The 9-3 Green Bay Packers will be looking to make a statement on the field as they host the 3-9 team from Washington this Sunday.
Off the field, outside the stadium, members of Wisconsin’s Indigenous Nations and their allies will make a different kind of statement — that the Washington team’s mascot is a racial slur and unacceptable.
“I don’t think it’s been a secret for the last 20, 30 years that sovereign nations have wanted to be treated respectfully, to be treated fairly and that these mascots that are caricatures or violent or hostile betrayals of individuals is not conducive to being Native American,” said Oneida Nation Public Relations Director Bobbi Webster. “It’s a stereotypical vision of something that should not be encouraged and should not be proliferated through our school systems, through our sports venues.”
“When we talk about the Washington team name, it is not just a mascot or a team name. It is the worst racist slur against Native Americans,” Ho-Chunk Supreme Court Justice Tricia Zunker wrote in an email to Madison365. “This term is derived from a practice of hunting Native Americans with the intent to commit genocide. It is a racist term that celebrates genocide of hundreds of thousands of people. It is not a name that honors Native Americans. It does not educate anyone on our true histories, our continued existence, or the real issues facing Indian country today. We also see fans of that team who make a mockery of our practices through their red face paint and fake feathers, which only reinforces stereotypes and leads to increased cross-community conflict.”
Zunker is also president of the Wausau School Board and led the charge statewide for a Wisconsin Association of School Boards resolution condemning and calling for an end to the use of Native American mascots at Wisconsin high schools. She is running for Congress in Wisconsin’s Seventh Congressional District.
“Imagine a slur of another race used as a name for a football team – it’s truly hard to imagine, yet it has been deemed acceptable for use against Native Americans. It is not acceptable. It is offensive, intolerable and as a matter of social justice, must end,” Zunker wrote.
A protest is planned to begin at 9 am Sunday at the southwest corner of Lambeau Field to coincide with the arrival of the Washington team’s bus and limos. Protests are being organized by the Indian Mascot and Logo Taskforce and the Eighth Congressional District Democratic Party.
“Green Bay Wisconsin is a wholesome place. We don’t need institutional racism coming in to make money off our community,” the Indian Mascot and Logo Taskforce wrote in the description of the Facebook event.
The Oneida Nation is a major sponsor of the Green Bay Packers, and will not officially participate in the protest.
“We are not opposed to those individuals who want to exercise their freedom of speech and freedom of assembly to gather and to voice their concerns and their opposition,” Webster said. “We’re not opposed to that, but we aren’t officially endorsing or participating. However, we do have a number of tribal members who are engaged and who are using their constitutional rights to express their thoughts and their beliefs.”
The Oneida Nation is focusing on educating the public with a positive message about its people, including a 30-second video that will play on the big screens in the stadium at halftime.
The Packers have allowed the Oneida Nation to create and perform cultural awareness activities at home games every season during the partnership, which has lasted nearly 20 years.
“We do a cultural sharing at one of the halftimes, usually earlier in the year, like in September or October where we have our Oneida dancers that go down on the field during the halftime and we share some of our dancers and our social songs and such,” Webster said. “We also have commercials that air regularly throughout the season in the stadium.”
Webster said the latest commercial, “Oneida Defines Who We Are,” carries a positive educational message, and is a good message to spread while Washington is in town.
“We’re looking at putting something out there that shows you truly who the Oneida Nation is as Native Americans,” Webster said. “We’re people of peace. We’re people of joy. We’re one with creation. We’re happy people. We’re elders. We’re young people. We’re police officers. We’re judges. We’re tribal leaders. We’re veterans. So those are some of the things that we want people to look at and, to perceive Native American people as not caricatures, cartoons or symbols that are derogatory.”
“It’s a strategic plan to focus on defining who we are and raising the profile of who we are, Native Americans, Oneida Nation versus who we’re not,” Webster said. “So we’re hoping that people would support and encourage our commercial. And there is some coincidence to it being ready for this game, but we would have had it. We were working on it. But the timing seemed good for us to premier it at this particular game.”
The Packers issued a statement in response to the Oneida Nation’s educational effort.
“The Oneida Nation has a rich history and are great members of our community in Northeastern Wisconsin. The Green Bay Packers are proud to have them as partners and we support them in their effort to celebrate their heritage,” the statement said.