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The Power of Pride and Honor: Blackfeet Tribal Member Describes the Power of ‘Redskins’

This story contributed by Robert Rides at the Door, Blackfeet Tribal Member and Full Blooded Redskins Fan.

Know Your History

The only good Indian is a Dead Indian…..Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” Over 100 years ago, my ancestors of this country were told, forced and reinforced to be ashamed and forget who they are.  Although we were here for thousands of years, it wasn’t until June 2, 1924, we were finally “recognized” as US Citizens on our home soil.  Honor, Courage, Respect, Fighting Spirit and Unity are terms that describe the qualities of Native Americans.  Over 80 years ago, one of the oldest NFL franchises felt those qualities were what their team should be based upon.  The Washington Redskins elected to honor the unique heritage of the First Nations people, which contradicted what was being taught to my ancestors.   

Even through our horrific history we, the original people, are still here.  Through this dark part of United States history, a light would emerge with the intention to honor our people.  The then NCAI President and Blackfeet Indian Walter “Blackie” Wetzel ensured that America will forever remember my ancestors by enshrining our Blackfeet Indian logo on the team’s helmets.

While society as a whole was denying who we were, this NFL team selected our people as the embodiment of their team.  The selection of the imagery and intent focused on the positive aspects of Native Americans and most importantly our Grandfathers’ perseverance to NEVER GIVE UP.

During that time, many Native Americans such as Jim Thorpe and Sam Bird of Carlisle Indian School, made a huge impact on sports, in fact, they helped start what is today’s NFL.  In my personal research, I find many Native Americans, especially Blackfeet members, do not realize the history of the Redskins logo, nor of Thorpe and Bird’s influence on the early NFL.

Today some are trying to take that away and erase us from history and society.

The Intention

As schools and sports teams determined what symbol would best represent them on the field or court, many selected Native American imagery and themes.  Was their first thought, “Let’s pick the most offensive and disparaging we can think of“?  NO!  It was the direct contrary and we should be proud that we are held in such high regard, so high that the most powerful city in the world calls its home team The Washington Redskins.  HONOR, RESPECT, PRIDE, UNITY

America is sports and that is what this country gives the world.  The largest stage in US sports is the NFL and the Super Bowl. 100 years ago, we were told to be ashamed and forget who we are.  Walter “Blackie” Wetzel ensured that America will forever remember my ancestors.  Millions of Americans cheer for the team they love and the team has chosen to honor my tribe, the Umskapii Pikuni (Blackfeet) forever!  I have talked to many tribal members from my own tribe and they have the same pride and feel it is awesome having the connection to the nation’s capital team.  I believe we owe it to our Grandfathers who fought hard to make sure we are here today and to keep the true legacy.

While society was saying be ashamed, the Washington Redskins said we are honored and proud of who you are.  This is America. Freedom and democracy rule here. In poll after poll Americans (including Native Americans) show support for the Redskins name, even after the two-year onslaught by the media against the name.  In this country majority rules but on this topic, it seems when a small group claims to speak for many, that they are presumed to be the majority voice.  We know it sells media and advertisements. If we applied this principal to politicians, then no one would be elected because the smaller voice would be unhappy, offended or find another reason to take advantage of our liberty.    What has happened in society today?  Does the ugly head of political correctness mean we can no longer honor the first nations people in WashingtonDC?   When does one get to tell a private business what and how it should be ran?  Do we see folks demand Wal-Mart or Hobby Lobby stores to open on Christmas?

Times change and so do political agendas. However, when the opinions of the few infringe on the rights of the many, as Americans we are in trouble.

Being offended by someone or something is because we allow them to.  As Indians, do we count on others to tell us what should offend us?  I am very confident of who I am, where I come from and stand firm on what I believe in.  I support my football team and what it stands for.  My football team does not promote violence, drugs or alcohol on the reservations, they are providing opportunities for healthy lifestyles and addressing needs.

NDN Teams at Drums with Text

We call each other by the tribe we represent such as “He is a Blackfeet married to a Crow” and if we don’t know the tribe we say, “She is a Skin that plays pro ball in Atlanta“.  As Natives, we do not run around calling each other redskins. Nor do we call each other Braves or Warriors.  That is reserved for sports teams, but the “changers” spin this into an agenda and make it appear as this is the root of all problems in Indian Country.

Personally, I am tired of other people feeling offended for me or telling me what we should be offended about.  I can respect another’s opinion, however I expect them to respect mine and the majority of Americans that support the name of the Washington Redskins?  I grew up in Indian Country and over the last few months have traveled from reservation to reservation seeking feedback on the redskins name.  For the thousands of Indians I talk to, I am hard pressed to find any that have a problem with the it.  We all agree there are more pressing issues that require political attention.  We are not born racist, we are taught to be and now we can add that today’s society is teaching us also to be offended.  Erasing Native American imagery from sports and society won’t help us, it will hurt us.

Today’s Scoreboard – Washington Redskins: 30, Politicians: 1

After visiting nearly 30 Indian Reservations over the last year, the Washington Redskins organization got to see first hand the Third World issues right in our own backyard on Indian Reservations.  Meanwhile the leading politician has visited 1 reservation in 6 years…ONE IN SIX YEARS!  Other members of the “changers” group made “significant investment’  to air a commercial during the NBA finals.  Don’t you think a tribal youth program in Indian Country could have used a “significant investment” tremendously to address a need versus 60 seconds of air time and a YouTube video?  What did that accomplish versus what could it have accomplished – change a football teams name or help your fellow man?  You be the judge.

Ask tribal leaders today about unfunded mandates, learned helplessness, and countless working groups that seem focused MORE ON DISCUSSING issues and LESS ON action and implementation.  I strongly agree with my relative and childhood friend Don Wetzel Jr. on July 9, 2014 when he said, “Regarding the Washington Redskins discussion. It has brought attention to Indian Country and it’s about time. Indian Country is America’s skeleton in the closet. It is often unseen and overlooked. With cut budgets, unfulfilled treaty obligations and many other problems, our tribal nations often get the short end of the stick. I understand this is a big issue to some, but I would like to see more attention, involvement and passion around our issues of suicide, substance abuse and health related problems like diabetes or even our high unemployment rates. Many think this is our only issue (Redskins name), if we had this level of media attention and articles around those issues, it may open eyes in this country that could bring support that might just lead to the fulfillment of the treaty obligations…a stretch I know, but any of the issues hurting Indian Country cost money and resources to fix. It is often easier for folks to deal with a controversy like this and feel good about themselves then to get involved out in our tribal communities, supporting our youth and working on solutions to better our reservations.” 

The Washington Redskins genuinely wish to help our communities.  The media calls it “bribery” and “blood money”.  Who are they bribing?  They are certainly not asking the tribes for anything in return for helping.  What is ‘blood money’?  We are talking about a football team helping communities with needs, not the government killing women and children, or failing to meet its treaty obligations.  When I heard a tribe refused help from the Redskins, I thought about who loses…the community and the kids. Why when our fellow man seeks to help another, we question the motives?

The Washington Redskins are working hard to help address needs within Indian Country and the positive long term impacts that will accompany it.  Not because they have to, but because they want to and THIS IS KEY: They ask nothing in return, no strings attached like some want you to believe.  The Washington Redskins are more about ACTION and IMPLEMENTATION and less talking.  We should embrace it!  I have been accused of aligning myself with “white capitalists”, called “Uncle Tomahawk”, assimilated to the core and flat out an Indian idiot by some “changers” but I challenge those to look at the bigger picture.   This is a football team, my football team, and they are willing to help my people.  That is a dream come true for this Indian Boy from the Rez!  If I can help lead the charge and help our people, then I AM ALL IN!

We talk about the long term impact of this team.  How many of the kids are going to play on the playground, rope in a rodeo and dream bigger because they got to meet Super Bowl Champions?   Years ago, NBA great Michael Cooper and others from the world champion Los Angeles Lakers came to BrowningMT for a youth camp.  Cooper personally told me “I see a leadership quality in you Robert.  Use it for good, set high goals and work hard to achieve them.”  That had a huge impact on me, so much that I began to work harder in school and athletics.  I still think about his impact and how I reach higher even today, some 30 years later.  Cooper now coaches one of the best Native American woman ball players in the WNBA.

Indian Pride

Growing up on the Blackfeet reservation, I have witnessed first hand the negative impacts of  drugs, alcohol and third world issues on our people and communities.  I can assure it is not due to a sports mascot.  In fact it would be the complete opposite in my home town of Browning, Montana home of the Browning Indians.  Many schools across the country have names like Redskins, Braves, Indians, and Warriors, and I am a proud BHS Indian Alumni.   Sports is vital to many in these communities from football, basketball to cross country.  As a youth, sports provided an opportunity to find a different type of “high” and understand the parallels of sports and life.  As a proud Browning Indian, the honor of representing our tribe and community required preparation, hard work and belief in yourself to succeed.

Years ago, young Blackfeet men would seek out courageous deeds such as counting coup on the enemy.  Today we can no longer count coup but we can have modern “warfare” in sports.  Basketball is a way of life in Browning and Indian basketball is today’s modern warfare.  In fact, during pre-games, the Browning Indians take the floor in full headdresses…striking fear in the enemy/opponent!   For me and many, many other BHS alumni, we wore our “Indian” jerseys with pride and worked hard to represent our community and come out the victor on the football field, ball court or running course.  At BHS, members of the tribe, descendents and other student athletes of non tribal decent know the meaning of INDIAN PRIDE.  When you messed with the Browning Indians, you should expect not just a team, but a whole community coming at you.

Unfortunately, some elected officials and other groups are trying to eliminate Native American imagery from sports and society.  The intention is to erase Native Americans from history, like we never happened and all what we stood for.  I challenge those individuals to come to Browning and tell the community that they must change their name to something other than the Browning Indians to something that is “less offensive or disparaging” such as the Browning “Bunnies”.  Also, I dare you to tell them they no longer can wear the war bonnets during pre game as it might offend someone.  You see Blackfeet, like many Americans, are more than willing to fight hard for what they believe in….HAIL!

My name is EE TOOKS TO TOPII….I am Blackfeet Strong and Redskins Proud!

Read Robert Rides at the Door’s November 2013 article on Redskins Hog Heaven HERE.

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