July 25, 2013 at 12:00 PM
Redskins debate: Two sides weigh in on controversial nickname
By Robert Greenway
Robert Greenway, 80, is Professor Emeritus at Sonoma State University, California. He has lived in Port Townsend since retiring 23 years ago. His youngest daughter graduated from Port Townsend High School in 2002.
The current conflict over the Port Townsend School Board’s decision to drop Redskins as the high-school mascot has tapped into a very deep area of conflict. I believe this conflict – and the energies swirling around it – come from pent-up divisions that have been going on in Port Townsend for many years.
This conflict is also reflected throughout the country. It’s a conflict between “haves” and “have-nots” or between (in this case) long-standing residents (at least several generations) and newcomers (first generations). It’s between conservatives and liberals. Between high-school graduates and those with further education. Between retirees and workers. Between those with money and those struggling.
Somehow, the high-school mascot controversy draws all these now-common conflicts into the foreground.
The people who are pro Redskins feel very put-upon by all these liberals, newcomers, wealthy people, and so on. A certain percentage of the town (I’d guess 25 percent) will hang on to this issue with great passion for a long time.
The Seattle Times’ recent article on the alleged Redskins controversy in Port Townsend (“Not Letting Go Easily,” July 6) was a pretty fair overview of this strange situation, but I would question his casual assumption that “a majority of the student body and a generous portion of the Port Townsend community” wants to hold on to what is widely viewed, by both Native Americans and sports fans, as a racial slur for a mascot. Such a statement begs for a more rigorous survey.
Those wishing to hang on to the racial mascot are certainly making the most noise, painting slogans here and there, but my perception, having lived here 23 years and put a daughter through the school system, with close friends on both sides of the issue, is that the majority of folks here, young and old, realize this decision is long overdue, and has been made with great care and wisdom by the local school board.
But local tribes, not to mention a vast majority of native peoples across the country, have spoken against the inherent racism in the term Redskins. Don’t forget that this term arose during genocide against so many tribes. Think of the humiliation of having it used as a mascot in this day of recovery from racism at all levels . When all of that’s noticed by folks here, they usually support the change.
My grandfather, born in 1867, was a Western homesteader who had many qualities. Racial tolerance was not one of them. As I rode with him as a boy hauling produce out of the Walla Walla Valley, he would often say such things as, “them dirty redskins, they should all be removed from the planet.”
Later, in my professional life, I lived and worked on Native American reservations and came to count as close friends First Nation members, not one of whom ever saw the term redskins as anything other than a racial slur, and the idea that such a designation would be used as a mascot for a school was repulsive to them, a source of great pain.
The idea that the term takes on different meanings over time is a valid one, but most in Port Townsend feel that it doesn’t trump the racism behind it.
With all due sympathy to those having to give up an emotional chunk of their high-school days of glory, clearly the time has come to find, well, an animal, bird, or large corporation to become the next symbol of our local school system . We all hope that will help our kids value courage, but also awareness of what’s going on in the rest of the country.
By Eugene Purser
Eugene Purser, 60, is a Port Gamble S’Kallam Tribe member who attended North Kitsap High School as well as two high schools for Native Americans and Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. He has worked for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe most of his adult life and has served on the Tribal Council several times over four decades, most recently from 2008 to 2013.
I am a Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Member who grew up on the Port Gamble S’Klallam reservation located on Hood Canal and Port Gamble Bay.
But you might be surprised to know that I am also a fan of the Washington Redskins professional football team and have been since the early 1970s. My dad, who is 89 years old, wore a Washington Redskins jacket for years and never once mentioned that the word “redskin” was offensive to him.
I think you would be hard-pressed to find any member of my tribe who would say they have been called “redskin” in an offensive manner. I want people to know that not all Native Americans are offended by the term.
Perhaps that surprises you, but I don’t have a problem with teams using the name “redskin” as long as they do it with dignity and respect for Native Americans. What offends me and shows no respect for Native Americans are the teams that allow their fans to do the “tomahawk chop” and the insulting singing and drumming. This really bothers me.
I do not claim to speak for everyone, but this is how I feel, but hearing the term redskin doesn’t upset me. In fact, I think the word sets us apart from the other brown people in the world.
Growing up as a child in 1950s and 1960s, I heard many terms that were much worse. I heard me or my people called such things as “dirty Indian” and “drunken Indian.” It was never “dirty redskin” or “drunken redskin.”
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