Virginia tribes call out Obama on ‘Redskins’ name controversy

Posted at 8:10 PM, Oct 14, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-15 06:18:56-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Some Virginia Native American Tribes say federal recognition is far more important to them, than worrying about the ongoing controversy surrounding the name “Redskins.”

NBC commentator Bob Costas ignited a national debate after calling the name ‘an insult, a slur’ during the NFL team’s Sunday game against the Dallas Cowboys.

During an interview earlier this month, even President Obama said he’d think about changing the name if he was the team’s owner.

While the issue has sparked a lot of attention, some Virginia Tribal Chiefs say they have more pressing things to worry about.

Walt “Red Hawk” Brown, chief of Virginia’s Cheroenhaka Nottoway Tribe, says he embraces Native American symbols and words being incorporated into this country’s social fabric and doesn’t find the term “Redskins” offensive.

“It doesn’t refer to me as a native person,” Brown says, “It refers to the players.”

The Cheroenhaka Tribe, derived from the Iroquois Indians, is one of 11 tribes recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia, however they have never received federal recognition.

“Why would my president say that (Redskins) is offensive to him?”  Brown argues.  “What’s offensive to me is that we have 11 state recognized tribes and he hasn’t done one thing to get those tribes federally recognized, but the tribes out west are federally recognized.  We were the ones who had first ethno-historic contact with the colonials.”

Brown was an outspoken critic in 2007, when the NCAA ruled that The College of William & Mary had to get rid of their logo that included two tribal feathers.  The college appealed the decision, but was denied.

Brown, whose daughter attended William & Mary, says he was upset by the decision because the college was one of the first U.S. schools to educate Native Americans.

“I had no problem with it, because it’s part of my history,” Brown says. “ When you take away my history, you take away my people.”

Wayne Adkins, President of the Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life, also known as VITAL, refused to comment on the Redskins issue, but supported Brown’s opinion in a written statement that federal recognition was the prevalent issue.

“In general we are focusing all our efforts and resources on an issue that is much bigger for the tribes of VITAL- official recognition of the tribes by the federal government.”

While Brown acknowledges that the Redskins name could be considered offensive, particularly by Western and Canadian tribes, he says he considers the Redskins name  an honor- not a slur.

“It’s a great honor,” Brown says.