SALT LAKE CITY — Native American leaders in Utah are reacting to the announcement that the Washington Redskins will be dropping the controversial team name.
“I think that’s what’s changed now — It’s just the climate in the United States when talking about race,” said James Singer, co-founder of the Utah League of Native American Voters. “A lot of organizations that had said 'Never,' like the Washington football team, are now starting to think about the implications.”
He isn’t the only one praising the decision. Many, including Najavo Nation’s President Nez, also called the change a win for Native Americans.
“On behalf of the Navajo Nation, we thank and commend all of our Indigenous brothers and sisters who dedicated themselves to a just cause and won!" Nez's statement said in part.
“This change did not come about willingly by the team’s owners, but by the mounting pressure and advocacy of Indigenous peoples such as Amanda Blackhorse, and many other warriors who fought long and hard for this change.” (Read full statement below) pic.twitter.com/uukrxvDrtU— Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez (@NNPrezNez) July 13, 2020
Utah has a lot of Native American influence, including names of things around us — and right down to the name Utah itself, derived from the Ute tribe meaning "people of the mountains."
But the state is no stranger to controversy over our mascots.
The University of Utah shared the same name as Washington's NFL team for decades before changing it to the Utes in 1972 with the blessing of the tribe itself.
The Cedar High School "Redmen" were another debate in the state that ignited in the past decade, with the school officially changing its name and mascot in 2018 to the "Reds."
Most recently, Bountiful High School’s mascot, the "Braves," came under fire from multiple sources.
- Related stories:
- School administration holds preliminary discussion on Bountiful mascot
- Native American organizations urge changing Bountiful High mascot; Mayor apologizes for comments
Debates like this are now taking center stage across the state with the resolution of such a large national debate like the one in Washington.
“If [groups] can take on a name like the Braves or the Redskins, they can dehumanize other groups fairly easily,” Singer told FOX 13. “Something like the Braves or the Redmen is too broad, and so it tends to move us into the stereotypical Hollywood portrayals of Natives.”
Ultimately, this debate is about continuing the conversation locally and nationally for Singer.
He hopes that this sparks debate to move us away from stereotypical portrayals and much more toward historically accurate narratives.
“How did we come to create Utah? How was that land stolen and what does it mean for Native American today?" Singer said are some questions he hopes people come out of these debates understanding.