On Friday evening, a group of 15 to 21 predominately Native Americans protested Belding High School’s continued use of the racist “redskins” team name outside of a football game between Wyoming Rogers and Belding. The protestors described Belding’s use of the term “redskins” as racist and held signs calling for “respect not racism,” an end for the use of Native American team names, and an end to Belding’s use of the “redskins.” Aside from a few passing high school students who seemed to only be looking for an argument and some fanatical Belding students and parents unwilling to think about the ramifications of the team name, most passing motorists read the signs and seemed fairly receptive to the messages on the signs.
While there has been some debate over the origin of the term “redskin” in the past few months over the first usage of the term “redskin,” it is widely believed to have come out of the practice of offering bounties to anyone that killed Native Americans. The term “redskin” was then used to refer to pieces of skin, genitalia, or scalps that bounty hunters brought once it was no longer feasible to bring in bodies. Despite the debate over the exact origin of the term, there is little debate among Native Americans that the use of Native American team names and mascots continues to oppress Native people by perpetuating stereotypes and distorting native spirituality. Over the past fifty years, Native Americans have worked to eliminate team names referring to Native Americans and the offensive practices—“war chants,” the Atlanta “tomahawk chop,” face painting by non-Native people, and many more—that go along with the team names. Native people have further charged that far from “honoring” them, the continued use of racist team names is a means of exerting power and control over them:
The hidden agenda behind their use, l believe, is about cultural and spiritual annihilation as well as intellectual exploitation. Therefore the real issues are about power and control. Those who define other ethnic groups and control self-image lead people to believe that their truth is the absolute truth. Such efforts drive these negative ethnic images. Furthermore, the ability to define a reality and get other people to affirm that reality as if it were their own engenders great power.
– Cornel D. Pewewardy, “The Deculturalization of Indigenous Mascots in U.S. Sports Culture”
Despite the seriousness of the issue and the fact that Ottawa Hills High School in Grand Rapids eliminated their racist logo last year, only WXMI 17 covered the protest.