In an effort to divert attention away from the fact that the Washington Redskins still bear an offensive name, team owner Daniel Snyder announced a large charitable effort on Monday night with the creation of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation. The organization is committed to tackling "the troubling realities facing so many tribes across our country."
Over the past few months, Snyder has toured the nation and met with tribal leaders throughout the country in order to figure out what issues are most pressing. He encountered widespread poverty, poorly supplied schools, widespread disease and drug abuse, and a lack of basic infrastructure. Snyder’s charity has already begun distributing clothing and resources to various tribes.
While the effort is commendable, it’s also an obvious attempt at misdirection to take pressure off the team over their offensive namesake. Two passages in Snyder’s letter stand out:
Our efforts will address the urgent challenges plaguing Indian country based on what Tribal leaders tell us they need most.
In addition to travelling and meeting in-person with Tribal communities, we took a survey of tribes across 100 reservations so that we could have an accurate assessment of the most pressing needs in each community.
The emphasis there is Snyder’s own, with the implication being that a terrible name is peanuts compared to the quote-unquote real problems facing the Native American population. But the argument that more pressing problems can negate relatively minor ones is an inadequate one. Crippling poverty and institutional racism are both bad things, and just because eradicating poverty is more urgent than changing a racist team name does not mean that the latter issue ceases to exist. This is, of course, not even broaching the idea that poverty and racism might somehow be intertwined.
The Original Americans Foundation is a smokescreen. A smokescreen that will likely have a positive effect on many people, but a smokescreen nonetheless. “We’re also hopeful that in his new initiative to honor Native Americans’ struggle,” Oneida representative Ray Halbritter said in a statement, "[that] Mr. Snyder makes sure people do not forget that he and his predecessor George Preston Marshall, a famous segregationist, have made our people’s lives so much more difficult by using a racial slur as the Washington team’s name.”
Activist Suzanne Shown Harjo pointed out Snyder’s hypocrisy more explicitly, citing how negative imagery and names like the Redskins have contribute to detrimental psychological and sociological effects. “[Snyder] can cry about high rates of suicides but he doesn’t begin to understand how he’s contributing to that and that this is a real matter of life and death,” she told ThinkProgress.