Notes from Indian Country
Using the R-Word is still fashionable in Rapid City
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)
It was somewhere in the early 1990s when I was on my way back to Rapid City from Brookings when I stopped at the Big Boy Restaurant in Mitchell just off of I-90 for breakfast.
I walked up to the register to be seated when I spotted the sports announcer for KOTA television at a table. He spotted me at the same time and waved me over to join him. His name was Bob Laskowski and he was one of the sports guys’ way back when broadcasting for radio and television who was one of the first to take an unbiased interest in the Lakota Nation Invitational basketball tournament that was held every December in Rapid City.
He made sure the LNI games were given adequate coverage and made it a habit to announce the winners for those who couldn’t make it to the games.
After my coffee and breakfast arrived at our table Bob said, “I wanted for a long time to talk to you about mascots. You are one of the first newspaper people ever to complain about the different sports teams using Indians as mascots. Tell me why?”
A protest against the Washington NFL team's racist mascot. Photo: Fibonacci
I told him the story that I felt every human being could relate to. I said, “One time I was watching an NFL game and one of the teams was from Washington. At half time some fans wearing feathers and painted as Indians chased a pig out onto the field. The pig was painted red and had a tiny, feathered war bonnet attached to its head. I certainly did not consider that an honor as most fans of teams using Indians as mascots are prone to say.”
I added, “Now Bob, suppose these were fans of a team named the Blackskins and they took a pig, painted it black and put an Afro wig on its head. Do you think black football fans would consider this an honor?” Bob said resoundingly, “Hell no.”
I told Bob that the word “Redskin” was a derogatory word and was unacceptable to most Native Americans. I said, “Look it up in any dictionary and you will see it is insulting to Indians.”
Bob sat there very quietly saying nothing for a little while and then he slowly nodded his head and said, “Thanks Tim, you’ve given me a new perspective on this.”
Tim Giago. Photo
courtesy Native Sun News Today
A couple of months later I was on the Oprah Winfrey Show
with Suzan Harjo and Michael Haney. The topic of the show was using Indians as mascots. It was the first time ever that a national television show had ever tackled this controversial topic. Lawskowski watched the show.
It was a few days later that he called me just to talk. He said, “Tim, I am making it a point from now on to never use the word “Redskin” in my news or sports show. I can now understand why Indians find the word to be offensive.” And he was true to his word. Right up until they day he died he never once used the word “Redskin” in any of his broadcasts. Now that was a man!
I was told by Station Manager Jack Caudill of KEVN that they did not use that word in their broadcasts and his message was corroborated by sports announcer Vic Quick a few days later. Quick reiterated that he did not use “Redskin” whenever that team played. I called both of them when I saw and heard the word on their television station a few days later. As a matter of fact I heard it just last week when the schedule of the upcoming first three games for the Denver Broncos were announced and that one of the teams they would be playing was the Washington “Redskins.” They had both told me that although the station frowns on using the word they had no control over what the network did.
My message to them is that they should educate the network. Teach them that the sports broadcasts emanating from their station is watched by many Native Americans. I don’t know if they did this, but it was sad to hear that word again last week on their station. I know their heart is in the right place, but they need to step up and educate their own network. There are newspapers like the Washington Post that will never use the word “Redskin” even though that teams plays right under their noses in DC.
But many of our local newspapers including the one in Rapid City have continued to use the word even though they know by now that it is an insult to all of the Lakota people who read their paper.
We at the Native Sun News Today have labeled it as the “R-Word” and that is the way we report it on our sports pages. If the N-Word is distasteful to African Americans then the R-Word is just as distasteful to Native Americans and should be regarded as such. If you ever hear one Native American say they don’t find the word bothersome then remind yourself of what Suzan Harjo said on the Oprah Winfrey show that day we appeared on it, “There were also happy campers back on the plantation in the old days.”
Tim Giago, founder of Indian Country Today and the Native American Journalists Association, can be reached at email@example.com
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