Racial Slurs Have No Place in Football

The leaves are changing. The scent of pumpkin spice lattes is in the air. In short, it’s football season. And like millions of my fellow Americans, I love football.

But I’m also American Indian.

So for me, football season also means hearing a racial slur all the time. It’s used by sports teams around the country — and by Washington, D.C.’s National Football League team in particular.

You may know that franchise as the Redskins. I refer to it as the R-word.

Natives have been calling on sports teams to do away with the slur for 50 years, along with other mocking mascots and racist caricatures of Natives employed by teams of all kinds. Professional outfits should know better, but so should schools and communities.

So I celebrated recently, along with much of Indian Country, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Racial Mascots Act into law. It banned the state’s public schools from using the R-word to name sports teams. Schools in four California counties will soon have to rebrand their buildings, logos, uniforms, and mascots.

“We cannot change history or erase the past,” said Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown, president of Native Education Raising Dedicated Students. “But today, as Native students, we shall celebrate this step in the right direction of improving our educational experiences.”

I agree. Now if we can just convince our nation’s leaders to do the same.

My hope faded, though, when I heard Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush use the R-word not once, not twice, but three times during an interview in October. Then there’s GOP candidate Donald Trump, who proclaimed that Indians are “extremely proud” of the term.


For Native children, the R-word and its associated mascots are demeaning and disparaging, eroding their self-confidence and self-image. Unsurprisingly, peer-reviewed studies have suggested that racist mascots can hurt the performance of Native students.

It’s an additional mockery for an already suffering group of young people whose second-leading cause of death is suicide. And it’s an added insult to people whose treaty rights are still being violated, even today.

Native Americans are regularly confronted with attempts to turn our sacred religious lands over to corporations for profit. In Oak Flat, Arizona, some 2,400 acres of national forest land — protected since 1955 as Apache sacred land — is being handed over to Resolution Copper, a British-Australian mining conglomerate.

Meanwhile Natives continue to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, which would funnel oil mined from tar sands nearly 1,800 miles from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico through multiple sovereign Indian territories. The U.S. government never negotiated with the tribes when charting the pipeline, despite the impact it will have on their lands.

And in spite of long-standing poverty, gross health disparities between Natives and non-Natives, and ongoing discrimination, federal funding for Indian health care, housing, and education programs remains paltry.

Most people have the good sense not to use the R-word to our faces. So why would you plaster it across a stadium?

Dropping the R-word alone won’t solve these deep crises in Indian Country. But it’s a crucial step toward restoring the equity, dignity, and democracy taken from the first people of this land.

At the very least, it’ll let us all get back to enjoying football — without the nasty reminder that the rights of American Indians still aren’t fully recognized.

Judith Le Blanc is the Director of the Native Organizers Alliance and an enrolled member of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma.
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Native Americans in Philanthropy: Innovation and Inspiration

When you bring more than 200 Natives and their allies together to exchange information and ideas on what’s going on in Indian Country it’s bound to be a gathering that is full of wisdom and good-humored teasing, Indian style!

That’s how the Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) celebrated their 25th anniversary at Mystic Lake Hotel in Minnesota recently. Tribal and community leaders, Native and non-Native philanthropic and nonprofit professionals, spent three days sharing best practices and networking on how to support healthy Native communities through philanthropy.

Although conditions in Indian Country are difficult on many fronts, we, as a community are innovating ways to meet the needs of our communities while at the same time tackling root causes.

The life experience of the keynote speaker, Dr. Kathy Annette, executive director of the Blandin Foundation and member of the White Earth Nation, captures the story of Indian Country today. She is the only graduate of the Red Lake Reservation school system to become a physician.

Dr. Annette, in her moving keynote, spoke of how we are compelled to navigate systems that are not aware of our community’s traditions or even existence.

“Natives and People of Color are underrepresented in philanthropy. Natives need to be at the table,” she said.

An array of workshops covered topics from how to engage effectively with foundations, to Native models of assessment in meeting grant requirements to dispelling myths about urban Indians.

In the workshop, Making the Invisible Visible – Urban Indian America, Janeen Comenote, of the National Urban Indian Family Coalition, talked about the lack of clear data on urban Indian communities and little academic research. Under President Ronald Reagan, she discovered, funding ended for urban Indian centers which were established earlier by the Federal government, just as Indians were becoming more concentrated in cities.

“Our community knows what it needs to thrive,” said Comenote. “We need a federal urban Indian policy.” She spoke of the need for Natives and policymakers at every level of government to create forums for civic engagement, consultation, and vetting initiatives in order to bridge the divide between tribal and urban Indian populations.

The NAP conference helped me understand the importance of meaningful and culturally appropriate relationships between foundations and Indian County – and the growing impact of tribal philanthropy.

Funding needs to target locally based projects that address the disparities and barriers we experience in every area of life, economic, social and political. Foundations need to take into account that Indian Country needs an infrastructure of tribal and service providers and grassroots organizers who advocate for basic federal policy shifts to close the disparities.

The organizing needed must be premised on the power of our traditions through combining the telling the stories of our community, assessing the real conditions and using community awareness to guide the policy changes.

The solutions to the problems Native communities, urban, rural or reservation are in our communities, we need the resources to generate the civic engagement that will make it possible.

Judith LeBlanc is the National Coordinator for the Native Organizers Alliance and Senior Organizer at the Alliance for a Just Society.

House Takes First Step To Increase Indian Health Services Funding

The average cost of mainstream health insurance plans is approximately 40% greater than the Indian Health Service (IHS) funding level for American Indian and Alaska Native people. This funding gap limits health care services and contributes to the lingering disparities of death and disease among Indians. The first step needed to redress this shortfall was achieved this year when Congress permanently re-authorized funding for the Indian Health Services Act. Now the push is on to get the Congress to provide increased funding. Read more