BROOKS, CALIFORNIA – The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation of northern California purchased sixty seconds of airtime for the National Congress of American Indians’ “Proud to Be” video during the NBA Finals. It was aired in Miami during Game 2 and aired in Los Angeles, New York, Sacramento, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco and Washington during Game 3 on Tuesday night.
The NCAI’s “Proud to Be” video was originally released in January, right before the Superbowl, and was touted as “the #BigGame commercial that the NFL would never allow” because of the stance it takes against the R*dskin moniker. While the video is not new to the 2.4 million viewers that have seen the video on youtube, it is new to the estimated 30 million people that tuned in to watch Game 2 and 3 of the NBA Finals.
While it is too soon to speak of the overall impact of the ad, the hashtag #ChangetheMascot started trending on Twitter soon after the ad aired during half-time, with both natives and non-natives discussing the video. In a statement given by Marshall McKay, Chairman of the Yocha Dehe Wintun tribal council, the goal of airing the video was to “get people thinking about putting an end to outward hatred and using sports as a tool to focus on racism”. It’s safe to say that the powerful message of the ad resonated with the audience and had them talking.
For over fifty years, native activists and organizations have debated the use of the R*dskins’ name and native mascotry with the NFL, Colleges, High Schools, and the mainstream public. While the debate seems new and is often attributed to “white liberals”, it has taken decades of native activists and their allies to get to the point where the issue and their efforts are now being discussed and recognized by the mainstream media and public. Even then, no one seems to realize the impact that their efforts have already had. While many do not believe their work has changed anything, 2/3 of all native mascots, logos and team names have been eradicated, with fewer than 1000 left to go.
In an interview with NPR, Suzan Harjo, a native activist who has fought against the R*dskins name for more than 20 years, said, “The name is one of the last vestiges of racism that is held right out in the open in America. It’s a toy of racism, and the people who are holding on for dear life, they know that.”
Over the last few years, the remarks and actions of NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, and Washington R*dskins owner, Dan Snyder, as well as their supporters illustrate just how tightly they are holding on to the notion that name is a “Badge of Honor”. They have consistently held on to the belief that the name is not meant to disparage indigenous people and depend largely on public opinion to support their views, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
In a recent poll conducted by California State University, they found that 67% of Native Americans polled found the name to be offensive and felt that it should be changed. With the number of individual native activists, organizations, and allies taking a stand against the name, it’s hard to conceive how they still hold to the belief that 91% of Native Americans support the name. It’s hard to believe that they so willfully choose to ignore the concerns of native people and continue to try and justify 81 years of racist attitudes and behavior, to the point of hiring a lobbyist to protect their use of a slur.
Thanks to the investment of the Yocha Dehe Wintu Nation, 30 million people were given just a small glimpse into who we really are. In the 60 second ad, they see and hear that we are “unyielding and indomitable” and that we are survivors. They learn what Roger Goodell and Dan Snyder are about to learn when the name changes, that the one thing we aren’t…..R*dskins.
Johnnie Jae (Jiwere-Nutachi/Chahta) is founder of A Tribe Called Geek, the Managing Partner/Midwest Regional Director of Native Max Magazine. She is a member of EONM (Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry) and NAJA (Native American Journalists Association). Twitter: @johnniejae.