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The Ad Campaign to Turn Washington's Team Name To 'The R Word'


This week during halftime of game three of the NBA Finals millions of viewers in major markets from Chicago to LA to Washington D.C. saw an ad that started like this.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Proud. Forgotten. Indian.

BLOCK: The ad shows images of Native Americans in drum circles, riding horseback across a stream in U.S. military uniform. And we hear the names and see the faces of Native American legends from Geronimo to Jim Thorpe.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don't

BLOCK: and with that the ad closes on the image of a football helmet bearing the mascot of the Washington Redskins. The video was produced by the National Change the Mascot Campaign which considers that name a racial slur. And the airtime for the ad during the NBA finals was paid for by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, northeast of San Francisco. Marshall McKay is the Tribal Chairman and he joins me now. Welcome to the program.

MARSHALL MCKAY: Thank you Melissa.

BLOCK: And Mr. McKay what's your aim with this ad?

MCKAY: Education. We are using this valuable time to try to educate our neighbors, our children, our friends on the degree of the R-word. To us it is as derogatory a slur as the N-word is to black people.

BLOCK: Why don't you explain the origins of that word as you see them?

MCKAY: The origin goes back to the mid-1800s in California for me. And it is a symbol of bounty hunting in the Native American community during that time. The term redskin was not anything less than the blood on our bodies that the bounty hunters when they took our corpses to be redeemed for their payment. That's what I understand this term to mean.

BLOCK: There are voices of other Native Americans who say, look I don't see that name that way. I don't see it as a slur. What do you say to them?

MCKAY: Well again I go back to that opening state statement, education. It really is racism and I think it's time to talk about it from the native perspective and how harmful it is to the psychology of young people. Who have to ask what does this mean? They have to be told the truth.

BLOCK: You know I was looking at a column that ran a while back on Deadspin written by the Native American writer Gyasi Ross. He's a member of the Blackfeet Indian Nation and one of the points he makes is that most native people have a lot of other what he would consider to be much more serious concerns like poverty, substance abuse and suicide. The mascot question he says isn't anywhere near the top of the list of the things that Native Americans should be worrying about.

BLOCK: Do you see his point?

MCKAY: I see the statement but I also disagree with that because I believe psychological damage causes a lot of those afflictions that we're dealing with. It causes depression, depression causes addiction. Yes is feeding children and making sure they're not hungry when they go to bed important? Yes. But I also am looking at why this is going on and I do believe that there is some, some connection between racism and the depression that it causes, and it's generational.

BLOCK: Mr. Mckay, thanks so much for talking with us.

MCKAY: It has been my pleasure Melissa.

BLOCK: Marshall McKay chairs the tribal Council for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation in California. We did reach out to the Washington Redskins for a response. The team declined to comment. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.