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Why Va. tribes have stayed out of Redskins name controversy

Posted at 1:05 AM, Nov 17, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-17 01:07:55-05

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Native Americans who took part in the 24th annual Great American Indian Exposition and Pow-Wow on Sunday are weighing in on the Washington Redskins name controversy.

Members explained why Virginia tribes have not been as vocal about the mascot controversy as other tribes around the nation.

"We are here to let people know we are still around we still exist," said one participant.

More than 40 tribes from across the country attended the annual pow-wow, which celebrates November as Native American Heritage Month. The event aims to educate the public about the groups' storied heritage.

But the discussion about the Washington Redskins team name was unavoidable for those on both sides of the debate.

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"I’m so used to Washington being called the Redskins, it doesn't offend me," one man said.

However, another man said that if he left emotion out of and stuck with the facts, the choice is clear. "The facts are it's a derogatory term," he said.

When asked why more Native Americans from the Commonwealth have not joined in the debate, like other tribes across the country, one Native American said that it has everything to do with politics.

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"Who does most of Virginia root for? You can make a lot of enemies very quickly,” explained Reggie Tupponce.

Tupponce, who belongs to Virginia's Upper Mattaponi Tribe, said the silence is not just because the tribe is divided. It's because he said there is a fear of a backlash.

And not just from neighbors, but from politicians. In fact, the General Assembly launched a Redskins pride caucus in June.

"If you look at our legislature, they have come out and done a caucus to support [the name] and a lot of native issues need support from the government,"Tupponce said

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While team owner Dan Snyder maintains the term Redksin is respectful. He said it honors Native American heritage and that the team name will stay.

But many at the pow-wow vowed that the name change is ultimately a fight they will not lose.

"It is a slur to our people,” one tribe member said.