SALAMANCA — Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong says he’s glad the NFL’s Washington franchise has dropped it’s racist nickname, albeit ownership of the team did so under financial pressure.
“It is a change that is long overdue,” Armstrong said in a statement Monday after the NFL team said it was dropping “Redskins” as its nickname. “The Seneca people and Indigenous people everywhere are appreciative of the fact that this change is finally being made.”
Yet, he said, it is clear that the team’s ownership did not make this decision out of respect and decency toward Indigenous people, who have been calling for this change for many years.
“Ultimately, it was the financial pressure exerted by corporations and the possible hit on the team’s wallet that drove the decision,” Armstrong said. “We appreciate that companies like Nike, FedEx and others stood up to force the issue toward its rightful conclusion.”
Whatever the reason, Armstrong said the Senecas are happy that the change is being made, and he hopes the team will engage Native Americans in a meaningful way as they create a new identity.
“If there was ever a moment to make a statement about how we can start to successfully move beyond the caricature and negative representations of Native culture, this is it,” he said. “An organization that performs on a global stage and is based in the nation’s capital has the platform to make that statement. Not doing so would be a missed opportunity.”
Armstrong added that the change in Washington should not be an isolated occurrence. The use of Native American names and imagery needs to be looked at in a comprehensive manner.
“Communities, organizations and institutions at every level across the country should start those important conversations and heed the call for positive change,” he said.
The Oneida Nation in Central New York also applauded Washington’s move.
“The NFL is standing today on the right side of history,” said Ray Halbritter, the federal representative of the Oneida Nation. “It’s a good decision.”
Halbritter credited Washington team owner Dan Snyder, who had been on record in the past saying he would never change the name of one of the NFL’s oldest franchises.
“Dan Snyder won today,” Halbritter said. “Now he gets to have a winning legacy and a legacy of standing on the right side of history.”
“This is what makes this country great,” Halbritter added. “The ability to evolve.”
The name was given to the franchise in 1933 when the team was still based in Boston.
The Oneidas helped launch the campaign called “Change the Mascot!” in 2013. It found its inspiration from students at Cooperstown High School, who led an effort that year to change its team mascot from “Redskins” to Hawkeyes. The Oneidas donated $10,000 to the school to help buy new team jerseys.