Chanting, “We are not your mascot,” several hundred protesters rallied Thursday in downtown Minneapolis ahead of the Vikings’ game against the Washington Redskins, denouncing the team’s name as racist and degrading to American Indians.
Among several impassioned speakers outside U.S. Bank Stadium was Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, who recalled how her daughter recently learned of the team’s name and said, “Mommy, that’s not right. We’re not animals. We’re people. We’re not mascots.”
Flanagan told the crowd that many people have asked her what she’d like to say to the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, who has consistently refused to consider changing the name.
“Let me tell you, I wouldn’t talk to Dan Snyder — I would make him talk to my 6½-year-old little girl, who would tell him how inappropriate and racist it is to have this Washington team name,” Flanagan said. “This racial slur that he profits off of is not right.”
The Not Your Mascot event, held outside the stadium after a march from Peavey Park, was arranged by a coalition of tribal governments, the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media and other American Indian groups.
Along the march route, cars honked and drivers cheered in support as the parade of protesters made their way downtown. A woman in a traditional jingle dress danced the entire way, and a drummers’ circle performed from the back of a pickup truck.
Representatives of the National Coalition Against Racism carried a a banner that read, “We honor our women and children as leaders of tomorrow. No honor in racist names or imagery!” Yet another said, “Viking is a job, Redskin is a racial slur.”
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., decried the use of the team’s name and mascot, as she has on the House floor.
“We need to get all the owners involved and put pressure on Dan Snyder,” she told the crowd. “We need to tell the NFL not to make these profits off of a racial slur.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey recalled singing Washington’s pep song in school when he was growing up in northern Virginia, outside Washington, D.C.
“It took me at least until middle school before I realized how horribly racist that name was, until I realized the historic trauma that was associated with it and the death and the racism,” he said. “And I’m sure there are a whole bunch of little kids running around that are also not recognizing that immediately.”
The last such protest in Minnesota took place in 2014, when at least 3,000 people gathered before another game against Washington at TCF Bank Stadium.
‘It breaks my heart’
The event carried moods of both exasperation — American Indians and their allies have been protesting the team’s name for years in vain — and pride, reflected in the drumming, dancing and supportive applause.
Prairie Island Indian Community President Shelley Buck said that every time she hears the team’s name, “it breaks my heart to know that my ancestors were hunted — hunted for who they were, hunted because of something they had no control over and something they were very proud of.”
Such attitudes must end, she said.
“They’re perpetuating this stereotype — they’re perpetuating 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, loincloths and feathers in our hair all the time,” Buck said. “We’re more than that.”
The chance to speak out against the team’s name drew Autumn Dillie, 30, a Minneapolis resident and a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She said she asked her 7 year-old son, “How does it make you feel seeing an Indian man’s head knowing that you’re going to grow up to be an Indian man?’ And he said, ‘It’s disrespectful — it makes me feel bad, mom.’
“So I brought him there today so we could fight for our people and recognize them as human beings and not as some mascot.”