Knight Hall panel discusses controversy surrounding Redskins’ namepanelist Tara Houska, a member of the Couchiching tribe and founder of Not Your Mascots

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Sung-Min Kim/The Diamondback

Only one person in the crowd of about 100 gathered in Knight Hall’s Eaton Theater yesterday night said that the Washington Redskins should not change their name.

He is former Redskins player Ray Schoenke, one of six panelists who shared their opinions on the issue at the “Controversy Over a Name: Washington’s NFL Team” event presented by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism.

“I do not look upon the name as a racial slur,” he said during the panel, adding that he was a history major in college. “I studied that word. I know what it meant. It was descriptive … I’ve always been in support of the name.”

But panelist Tara Houska, a member of the Couchiching tribe and founder of Not Your Mascot, said the name has a negative effect on the self-esteem of Native American children.

“You dress up as us,” she said. “That is so offensive. How do you not understand that?”

Houska and Schoenke went head to head throughout the panel. At one point Houska asked the former offensive lineman whether he would call her a “redskin” to her face.

“Yes,” he responded. “It’s a descriptive word.”  

Schoenke said Native Americans should take advantage of being part of an industry as economically powerful as the NFL and try to get Redskins owner Dan Snyder to invest money into combating some of the problems prevalent on Native American reservations, such as alcoholism, poverty and suicide.

Other panelists said they do not see Snyder helping the Native Americans economically as a feasible possibility because he has not shown any interest before.

If the name were changed, Schoenke said, it would not fix any of the problems facing the Native American population.

Houska and several Native American audience members disagreed.

Joe Horse Capture, who belongs to the A’aninin tribe, said the poor economic conditions on reservations exist because businesses in the surrounding communities aren’t investing in them.

“The Redskins [name] is one symptom of what has happened to Native Americans over the past 30, 40 years. What has happened is ‘White America’ has been brainwashed to look at Native Americans as ‘un-people.’ They’ve ‘un-peopled’ them,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why nobody is investing into Native Americans because it doesn’t really matter.”

Horse Capture said changing the name, which he called disrespectful, would be one step in the process of Native Americans gaining respect from people of other races.

Panelist Dave Owens, a WUSA-TV sports commentator, said the name should be changed because there are enough people out there who want it to be.

Owens said resistance to change comes down to power.

“Powerful people — in this case, Dan Snyder, and other owners and the commissioner — don’t want to see it happen because if a small group can do that, holy s—-, what else can they possibly do?” he said.

Washington Post columnist Mike Wise said Snyder’s cooperation could help solve the conflict more quickly.

“I just wish Dan Snyder and others would put themselves in the shoes of Native Americans who say they are harmed by this,” he said. “If that happens, I think we can really have change. The fact that he is unwilling to meet with the offended and just have a conversation … bothers me to no end.”

Panelist and USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, who used to cover the team for The Washington Post, predicted the team’s name will change in the next five years.

“It’s an important cultural marker. I see it in a bigger historical view,” she said. “It will change; there is no doubt about that. This is the way history marches, and then our society moves forward.” | @sarahdeanjourn

Tara Zhaabowekwe Houska
 added 4 new photos.

Last night’s debate, hosted by the Povich cCenter for sports journalism. panelists: Andy Pollin (ESPN), Dave Owens (WUSA), Ray Schoenke (former redsk*ns player), Christine Brennan (USA today), mike wise (wash post), and yours truly. 
top moments: 
1. Older gent approaches me after “i’ve been a fan for 45 yrs, after hearing you speak, the name needs to change. i don’t care if only 5 natives are offended, it’s not right.”

2. Getting former redsk*ns player Ray Schoenke to say that he would call me a redsk*n to my face. (he didn’t)

special thanks to mike wise for the invite!
i think this was right around the time mr. schoenke said he would call me the slur in question.
miigwech to the folks in the back for lending their support.
Tara Zhaabowekwe Houska's photo.

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