The Washington Football Team Must Change Its Name!

... and the NLGSF is Seeking Redress for SF Giants’ Action

Rachel Lederman
NLGSF President

NLGSF has joined a coalition with AIM (American Indian Movement) – West and other groups who are organizing for a mass mobilization to protest the racist Washington “Redskins” when they play the San Francisco 49ers at their new stadium in Santa Clara on Sunday, November 23. The demonstration is part of a campaign initiated by the Oneida Nation calling on the NFL to end the use of the offensive racial epithet by the Washington team, and to stop all use of indigenous peoples as team mascots and caricatured indigenous images and symbols as sports logos, including in schools and colleges as well as at the professional level.

Much research has documented the harmful effects of these sports mascots on indigenous young people. The Washington mascot is uniquely destructive because it not only perpetuates the stereotypical and outdated caricature portrayed by many Native American mascots, but also promotes and justifies the use of a derogatory racial slur. The Oneida Nation has been successful in convincing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to reject trademark applications for products using the Washington team name, and the team name itself is under review by that office.

Racist stereotyping of Native Americans and misappropriation of Native culture and spiritual symbols is alive and well here in the Bay Area. On June 23, 2014, the SF Giants called in the San Francisco Police to forcibly eject April Negrette and Kimball Bighorse from the Giants’ “Native American Heritage Night.” Negrette and Bighorse (who did not know each other at the time) had peacefully confronted an inebriated white man who was inappropriately and disrespectfully wearing a plastic, counterfeit, Native American-themed headdress. They explained that what he was doing was offensive and wrong. The Giants ordered the San Francisco Police to eject Negrette, who is Shoshone and Paiute, and Bighorse, who is Cayuga, Navajo, and Seneca – but not the drunk men, most of whom were white, who were displaying the fake headdress – from the stadium.

SFPD officers threw Negrette to the ground by her hair, violently twisted her arms and kept her in an excruciating, painful compliance hold for an extended period of time. When Bighorse video-recorded this with his smart phone, SFPD officers also subjected him to excessive force and an invasive search, accused both of being drunk (neither had had any alcohol), and detained them until the end of the game.

The Giants’ and SFPD’s actions violated Negrette and Bighorse’s constitutional rights and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP), which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007. Among other things, the DRIP provides that indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture, and that states shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for, actions which have the aim or effect of depriving indigenous peoples of their integrity as distinct peoples or of their cultural values or ethnic identities, including through the use of racist propaganda.

“I am tired of being walked all over,” April Negrette explained. “Nobody would call me a sq*aw to my face, but they will make fun of our culture – the cultures that were outlawed, forcibly removed from us, beaten out of us in boarding schools, that people were murdered simply because we were different – and play dress up in it now because all of a sudden it’s cool to be a Native? No way. We live, breathe and die this everyday. We walk around with the influences of those things ingrained in us to this day.”

Although the Giants, embarrassed by the publicity on this incident, announced that they would ban “culturally insensitive attire” as part of their fan conduct policy, Negrette, Bighorse and the NLG are not satisfied and are seeking more definitive action by the Giants to address institutionalized racism against Native Americans in sports. We have demanded an apology and that the Giants expressly prohibit headdresses and other appropriations of Native American spirituality and culture at their games, provide cultural sensitivity training to their security staff, not display racist team names and imagery (such as those used by the Cleveland Indians or Atlanta Braves), and issue a public call to all Bay Area professional and college sports teams and all Major League Baseball teams to adopt similar policies.

We have also filed a tort claim against the City and County of San Francisco, the first step in suing for the police brutality, discriminatory ejection from the game and wrongful detention.