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Make Miami connection more meaningful

'Redskin' debate offers a unique opportunity to also educate

The recent controversy in Washington, D.C., about its football team – the Washington Redskins – has caused many people to consider North Side High School’s use of the word “Redskins.” I have been listening to some residents, including a school board official, friends and even family members, say there is nothing wrong with using “Redskins” as a team name. A Fort Wayne Community Schools board member was quoted in a TV interview in June as saying, “North Side High School has had the Redskins name and it’s been a proud tradition for (decades).They bear that name proudly, and it’s not in any way, shape or form meant to be derogatory or demeaning toward the Native Americans.” 

I find it interesting that she points out that the Redskins name is not “meant” to be derogatory. It may be true that the school did not intentionally try to offend anyone, but many American Indians are hurt by its use. This admission, however subtle, is enough to warrant a name change.

The use of the word “Redskins” angers some Native Americans who are afraid of possible backlash if they speak publicly. So I speak for those in our community who feel strongly that the word “Redskins” does not, and should not, represent us, but cannot express those feelings for fear of being adversely affected.

In 1927 when North Side was established, Native Americans had just gained citizenship through the Snyder Act of 1924. During this time period, Native American communities were still struggling to adapt to the mainstream culture. Minority labels were common during this period and, as time has passed, most people have realized that using derogatory words based on skin color is demeaning. One such label, “redskin,” is defined in today’s dictionaries as a derogatory term for Native Americans.

Maybe in the ’20s and ’30s the term “redskin” would have been more acceptable, or maybe native people living in Fort Wayne feared reprisal if they spoke out against its use. The fact is that times have changed and all educational institutions should reflect these changes and discontinue the use of the derogatory term “redskin.”

If North Side truly wants to honor native people, it could do a better job of respecting American Indians, their culture and representing them through a proper school name.

Perhaps North Side could use the Miami word “Mahkwa,” which means bear, to represent their school while honoring Miami people. Using a Miami term would provide the school a stronger connection to the Miami people who still live in this area while maintaining the school’s traditions.

I would like to see North Side High School strengthen its ties to the American Indian community by working with the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma on educating the students about Miamis.