As the expected anger and protests turn to resignation, as fallout from the latest New York City football team name is felt by players, fans and their sponsors, the reverberations from the Native American name saga are being felt beyond Algonquin land.
Vested interest groups like the National Congress of American Indians are playing a role, too.
They’re taking donations of $5,000, $25,000 or more to be activated or effective. Moreover, they’re sending out letters demanding that sports sponsors and broadcasters stop funding Native American teams.
The corporation called PSEG, which is in charge of the Islanders’ New York City market, got smacked down for not acting fast enough to sell off their stake in the team. And PSEG denies that it is in any debt, despite the financial burden inflicted on members of their Native American community.
Nevertheless, the current situation in New York is repeated at a deafening volume across the U.S. nation – ownership and management of Native American communities is just another entity that is in the crosshairs of a faceless and shadowy outfit called the National Congress of American Indians, and it’s causing more damage as more tribes lose members to tribal suicide. The federal Department of Indian Affairs recently reported that the rate of American Indian and Alaska Native suicide “was three times higher than any other group”.
The New York Times reported that the number of the suicides could be as high as 5,000 Indians and Alaskans. The Times went on to note that more American Indians commit suicide each year than do in combat, and that the suicide rate for those youths “rose to about six per day”. The Times also spoke to the town of Whitehorse, where a homeless woman committed suicide a few years ago.
Native Americans are probably caught in the middle of the racial tensions that are escalating across the country. This is compounded by the political climate and the constant attempts to target Indian communities and families by growing segments of society claiming to be “socially conscious”.
The American Constitution states that no person “shall be a subject or a citizen of the United States, who shall lie … in wait for foreigners, or have taken up arms against them, or be traitors to them”. Nevertheless, successful demands by NCAI (a thinly veiled term for American Indian activists) and the NFL to the NFL and New York City led to these results. In the end, both sides lost their innocence – more veterans and football fans will be posting the team’s colors on their dead.
The tidal wave of outcry is the final nail in the coffin for team names and mascots that Indians feel have misled generations to believe they are protecting, not mocking.
Indians suffered from the 19th century “red-skin” political system that began in Great Britain, where Indians were branded white and ordered to accept “their beasts of burden” as servants or citizens. The practice is still pervasive in Indian country.
Aimee Winders-Pierce is a Trappist monk and board member of the National Congress of American Indians. She also heads the Fund for American Indian Education, as well as a management consulting firm, The Summit Strategy Group.