In Arizona, a Navajo High School Emerges as a Defender of the Washington Redskins

redskins-wapo

RED MESA, Ariz. — Ian Shapira reports:  The fans poured into the bleachers on a Friday night, erupting in “Let’s go, Redskins!” chants that echoed across a new field of artificial turf, glowing green against a vast dun-colored landscape.

“This is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to change the name. I don’t find it derogatory. It’s a source of pride.”

— Superintendent Tommie Yazzie

Inside the Red Mesa High School locker room, Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” blared on the stereo as players hurried to strap on their helmets and gather for a pregame prayer and pep talk.

“This is your time, right?” the team’s assistant coach demanded.

“Yes, sir!” the players shouted. “Redskins on three! Redskins on three! One, two, three, Redskins!”

“I don’t know what she means that it’s a racial slur. It’s not a racist slur if it originates from a Native American tribe…It’s always used in the context of sports.”

— Mckenzie Lameman, 17, a junior who is Red Mesa’s student government president

The scene at this tiny, remote high school was as boisterous as it was remarkable: Nearly everyone on the field and in the bleachers belongs to the Navajo Nation. Most of the people in Red Mesa not only reject claims that their team’s nickname is a slur, they have emerged as a potent symbol in the heated debate over the name of the more widely known Redskins — Washington’s NFL team. More than half the school’s 220 students eagerly accepted free tickets from the team for an Oct. 12 game near Phoenix, where they confronted Native American protesters who were there to condemn Washington’s moniker.

Red Mesa High School football player Kai Lameman leads the team on a march during a homecoming parade Oct. 16. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Red Mesa High School football player Kai Lameman leads the team on a march during a homecoming parade Oct. 16. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

None of that mattered to the Red Mesa Redskins as they marched onto the field for their game against the Lobos of Many Farms High School. It was homecoming, and the players knew they needed to keep winning if they wanted to make their first appearance in the state playoffs in five years.

Red Mesa students, parents and alumni stamped the bleachers, clutching signs that read “Fear the Spear” and “Redskin Nation.”

“There were 62 high schools in 22 states using the Redskins moniker last year, according to a project published by the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.”

Sitting in the front row, Superintendent Tommie Yazzie basked in the crowd’s festive mood and in the sight of the newly built football field, which cost nearly $400,000 in federal aid at a school that struggles to pay for computers and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.

“This is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to change the name,” he said with a smile, trying to make his voice heard over the cheers. “I don’t find it derogatory. It’s a source of pride.”

In the Four Corners area, where Red Mesa sits in northeastern Arizona, that pride is evident in the school’s lone sign advertising its existence off little-traveled Highway 160. The sign features a tall red post emblazoned with the word “Redskins” and the face of a Native American, an image that looks almost exactly like the Washington Redskins logo.

Beyond Red Mesa’s campus is a national movement against that name and logo. Across the country and on Capitol Hill, Native American activists, lawmakers, civil rights leaders and sports commentators have denounced “Redskins” as deeply offensive — a position rejected by team owner Daniel Snyder, who contends that it honors Native Americans. He has vowed never to change the name.

One of the country’s most prominent anti-Redskins activists, Amanda Blackhorse, is the lead plaintiff in a legal case that threatens the Washington Redskins’ trademark protection. Blackhorse is a Navajo and lives about an hour’s drive from Red Mesa.

But most in the Red Mesa community dismiss Blackhorse’s cause, or barely know who she is.

“I don’t know what she means that it’s a racial slur,” said Mckenzie Lameman, 17, a junior who is Red Mesa’s student government president. “It’s not a racist slur if it originates from a Native American tribe. . . . It’s always used in the context of sports.”

There were 62 high schools in 22 states using the Redskins moniker last year, according to a project published by the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. In addition to Red Mesa, two others are majority Native American: Wellpinit High School in Washington state and Kingston High School in Oklahoma.. (read more)

The Washington Post



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