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'Redskins': More than just a name

(Common Dreams) — In the mid-1950s I visited several tribal areas in the west, including the Blackfeet and Crow Reservations. The poverty, despair and cultural devastation were everywhere. In 1956, as a Harvard Law Student, I researched and wrote a long article titled “American Indians: People Without a Future” in the Harvard Law Record. So infrequent were such reports that the Indian Health Service ordered 10,000 reprints.

The Harvard Law School Community ignored this plea for justice for the first Natives who have suffered for generations and seen the genocide of their tribal societies. Both the students and the faculty had other ambitions on their minds.

I am reminded of this sad episode in my legal education as the controversy over the use of the mascot word “Redskins” by the NFL’s Washington football team becomes hotter and hotter. Our culture today pays far more attention to ethnic, racial and gender slurs (many of them fortunately phased out of most public conversations) than to the brutal conditions of penury, discriminating violence, addiction and repression that represent contemporary reality.