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An Activist Shares Her Reaction To Washington NFL Team Finally Retiring Its Name

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

After years of pressure, the Washington NFL team will have a new name. The team announced today it was retiring its name, which is a racial slur of Native American people. The new name will be announced at a later date. Activists have been working toward this outcome for decades now. One of them is Crystal Echo Hawk, an enrolled member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. I spoke with her earlier today.

Crystal Echo Hawk, welcome.

CRYSTAL ECHO HAWK: Thank you.

MCCAMMON: And I have to ask - when you first heard the news this morning, what were your thoughts?

ECHO HAWK: It was really emotional. Honestly, I had a good cry - tears of joy - but just really thought a lot about, you know, our native leaders who've worked on this for, you know, decades - nearly three decades. It's been 30 years in the making. And I thought about, you know, the mother of this movement, Suzan Shown Harjo, who's dedicated her life to this issue, and Amanda Blackhorse fighting for this racial slur to be dropped. And it was just - was really - it's a remarkable, historic day for native peoples. And I think it was just a - you know, it's remarkable, you know, time in this country's history. I commend, you know, the NFL and the Washington team for finally doing the right thing.

MCCAMMON: You and fellow activists have been saying for years that this name is offensive. The team's owner, Dan Snyder, famously said he would never change the name. Why do you think this is happening now?

ECHO HAWK: Well, I think for Mr. Snyder, never certainly got a lot shorter. But I think it's just - you know, again, we're in - there was, like, a really extraordinary confluence of events that came together. You know, I think it's built, again, on this 30 years' worth of work that is, you know - has happened by, you know, these native leaders working on this issue.

But really, I think part of this is attributed to the murder of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and so many others and, you know, this reckoning that this country is having right now with systemic racism in this country. And you know, the Movement for Black Lives has created a space now for a larger conversation about how systemic racism manifests itself and how it affects, you know, Indigenous peoples and different communities of color.

But I think the tipping point absolutely was when the $620 billion worth of investors stepped forward, led by Carla Fredericks and First Peoples Worldwide, to basically tell the sponsors of the team, you need to ask the team to change the name or else - right? And I think that was really that - that economic pressure from the investors was the tipping point.

MCCAMMON: It seems like very often, the tipping point with these things does come when there - when people feel it in the wallet. How do you feel about the fact that it took economic pressure for this to happen?

ECHO HAWK: You know, I mean, it's disappointing that that's, you know, kind of the tipping point that it took because racism is racism. When you see these grand pronouncements of, you know, the NFL, the Washing (ph) team and, you know, so many of these big companies about fighting racism - and it really felt like for the last few weeks up until then that people were sort of cherry-picking and curating which kind of racism they were going to, you know, stand up to.

And the fact that, you know, Native Americans have consistently been erased and silenced over the years, particularly on this issue but so many, it would've been more powerful to see those companies and certainly the team and the league to do the right thing long before this. But we're going to celebrate the victory today.

And our biggest concern is that going forward that the - you know, that the team not try to hold on to any native imagery - you know, any of those sort of fan gestures such as redface, any of that associated with it. And we hope that, you know, the NFL will step forward as well and understand that we're calling on a ban for an elimination of all native mascots, team names, imagery and the fan gestures that go with it because it is all incredibly harmful. And you know, we're - that's a really important point, and native peoples are going to keep fighting on this issue till it all gets done.

MCCAMMON: You talk about honoring Native American people by listening to them. The Washington football team said earlier this month it wants to, quote, "continue the mission of honoring and supporting Native Americans." What is your reaction to that mission as stated?

ECHO HAWK: They've (laughter) - they've never honored native people because they have continuously ignored and silenced and used all sorts of tactics to silence and dismiss native peoples' consistent calls to change the team name and to get rid of the logo and everything else. And so I'm not sure where they feel like along the way any of those tactics to silence native peoples have been about honoring.

They have an opportunity, starting today, to truly honor native peoples, but that includes doing a meaningful consultation with native peoples about what that means. What does honoring mean, right? What is going to be this new team name? What is the imagery, you know? It cannot be associated with native peoples, but there should be some kind of reconciliation process with native peoples. That starts with meaningful consultation with native leaders who have been a part of this movement since the get-go that need to have a seat at the table, and that is truly honoring. But there has been nothing honoring in their behavior to this point.

MCCAMMON: Crystal Echo Hawk is an activist, the founder and executive director of IllumiNative and an enrolled member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma.

Thanks so much.

ECHO HAWK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hey, thanks for reading.
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