Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Indian Nation insists that Washington's National Football League's team name is a racial slur to Indians everywhere. (Mike Groll / AP)
Verona, N.Y. – — Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Indian Nation didn’t start the movement to change the name of the Washington Redskins, but the upstate New York tribal leader has turned up the heat.
Halbritter, who emerged as a leader in the effort with the tribe’s “Change the Mascot” campaign, heads a tribal delegation that is meeting in New York City with senior NFL executives today. While the Oneidas’ land and lucrative casino are about 300 miles north of the Redskins’ home field in Maryland, Halbritter is emphatic that the name is a racial slur to Indians everywhere.
“This was the word that was used against our people to push us on reservations — forced us on to reservations,” Halbritter told the Associated Press in an interview. “They took our children from our homes forcibly at gunpoint, calling us the r-word.”
The NFL team was already facing a fresh round of criticism when the Oneidas entered the fray this season with radio ads and a symposium at the same Washington hotel that hosted the league’s fall meeting.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder has called the name “a badge of honor” and said it won’t be changed.
But Halbritter believes keeping the discussion public will get more people thinking about the name’s hurtful implications. During a recent tour of Oneida territory and the blinking slot machines of their Turning Stone casino, Halbritter argued the 1,000-member tribe cannot rest on its own success when Indians are being told they’re “nothing more than a stereotype and a mascot.”
“There was a time when calling black people negroes was acceptable and respectable. It’s changed. This has changed,” Halbritter said.
If the Redskins ever issued a scouting report on the 63-year-old Indian leader, it might describe a veteran out of Harvard Law School who could pose a deep-pocketed threat, thanks to tribal assets built largely on gambling and selling gasoline and cigarettes.
Halbritter said he was fan of the team in the early 1970s when he was an iron worker in Washington. By 1975, he returned to Oneida territory.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that it is ultimately Snyder’s call whether the team changes its name. And Snyder has said that will not happen.
Still, Halbitter said he sees a positive sign in merely taking the discussion straight to NFL officials.
“They’re now listening to us,” Halbritter said. “Were doing something now that they said couldn’t be done: Make an American Indian issue a national issue.”