World

Washington Redskins controversy: Protesters ramp up pressure at Vikings game

Protesters gathered outside a Minnesota stadium Sunday to demonstrate against the Washington Redskins team name as part of a mountaing campaign to have the team renamed.

About 5,000 people gathered to protest name that NFL says 'honours' Native Americans

Dorene Day, an Ojibwe, sings the American Indian Movement theme song during a march with a coalition of tribal nations, Native American organizers, and the University of Minnesota to support retiring the Washington NFL team name and mascot. (Leila Navidi/The Star Tribune/Associated Press)

The action at the Redskins-Vikings game started Sunday morning outside the stadium in Minnesota, as a crowd estimated by organizers around 5,000 rallied against Washington's divisive nickname.

The event began with a march through the University of Minnesota campus to TCF Bank Stadium, where Native American leaders, local politicians, former sports stars and other speakers voiced their disdain for Redskins owner Dan Snyder and his refusal to change the nickname they've derided as derogatory and racist.

With many of the attendees wearing colourful, traditional Native American clothing and more holding signs, the gathering was by far the stiffest resistance for a Redskins road game and the latest push in a nationwide campaign that has cranked up over the last year.

Some people wore burgundy T-shirts with gold lettering, mimicking the team's logo with the words "Rethink" and "Rename" instead of Redskins.

Joe Horse Capture, associate curator at the National Museum of the American Indian-Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., attended the rally and told CBC News that "people from all backgrounds" — including some First Nations groups from Canada — "came together to stand against" the NFL franchise. 

'We're not mascots'

"We're not mascots!" said former Vikings strong safety Joey Browner, one of 29 speakers who took the microphone on a lawn just steps from the stadium entrances.

Browner, who is part Native American, wore a black Vikings cap with a feather sticking up out of it.

"As a former player I feel really sad right now. ... This is still standing in front of us," said Browner, a six-time Pro Bowl pick, who called the nickname a "bullying tactic."

Long-time Native American activist and AIM co-founder Clyde Bellecourt addresses a rally outside TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Pressure has been mounting for the Washington NFL team to be renamed. (Jeff Wheeler/The Star Tribune/Associated Press)
The university coordinated logistics for the march and rally and organized programs on campus all week for awareness, discussion and education related to the nickname issue.

One of the many institutions to call for a riddance of the Redskins name, the university, lacked the legal or contractual authority under the stadium use agreement with the Vikings to prevent the Redskins from playing there.

The university pressed the Vikings to remove references to the nickname and logo during the game, but the team deferred to NFL policy.

NFL head says name 'honours' Native Americans

The Vikings have said they've recognized the sensitivity of the issue and have maintained "ongoing and respectful dialogue" on the matter with Minnesota's significant Native American communities, citing "strong and positive" relationships with those groups.

"We respect and support our local community voices having an opportunity to be heard on this issue," the Vikings said in a statement earlier this week.

Both NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Washington team owner Dan Snyder have denied the nickname is offensive, saying rather that it "honours" the history of aboriginal peoples in the U.S. (Ann Heissenfelt/Associated Press)

The NFL didn't immediately respond for comment on the protest. Commissioner Roger Goodell said earlier this year the nickname has been "presented in a way that honours Native Americans."

It is an argument that activists like Horse Capture reject as nonsensical. 

"Usually when one is honoured, the other person sort of accepts that honour. I can certainly say, unequivocally, that the majority of Native American people do not accept this honour," he told CBC News. 

'It's a dictionary-defined racial slur'

According to various polls results, Snyder has support from the majority of the public.

Some of the disagreement is rooted in a historical debate about the origin of the term, and whether or not it was used to refer to the scalps that colonists would take from Native Americans they had killed. 

"The historical reference is not really important. What really is important is it's a dictionary-defined racial slur and it should not be used," Horse Capture told News Network.

"I find it odd that here in the United States, Native Americans are the only race of people that are used as mascots," he said. 

Support from Minn. Democrats

Radio and television ads criticizing the nickname were rolled out in the Twin Cities market leading up to the game, and the city of Minneapolis to Hennepin County passed resolutions that called for a change of the nickname.

Plenty of prominent Minnesota Democrats either spoke or attended the rally, from members of Congress in Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum to state legislators to Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges.

The two-hour series of speeches was a peaceful gathering, including folk music and Native American dancers.

As the rally got going, a group paraded along the sidewalk between the stadium and the stage, chanting: "Hey, hey, ho, ho, this racist name has got to go!"

With files from CBC News

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