BC Expert: Time for Redskins Name to be Retired
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Associate Professor of Sociology
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An enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Garroutte has a background of research and publication related to the study of Native American issues. Her interests include health disparities associated with aging and culture; racial/ethnic identity, and religion. Past publications include a book, Real Indians: Identity and the Survival of Native America, and various articles in sociological and health-related journals. In collaboration with Cherokee Nation Health Services, Garroutte has conducted a series of research projects funded by the National Institute on Aging to examine medical communication needs among American Indian elders using tribal clinics. She has served as co-investigator on three projects funded by the National Cancer Institute to address cancer disparities in American Indians. Garroutte’s current service on editorial advisory boards includes the Journal of Native Aging and Health, the American Indian Quarterly, and the University of Arizona Press series, Critical Issues in Indigenous Studies. She is a past Area Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It’s been a battle that’s been simmering on the sidelines – demands by Native Americans that the NFL’s Washington Redskins change the name of its mascot. Now the battle is hitting the TV airwaves. A California tribe ran a television advertisement during Game 3 of the NBA finals in hopes of pressuring the football team into removing what it feels is a “disparaging” reference.
“I think the video is beautifully produced and well-conceived,” says Boston College Associate Professor of Sociology Eva Garroutte, an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. “Some Indian people actually follow and love some Indian-named teams. They may consider the names a kind of compliment or as a joke that they good-naturedly embrace; they may enjoy wearing team hats and other clothing. However, in my experience, most Indian people don’t view Indian team names and mascots favorably.”
The video, called “Proud to Be,” was purchased by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation of California. In it, Native Americans list the names they are proud to be called, among them mother, father, patriot, survivor. The video ends with an image of the Redskins’ helmet after a voice says, “Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don’t -”
“Indian people often view the name Redskins as especially hurtful in view of its historic usage,” says Garroutte, a past area commissioner of Indian Affairs in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Into the 1800s, a number of states in our country, such as Texas, paid bounties on American Indian scalps. Indian hunters could collect those bounties if they submitted evidence that they had killed any American Indian man, woman, or child. The required evidence came in the form of a scalp, known at the time as a ‘red skin.’”
The NFL has consistently said it doesn’t consider the name disparaging while Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has vowed to never change his team’s mascot.
“Indian people often wonder why our images and cultural artifacts appear uniquely open to wholesale appropriation,” says Garroutte. “Native scholars have often challenged others to defend teams with names or costumed mascots corresponding to one of the culture’s many negative (or even positive) words for African Americans, Jews, or Hispanics. Can you do it?
“Economic issues are also in play in issues related to teams and mascots. Sports teams may make huge amounts of money marketing goods labeled with tribal names while sharing none of it with the tribes—a situation that can be viewed as exploitative. Worse yet, the situation has raised legal debates about who ‘owns’ tribal names for commercial use—the team or the tribe itself.”
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