The logo for the Washington Redhawks. Image: Washington Redhawks
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Native activists go viral with 'Redhawks' campaign aimed at NFL team's racist mascot

Team denies name change after #GoRedhawks makes waves

By Kevin Abourezk
@Kevin_Abourezk

A coalition of Native American activists has claimed responsibility for a series of fake news articles that appeared Wednesday morning, claiming to report that the Washington NFL team had changed its controversial name to the Washington Redhawks.

The articles – allegedly from reputable news sources like The Washington Post, ESPN, The Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated – went viral and reported the team released a new name, logo and mascot for the 2018 football season. The new “logo” features a Redhawk and maroon and gold colors, similar to the former logo, “kept to commemorate the enduring legacy of the Washington football team franchise,” according to the reports.

But Tony Wyllie, senior vice president for communications for the team, confirmed the news was fake.

“This morning, the Redskins organization was made aware of fraudulent websites about our team name," Wyllie said in a statement to Indianz.Com.

"The name of the team is the Washington Redskins and will remain that for the future," Wyllie said of what turned out to be a social justice campaign carried out on social media.

At first, it was unclear who was behind the sites, though the domains were registered last month and updated on Monday, according to ICANN's WHOIS Lookup. The domains were registered to someone in France named “Dan S,” likely a reference to Dan Snyder, majority owner of the Redskins. An associated domain, washingtonredhawks.com, also is registered to “Dan S.”

But soon enough, members of a Native activist organization, the Rising Hearts Coalition, issued a press release claiming responsibility for the #GoRedhawks campaign.

“After decades of team owner Dan Snyder refusing to change the name of the Washington football team, Native advocates took to the internet to do it for him. … We are sorry for the disappointment and confusion many will feel learning that Snyder has not changed the name yet. The purpose of this action is to show that the need for a new mascot is real and immediate,” the statement on Wednesday afternoon read.

The group plans to host a press conference at 2pm Eastern on Thursday at the George Preston Marshall Monument in front of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium just east of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., as well as a rally at FedEx Field – home of the Washington NFL team – on Sunday.

Rebecca Nagle, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, was one of the organizers of the online campaign. She said the group conducted the campaign to show the NFL and Washington team “how easy, popular and powerful changing the name could be.”

“What we’re asking for changes only four letters. Just four letters!” she said. “Certainly the harm that the mascot does to Native Americans outweighs the very, very minor changes the franchise would need to make.”

Noted activist Suzan Shown Harjo, who is Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee and is one the most prominent critics of the team’s name, also took part. She said it is important to continue the fight against Native American sports mascots.

“We collectively have eliminated over 2,000 of these so-called Native names, logos, symbols, images, mascots and behaviors from the U.S. sport landscape,” she said. “We can’t rest until all of them are consigned to museums and history books, where they belong.”

Another supporter, Sebastian Medina-Tayac, is a citizen of the Piscataway Nation, whose ancestral lands FedEx Field was built upon. He believes the campaign can inspire greater opposition to the Washington team’s name and mascot.

“We hope this brief moment inspires our country to imagine a world without racist mascots,” he said.

The term "redskins" refers to scalps of Native Americans hunted as bounty during colonial times and into the late-19th century, according to Rising Hearts. It's also described in most dictionaries as a against Native peoples.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, as part of two separate cases, including one led by Harjo, has determined that the team's trademarks are "disparaging" to Native Americans and bring Native peoples into disrepute. But the challenges were put to an end after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key federal law as unconstitutional this summer.

Other activists involved in the #GoRedhawks campaign included: Valarie Marie Proctor (Cedarville Band of Piscataway), Jair Carrasco, (Aymara), Lindsay Rodriguez (Cheyenne Arapaho), Jordan Marie Daniel (Kul Wicasa Oyate) and Nick Courtney (Makah). The group said it was joined by “hundreds of collaborators” and its posts featured web designs by Dan Staples.

The #GoRedhawks campaign

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