High above the floor of the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building is a painted panorama depicting significant events in American history. It begins with the arrival of Christopher Columbus and ends with the pioneering flight of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.
The intricate artwork includes images of commerce and manufacturing, war and peace.
The Civil War is captured through a scene of Union and Confederate soldiers shaking hands, presumably after Generals Lee and Grant signed the terms of surrender.
An earlier conflict, the War of 1812, could have been preserved through a scene from the Battle of Fort McHenry, which gave birth to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Or perhaps the mighty warship Niagara engaging the British at the Battle of Lake Erie.
Instead, the war is remembered by a scene of an American officer shooting and killing Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames in Upper Canada. That is repulsive.
Fast forward to last week when the Northern California-based Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation broadcast a 60-second version of a National Congress of American Indians ad during halftime of Game 3 of the NBA finals. Titled “Proud to Be,” the spot challenges resistance to change the name of the Washington Redskins football team.
“In my opinion, the ‘r’ word is just as derogatory a slur as the ‘n’ word,” stated Marshall McKay, chairman of the nation, the group that bankrolled the spot. The terse script holds the attention of the most desensitized of viewers.
“Proud. Forgotten. Indian. Navajo. Blackfoot. Inuit and Sioux. Survivor. Spiritualist. Patriot.
“Sitting Bull. Hiawatha and Jim Thorpe. Mother. Father. Son. Daughter. Chief.
“Apache. Pueblo. Choctaw. Chippewa and Crow. Underserved. Struggling. Resilient. Squanto. Red Cloud. Tecumseh and Crazy Horse. Rancher. Teacher. Doctor. Soldier.
“Seminole. Seneca. Mohawk and Creek. [Billy] Mills. Will Rogers. Geronimo. Unyielding. Strong. Indomitable.
“Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don’t...” Next there is silence, and viewers see an image of a Redskins football helmet.
Redskins President Bruce Allen stood by the team’s use of the name in a recent letter to Sen. Harry Reid, a leading proponent of dropping the mascot name.
“With over 81 years of tradition created by thousands of alumni and millions of fans, the Redskins team name continues to carry a deep and purposeful meaning,” Allen wrote. “Our use of ‘Redskins’ has always been respectful of and shown reverence toward the proud legacy and traditions of Native Americans.”
Reid sees it differently.
“It would make a lot of sense that they should get rid of having a group of Americans as mascots. They’re not mascots – they’re human beings,” Reid said. “I have 22 tribes in Nevada and they’re insulted by this cavalier attitude about what they’re being called.”
Allen added, “We will continue to provide the support that people in the Washington area and others across the nation have come to expect from us.”
Schools across the country still admire the legacy of a pro football team more than that of our native people and resist efforts to rename their own teams. It is not a good example to follow.
Instead of stubborn adherence to what was once viewed as acceptable in this country, Allen should swallow his pride and join the rest of us in the 21st century. His image would be improved considerably.
By the way, when Lee and Grant met to end the Civil War, the federal soldier who wrote out the terms of surrender was a Seneca chief named Ely Parker. He grew up near Pembroke.
Grant insisted on introducing his staff members to Lee individually. Lee hesitated upon meeting Parker, possibly mistaking him for a former slave.
However, Lee quickly realized his error, extended his hand to Parker and said, “I am glad to see one real American here.” Parker responded, “We are all Americans.”
(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of newspapers with a total circulation of 286,500 readers. He can be reached at email@example.com.)