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

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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.” Read the rest of this entry »