A Montana-based Native American rodeo competition has severed ties with the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, the controversial charitable organization backed by Washington’s NFL franchise, because of the team’s continued use of a nickname the rodeo’s organizers consider a “racial slur.”
The Indian National Finals Rodeo, which says it is the U.S.' and Canada's largest rodeo organization for Native Americans, is the latest of a number of groups that have rejected or returned donations from the foundation. OAF has drawn the ire of many Native American organizations since it launched last year.
The rodeo, which accepted a $200,000 donation from the charity last year, notified OAF of its decision in a Sept. 1 letter obtained by The Huffington Post. INFR Vice President Michael Bo Vocu, who signed the letter, confirmed its authenticity in a phone call Friday.
“After much soul searching, we have decided that we cannot in good conscience accept resources from you on the terms you have offered, no matter how desperately we need it,” Vocu wrote in the letter. “That is because, as you know, the resources you are offering are not truly philanthropic -- they come with the expectation that we will support the racial slur that continues to promote your associated professional football team’s name.”
“That expectation is explicit: the organization offering the resources, the Washington R*dskins [sic] Original Americans Foundation, was deliberately named to invoke this slur and to ultimately make legitimizing that slur the consequence of accepting the foundation’s support,” Vocu continued.
Daniel Snyder, the Washington team’s owner, launched OAF in 2014 amid widespread criticism of the team’s name. The foundation sought to fund projects in Native American tribes and communities in an effort to “tackle the troubling realities facing so many tribes across our country,” Snyder wrote in a letter announcing OAF's formation.
However, many Native American activists blasted the move as an attempt to buy the silence of the name’s opponents.
INFR decided to take money from the foundation a year ago in order to meet its annual budget, but the decision was met with news stories describing the rodeo's “embrace” of the team’s name. Many tribes and Native American organizations also refused the foundation’s money.
The donation caused division among INFR's members, fans and contestants, Vocu told HuffPost on Friday, particularly after the foundation’s logo -- which includes the Washington team’s primary logo -- was featured prominently at rodeo events that OAF sponsored.
“The use of the logo left an uneasy feeling” among the organization’s members, Vocu said.
INFR board members met with OAF members in August to discuss their concerns about the logo, but Vocu said reducing the prominence of the Washington team's emblem “didn’t sound like something they wanted to do. It wasn’t the response we wanted.”
Vocu said INFR's board later discussed the issue and voted unanimously to sever the partnership. He maintained that the rodeo was "deeply appreciative" of the foundation’s contribution, and says he believes OAF sincerely wants to help Native American communities. But, he added, the group’s decision was rooted in opposition to the name and the discord caused by associating with the foundation.
The foundation has “sown division when we are in desperate need of unity,” the letter states.
The South Dakota-based Cheyenne Sioux tribe last month returned a $25,000 contribution from OAF. Last year, professional golfer Notah Begay III, who is Navajo, Isle
Washington’s team name has remained controversial since the foundation launched, and it has drawn the ire of Native American leaders and politicians across the country. Snyder, however, has said that he would “never” change the name, which he sees as a term of “honor,” “pride” and “respect.”
Neither OAF nor the Washington team immediately responded to a request for comment.
In his letter, Vocu said INFR could still accept money from the foundation, under one condition.
“If you are still interested in supporting our event in the name of your publicly expressed support for Indian Country," the letter says, "then we would plan to use some of the funds you make available to help educate the public about the history of the R-word, why it is so offensive and harmful to Native Americans and the need to eradicate it from today’s vocabulary."