Montana’s Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation unveiled a new park last week with the help of several VIP guests. Three former NFL players traveled from Washington, D.C., to help celebrate the gleaming $200,000 playground painted in bright burgundy and gold. Tribal member Dustin White told The Washington Post the park was not only a “huge morale boost, but a point of community pride.”
Media reports made it seem like nobody on the reservation minded the four Washington Redskins logos on the park’s slides, nor the team’s garish paint scheme. It also didn’t appear to matter that the former players were only on hand as part of a larger campaign to defend the team’s derogatory name in Indian Country, and that the park was paid for by the team’s embattled owner, Dan Snyder. Rocky Boy got a new park, and that’s a good thing for Montana’s poorest reservation.
Or is it?
Other tribes have rejected similar efforts from Snyder based on principle. “We know bribe money when we see it,” a Fort Yuma Quechan tribal member told USA Today after turning down a $250,000 burgundy-and-gold skatepark. The National Congress of American Indians also decried Washington’s efforts, telling the newspaper, “no amount of money makes it acceptable to promote a derogatory racial slur.” Migizi Pensoneau, a Missoula-based member of the Native American comedy troupe 1491s, addressed the issue in a cover story for the Indy earlier this year. Last week, the 1491s posted on its Facebook page: “Be better, people. A sovereign nation doesn’t sell out for some swag.”
It’s worth noting the swag—and the team’s campaign—is extensive. In addition to the playground, Rocky Boy received 150 new iPads and sponsorship for its rodeo team. Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation claims it’s working on 145 other projects with 40 tribes, though it has declined to provide specifics.
The foundation also recently launched a website, RedskinsFacts.com, that attempts to present “historical evidence” about the name’s origins. Never mind the site omits significant portions of the slur’s history, or that Slate discovered it was created by a PR firm specializing in crisis management. The firm’s past clients include the manufacturer of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant.
The “Redskins” debate is about as divisive as any today, with emotions high on both sides of the issue. But take a look at what’s happening here and try not to roll your eyes. The team’s painfully transparent efforts to rewrite history and use money to cover a racial slur smacks of arrogance. The 1491s put it another way: “Manhattan for beads.”