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Native Americans gather in Harmar, call Redskins team name racist

| Sunday, May 25, 2014, 12:51 a.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Raul Maldonado, of Charleroi, participates in one of the dances open to everyone in attendance at the Western Pennsylvania Native American Association gathering at the Syria Shrine in Harmar on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Tommy Nightwolf, of Pricedale, member of the Cherokee and Blackfeet Nations, dances at the Western Pennsylvania Native American Association gathering at the Syria Shrine in Harmar on Saturday, May 24, 2014.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Judy Tatrn, of Tarentum, tries her hand at traditional Native American dancing with Tommy Nightwolf, of Pricedale, a member of the Cherokee and Blackfeet Nation, at the Western Pennsylvania Native American Association gathering at the Syria Shrine in Harmar on Saturday, May 24, 2014.

As drums played and a couple sang in Cherokee, Native Americans gently swayed as they made their way around a sacred dance circle on Saturday under sunny skies in Harmar.

In Washington, Redskins President Bruce Allen was defending the pro football team's nickname against the latest attempt to change it — this time, from 50 U.S. senators who maintain that racism and bigotry have no place in the NFL.

Allen, in a response to the Senate's top Democrat, wrote that the Redskins nickname was “respectful” toward Native Americans.

Tekakwitha Webb of Greenville does not buy it.

She and her husband, Spyder, are Cherokee. They perform eastern-style Cherokee singing and drumming for ceremonies and dancing, which they did for the Native American Gathering in Harmar sponsored by the Western Pennsylvania Native American Association.

“Think about it in the context of other cultures,” said Tekakwitha Webb. “The Redskins name is ridiculous. You wouldn't say Washington whities or Washington n-word.”

The 50 senators wrote NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday, urging him to change the Washington Redskins' name, saying it is racist.

Their letter cited the NBA's quick action to ban Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life because he was heard in an audio recording making racist comments about blacks.

Allen's letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., notes research that “the term Redskins originated as a Native American expression of solidarity.” It claims the team's logo was designed by Native American leaders and cites surveys that Native Americans and Americans as a whole support the name.

Christine Brewer, spokeswoman for the association, and others at the gathering said some sports team names perpetuate stereotypes and create division. That's why they support a national movement to eliminate such names.

More than 2,000 Native American references in sports have been eliminated during the past 35 years, according to a 2013 report from the National Congress of American Indians. Indiana University of Pennsylvania, for instance, changed its nickname from Indians to Crimson Hawks in 2006.

Other cultures would not like being identified by the color of their skin, said Janet Fenchak, 52, of New Florence, who is Lenape.

“It's demeaning for me,” she said.

Brewer, who also is Lenape, said people often have negative views of Native Americans because of Hollywood stereotypes and the perception that they want to take back land they believe is rightfully theirs.

“We're here to share,” said Brewer, 46, of Perryopolis. “We want everyone to get along.”

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has refused to change the team's name, saying it is tradition. The team has had the name since 1933.

One reason Native Americans find the word offensive is because “redskins” were required as proof of an Indian kill for bounty hunters to receive payment, according to the National Congress of American Indians, a nonprofit that advocates for tribal governments and communities.

Pat Staph, 72, of Manor, who said she is one-eighth Cherokee, thinks people are being overly sensitive.

“It's not offensive,” she said. “I think if someone is offended, then they shouldn't look at it.”

Robert Isaac, 39, of Saltsburg, a Seneca, said it's nice to know that government leaders are on their side.

“No matter how the (NFL) spins it, the word is racist,” said Isaac.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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