DC at Night

DC at Night

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Washington Darkies? I Don't Think So.

Forrmer U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell
For Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the former U.S. Senator from Colorado, there is a moral imperative to change sports team names like Redskins or Savages that Native Americans find offensive. "These are derogatory words that simply should not be used," Campbell, the only Native American to serve in the Senate in the modern era, said. "Would you call the (professional football) team the Washington Darkies?  These words are wrong at the beginning and they are wrong at the end."

Campbell was one of more than a dozen speakers at a symposium on Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports held at the National Museum of the American Indian.

There are other problems with appropriating Indian names for sports teams, Campbell contended. "They are named for us and use our image, but we don't get anything from it," he said. "Of course, we have been used a lot in American history."

Campbell described a dispute he was involved in to change the name of a Colorado high school from Savages. "We were not savages. We were the Indian people. I said if you want to use savages use your own picture. That's fine, but don't use our people."

"I know a little about sports," said Campbell, who was a member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic team. "And I often wonder about the difficulty of changing names.

The former senator noted that sports is not the only area with a naming problem. "There are more than 100 locations that use the word Squaw. Squaw comes from a part of a woman's anatomy. Nobody would want that name if they knew what it meant," Campbell noted.

In his remarks, Campbell commended Washington D. C. Mayor Vincent Gray who maintains that the Washington football team (who now plays its games in neighboring Maryland) would need to change its team name if it ever wanted to return to the district. But he had some harsh words for politicians who don't support such name changes. "I think there is a lot of cowardice on the part of elected officials," he said.

Campbell, an engaging speaker who interspersed his serious remarks with humor, drew laughter from the large crowd when he briefly described his work to change the name of the historic Custer battlefield in Montana to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. "I think that was the only battlefield in the whole United States named after the loser," Campbell said.

"We've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go," Campbell said. "It's a long process, but I think part of it is a forum like this."

Campbell said some of the problems center around the differing outcomes of the American Dream concept. "For the immigrants coming here, there was a position of upward mobility. This was the land of opportunity. This was Eden. But the Indians had everything to lose and almost did lose everything. But 500 years before Columbus fell off the boat, there were sophisticated societies here. They didn't have writing or recording, but they didn't have many of the societal problems we have today. We could learn something from those people; we could be better."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
This is one of 3 posts dealing with the topics explored at the Racial Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports symposium. Campbell was part of the program entitled Case Studies on Addressing Indian Stereotypes in American Sports.The others posts deal with Mascot Origin Myths and a Community Conversation about the Washington NFL team name.

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