Apr 30, 2014 - The Redskins Debate: A (Slightly) Broader Scope by Patricia Stein


Who watches TV? I’m more a Netflix person myself, and tend to get my news from Twitter. If you do watch TV though, you may have been watching ESPN last Thursday, and you may have seen Gyasi Ross talking on the Redskins debate and Dan Snyder’s recent hush money move. To be honest, I didn’t catch Ross on ESPN, but I did listen in to the podcast the following day. Ross’s comments on the topic were, as usual, spot on. Although, I was a little more curious what the general public response was, so I checked on the associated hashtag, #SynderOutreach. I found a mix of support, outrage, racism, and just plain ignorance. One guy even complained about Ross’s clothing choice…I’m sorry, not enough feathers for you? That comment alone should speak volumes for the impact these logos and names have on the view of Natives—but I digress. The response which truly irked me was the following:

“#SynderOutreach the redskins name is the only globally known figure that keeps their existence alive publically besides visiting casinos.”

Wait…globally? This was a perspective I hadn’t thought of yet, even though I personally dealt with it for three years while living abroad. I had a theory, these offensive logos (Chief Wahoo) and names (Redskins) are a part of the reason why I encountered numerous people in Cairo, Egypt who didn’t think we existed past Wounded Knee. This is partially because history of indigenous culture, across the world, is lacking, but also because the only image of Natives which make it abroad are these racist logos and names. A vision of warbonnets and buckskin is a part of some of our cultures, but Chief Wahoo looks like the town idiot, and Redskin, like it or not, is an offense term. Just as offensive as Nigger, Spic, Pollok, and Chink—but sadly one of the words I had to use in Cairo to explain my heritage translates directly to “red Indian”. All this being said, this was all still a theory in my head, so I decided to ask around.


Would you say the use of Natives as logos and names in the US (paired with minimal Native history abroad) is a part of the reason many (Egyptians) didn’t know we still exist?

The responses were quite interesting…

Marwan Imam (@TheOnlyWarman)
“They (the US) treat your heritage like something old that has passed—like us with the pharaohs. I’d say so, yes.”

Tarek Nasr (@TarekNasr360)
“No—but I would say it impacted them (Natives) seeming like a punch line or a joke.”

Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy)
“That makes sense, yes…also, the US media and culture that reaches us here is usually absent of Native characters so there’s no sense that there are still communities.”

Nadia El Abdin (@IrishAlexandrian)
“…the youngsters think Natives still exist in their feather wearing, horse riding form…”

Ramy Kandil (@Foxicakes)
“Probably, add to it that most stories relating to Natives being end with being wiped out by battles or diseases. It’s almost as though it’s a case of the Mayans or the Incas.”

Hesham Sphinx (@ArabianKnightz)
“Of course Hollywood and that ignorant culture played a huge role in the world’s understanding of Native Americans. The same way Arabs and Islam are distorted in the media—so the media exported to the world with the whole cowboys and Indians sports team logo etc. played a huge part in that worldly ignorance.”

Ahmed Ghanem (@A91G)
“Yes, and definitely! Culture appropriation in any form should be denounced even if coupled with proper education about said culture—the lack of proper acknowledgement of Native minorities and the lack luster exposure of their suffering of racism in their day to day lives is a big issue.”

Leila Ammar (@Booky_Lillz)
“…I think a lot of people simply link Natives to Hollywood style Indians—take Peter Pan for instance. With the idea of the ancient way of life I suppose if anyone thinks about it at all (and honestly how many Egyptians think about US culture beyond what is portrayed on TV) they assume Natives no longer exist the way pharaohs no longer exist.”

Maram Kaff (@Emmkaff)
“I don’t know, I knew Natives existed because my Dad has been living in Canada for 20 years and he used to talk about them—but I sure had a false image of who they are and how they live because of their portrayal in movies…very stereotypical-borderline-racist image.”

Now this may just be a small poll, and may only be one country, but the point is, these images and names from Tonto to Chief Wahoo do have an impact far beyond the borders of the US and Canada. Now I’m not saying we should change international curriculum to include a 100 page chapter on the indigenous peoples of North America, but I am saying there is a much larger impact than one (Natives and Non-Natives alike) may think.

Last Real Indians