Dan Snyder had a lousy Native American Heritage Month. His team went 0-for-November, bottoming out in Indianapolis with RGIII on the bench and the owner's pet's career in worse shape than his left and right menisci. Plus there was that brutal New Yorker cover and a gloriously oblivious "Happy Thanksgiving" tweet sent out from the team's account.
Well, here's another turkey for Snyder: Chief Bill John Baker, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, has promised constituents that moving forward his tribe will not be associated with any event backed by the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation (OAF), Snyder's dubious Indian charity that, among other things, lacks the courage of its conviction to call itself the Washington Redskins Redskins Foundation.
Baker's pledge comes after complaints from Cherokee Nation citizens about its sponsorship of the Indian National Finals Rodeo (INFR), held in Las Vegas in early November.
Jennie Stockle, a Cherokee who lives on tribal lands near Tulsa, Okla., was among those who were appalled after going to the INFR web site and finding a big OAF logo atop the sponsors roster. The OAF ad on the INFR site is hyperlinked to the front page of Redskins.com, the home page of Snyder's football team. OAF does not have a web site.
Stockle was further disgusted to learn that, in essence, she was sponsoring the Vegas shindig: The Cherokee Nation seal was beneath OAF's badge amid the gaggle of INFR sponsors.
"To see the seal of the Cherokee Nation right below the [Redskins] logo really hurt," says Stockle, a devout anti-name activist who traveled to Minneapolis a few weeks ago to participate in a massive protest against the use of native mascots.
In 2001, the Cherokee Nation leadership signed on to a resolution with all fellow nations of the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes supporting a "call to eliminate the stereotypical use of American Indian names and images as mascots in sports." Last year, the council passed another resolution, signed by Chief Baker, to specifically "oppose the use of the term 'Redskins' as the name of Washington, D.C.' NFL franchise" and to work with lawmakers who have a "commitment to rebrand said franchise."
Stockle called Cherokee offices to let her know how peeved she was by the INFR alliance. She got callbacks from the top rung of the tribe. In a message left on her voicemail and in a subsequent conversation with Stockle, Baker apologized for the appearance of a partnership between the Cherokee Nation and OAF. He told her that he'd become a sponsor before finding out that Snyder's group was a major funder of the rodeo, and learned about OAF's participation too late to get the Nation's money back.
In a phone conversation with Deadspin last week, Baker again pleaded ignorance about OAF's role when he bought ads with INFR. He said that more than a dozen Cherokee citizens had qualified for the finals, and the sponsorship was a way to show support for them. Had he known OAF was involved, Baker said, he would have looked for another way to back the riders. And he said he was sorry for "the hurt" that it had caused Cherokee. He said it won't happen again.
"We try to sponsor our people," Baker said. "We sponsor literally hundreds of events, and to figure out who the other sponsors are is extremely difficult."
But, he added, "We'll ask next year."
In Indian Country, the Cherokee Nation's boycott of all OAF-sponsored events is significant. For one: According to the 2010 census, the Cherokee are the second-largest Indian tribe in the U.S., behind only the Navajo.
Also: Gary Edwards, the guy Snyder hired as OAF's first executive director, identifies as Cherokee.
Stockle says she tried to get the Cherokee Nation participants to withdraw from the competition, but failed. Rodeos are near and dear to Cherokee, and the INFR is far and away the biggest annual event for native horsemen.
"I grew up where Will Rogers, the quintessential American cowboy, did," says Stockle. "I went to as many rodeos as powwows. My 13th birthday was spent horseback riding with my best friends. To me it was a pretty typical Cherokee childhood. This [event] is a huge thing for cowboys. But this is important, and I asked them to 'cowboy up,' stand up for our kids, pull out of the rodeo, and not play into these stupid little games [Snyder is] playing with them."
Though the boycott plea didn't work, Stockle said she's satisfied with Baker's assurance that there will be no repeat.
"I do see now that he's willing to not sell us out," she said.
This isn't the first time a native group has withdrawn from an OAF-sponsored event to avoid being linked with Snyder. In April, the Notah Begay III Foundation (NB3), the eponymous non-profit founded by Tiger Woods's Stanford golf teammate, joined the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), a group representing more than 180 native tribes, in yanking support for what was called the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation 1st Annual KTNN Celebrity Golf Tournament shortly before tee time.
Both NB3 and NIGA accused OAF and tournament organizers of conspiring to hide Snyder's involvement from other potential sponsors.
"The NB3 Foundation does not support the Redskins or its organization OAF," Begay's group said in a statement announcing the pullout. "We are adamantly opposed to the team's continued use of this derogatory name."
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