As the heated national debate continues over the use of the Washington Redskins mascot name, with many citing the term as racist and derogatory, a Navajo high school on the nation’s largest Native American reservation, in Arizona, continues to defend the mascot’s use despite growing controversy. The high school has emerged as a symbol, and continues to inspire those supporting the NFL franchise’s right to use it.
Both students and teachers at Red Mesa High School have shown overwhelming support of keeping their football team’s nickname as the Redskins. A recent poll conducted by the school revealed that over 88% of students and 70% of faculty are in favor of keeping and honoring the use of their traditional mascot. Furthermore, over half of students — 60% — did not feel that the term “Redskins” has a negative connotation or is racist. Only 7% of students found the word offensive, while the rest — 33% — remained undecided on how they felt.
“I don’t find it derogatory,” Red Mesa superintendent Tommie Yazzie told the Washington Post in an interview. “It’s a source of pride.”
Those who favor the use of the term feel as though it pays homage to the many social, historical, and cultural contributions Native Americans made, and continue to make, to American society. For example, the tomahawk — most often thought of as a deadly weapon — was a hatchet-like general purpose tool used by several Native American tribes and later by European settlers. Tomahawks are still widely used today by law enforcement officers and military personnel for a variety of tasks, such as breaching and in search and rescue operations.
Across the country, the NFL team’s name has continued to stir heated debates between fans, civil rights leaders, lawmakers and journalists who protest its use. Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, has vowed never to change the name. Recently, Snyder offered Red Mesa students free tickets and transportation to the Redskins’ October 12 game in Glendale against the Arizona Cardinals. More than half of the school’s 220 students accepted the offer and attended the game in support.
At the game, Snyder sat in the visiting owner’s box alongside the outgoing president of the Navajo Nation, Ben Shelly. Meanwhile, outside the stadium, Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo civil rights advocate and lead plaintiff in a lawsuit threatening the Washington Redskins’ trademark, criticized Red Mesa faculty and parents for allowing students to attend. Blackhorse felt the students were being used as pawns, and that Snyder’s gesture was disingenuous. “We want to let our children know who are being used today that we are here for them,” Blackhorse told the Washington Post. Most parents the paper spoke to, however, felt it was not an issue.