Council members criticize Washington Redskins' name, mascot in letter

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November 5, 2013 // UPDATED 3:29 pm - November 5, 2013
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Six City Council members have sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Washington Redskins team owner Dan Snyder expressing their disapproval of the team's name and mascot.

The Redskins are scheduled to play the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome on Thursday.

"We join those Minnesota residents who will be protesting outside Mall of America Field in condemning the racism inherent in the “Redskins” name.  We call on the owners of the franchise to change the team’s name, and on the National Football League to take the necessary actions to convince the franchise owners to change the name," they wrote in the letter.

The Council members who signed the letter include Cam Gordon (2nd Ward), Robert Lilligren (6th Ward), Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward), Gary Schiff (9th Ward) and Betsy Hodges (13th Ward).

The letter is posted below.

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An Open Letter to National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell and Washington, D.C. NFL Team Owner Dan Snyder

November 4, 2013

Dear Commissioner Goodell and Mr. Snyder,

We, the undersigned members of the City Council of the City of Minneapolis, are writing to express our disapproval of the Washington Redskins team name and mascot.

The Redskins are due to play the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis on November 7, 2013.  We join those Minnesota residents who will be protesting outside Mall of America Field in condemning the racism inherent in the “Redskins” name.  We call on the owners of the franchise to change the team’s name, and on the National Football League to take the necessary actions to convince the franchise owners to change the name.

Our nation has a terrible, tragic history of racism.  Minnesota and Washington, D.C. share that common history.

Just over one hundred and fifty years ago, Minnesota was the site of the largest mass execution of indigenous people in the history of the United States.  On December 26th, 1862, thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota.  This event was the culmination of the Dakota-U.S. War, in which the United States committed what would most properly be called genocide against the Dakota people.  In addition to the mass execution, indigenous women, children and elderly were held in a concentration camp in Minneapolis, at the base of Fort Snelling.  The Dakota-U.S. war was caused by lack of enforcement of treaties signed between the Dakota and the United States, encroachment onto Dakota lands by white settlers, and theft of annuity payments by corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs officers.

Before, during and after this war “redskin” was used as a term of derision for Dakota people.  One of many examples on record during the war was from a C.W. Fogg who described in his account of the battle of White Stone Hills that “…these redskins were drove into a body very much the same as so many Texas steers would be”.

To help address this historical wrong, on December 14, 2012, the Minneapolis City Council adopted a resolution “Recognizing the 150th Anniversary of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862 and Declaring 2012-2013 the Year of the Dakota in Minneapolis.”  This resolution declared that the City of Minneapolis works to promote the well-being and growth of the American Indian community, including Dakota People, and declared the year between December 26, 2012 and December 26, 2013 to be the Year of the Dakota. 

The Washington Redskins also have a documented history of racism.  According to Professor Charles Ross, author of Outside the Lines: African Americans and the Integration of the National Football League, former team owner George Preston Marshall, who named the team the Redskins, “was identified as the leading racist in the NFL.”  From the 1940s through the 1960s, the team refused to racially integrate.  In fact, African Americans were only allowed to play for the Redskins after U.S. Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy threatened to revoke the Redskins' lease on their then-stadium in 1962. 

The Washington Redskins have partially overcome this history of racism, fielding many impressive African American players in the years since 1962.  But Marshall’s racist worldview continues to exist in the team’s name.

The use of “redskin” as a reference to indigenous peoples in Minneapolis is offensive.  It echoes language used during the Dakota-U.S. War and many other events in the centuries-long genocide against the indigenous peoples of North America.  We call on the Washington Redskins and the NFL to respect the Dakota and the growing number of people who are offended by this name in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the United States and change this racist name.

 Cam Gordon                                                                            Elizabeth Glidden

Council Member, Second Ward                                              Council Member, Eighth Ward                                                                            

Robert Lilligren                                                                       Gary Schiff

Council Member, Sixth Ward                                                 Council Member, Ninth Ward                                                              

Lisa Goodman                                                                         Betsy Hodges

Council Member, Seventh Ward                                            Council Member, Thirteenth Ward