the sort of nuance that gets lost when an entire people are reduced to a cartoon on a helmet.
“We’re more than that,” Buck said. “We’re doctors, we’re teachers, we’re lawyers, we’re presidents of sovereign nations, we’re lieutenant governors.”
The one thing they’re not is your mascot.