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A challenge for Redskins team owner

If Dan Snyder is so sure that the vast majority of Native Americans supports his use of a racial slur to name his football team, then I challenge him to visit the American Indian Society of Washington, D.C., and ask its members their opinions.

They’re easy to find, Dan. They meet monthly in a wood-paneled music room at an Episcopal church in Alexandria, Va.

I contacted the society to inquire what Washington-area Native Americans thought about the R-word as the football season began. Though wary of the media, chapter members agreed to a group interview at the end of their Sept. 3 meeting.

Twelve were in attendance, all enrolled tribal members. Eight strongly opposed the team name on grounds that it is innately disrespectful.

“It blows my mind that people could think it’s not racist – it’s so obvious,” said Nicklaus Gibbs-Hill, a Six Nations Seneca.

“I am egregiously offended by the term,” said Apesanahkwat or “Black Cloud,” a former chairman of the Menominee tribe.

“It’s time for change,” said Theresa Hill-Snay, president of the group and a Six Nations Seneca. “If you have a group of natives saying it’s offensive, then it’s offensive.”

Two members had no problem with the name, while acknowledging that many fellow Indians thought differently.

“It’s not an issue for me, except for all the hullabaloo that my brothers and sisters are making,” said Mitchell Bush, an Onondaga.

The other two declined to express an opinion.

The local Indians’ objections ought to carry great weight. Living around here, they constantly see the team name and Indian-head logo, especially at this time of year.

These were not political activists looking to score points. Their varied occupations included home builder, retired postal worker and high school basketball coach.

Their shared bond was membership in the society, which is the principal social and educational group for Native Americans in our region. It raises money for scholarships for young Indians and sponsors an Indian dance troupe.

It was easy to find additional Native Americans living in our area who object to the name. Many complained that a comparably insulting term — like the N-word for blacks or the S-word for Latinos — wouldn’t be tolerated.

“You put any other slur out there and you see it around town, there’s a whole lot of people who have a lot of problems with it,” said Jared Hautamaki, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians.

“It’s just constantly insulting you, every day,” said Tara Houska, a Couchiching.

She thinks Washington fans who sport R-word clothing or bumper stickers are misinformed rather than racist.

“It’s just complete ignorance,” Houska said. “They’ve never thought of their behavior hurting somebody else.”

At the American Indian Society meeting, members were especially concerned about the negative impact on the younger generation.

“Most of us are adults, and we can deal with the name,” said Doug Hall, an Algonquin. “But people get excited over a game, and the next thing you know, children are being called ‘Redskin’ on the playground.”

“It goes to the psychological well-being of our people,” Apesanahkwat added. “That’s the crux of this: What does it do to our children?”

His wife, Kristine Poafpybitty-Apesanahkwat, started sobbing quietly and needed time to compose herself before describing how one of her daughters was bullied in fifth grade and was called the R-word.

The trouble happened when the family was living in South Carolina. It reached a climax when the daughter came home from school with a broken nose.

“She was afraid to tell us what was happening,” said the mother, a Comanche. The incident prompted the family to leave South Carolina and move to Northern Virginia.

Snyder and the National Football League peddle the notion that only a small minority of Indian troublemakers object to the name. They ignore the fact that the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest and largest group of Native American tribes, has opposed the name for more than 40 years.

“When people say this is a new issue that comes from political correctness or a liberal agenda, that’s completely inaccurate,” said Brian Howard, a legislative associate at the congress and member of the Akimel O’odham tribe.

If Snyder wants to prove that Indians share his view, then he should not hesitate to call on the local chapter of the American Indian Society. Meetings are the first Wednesday of each month at the Church of St. Clement.

He’s sure to get an earful.

Robert McCartney is a writer for The Washington Post.

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