Native Americans in Montana React to Washington's NFL Team Changing Name and Logo

Washington's NFL franchise announced on Monday that it would no longer use the "Redskins" name and logo. This change elicited excitement among many NFL fans, but some members of the Native American community in Montana had very mixed reactions. There were certainly supporters of the decision, but many also said that they never viewed the logo and name as slurs.

The Great Falls Tribune spoke with several members of the Native American community in the wake of the NFL team's decision. Lance Morris, a member of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, said that teams using invoking Native figures or mascots are guilty of "cultural property appropriation and exploitation." Frank Kipp, the owner of the Blackfeet Nation Boxing Club, told the outlet that he took pride in the team's name and logo when he was growing up.

"Growing up in Seattle, I faced a lot of racism from other kids. Me and my brothers always had to fight," Kipp said. "One of the things we had was a Redskins' football team patch on our coats. We found out that it was a Blackfeet logo, and we identified with that. We thought it was cool, and we were proud of it. I understand that people say it's a derogatory term, I just never took it that way."

Kipp's wife, Ember, said that she understands both sides of this longtime debate. She said that the team named itself after something "unbeatable and strong," which she saw as a compliment. However, Ember said that the fans mimicking war cries and wearing war bonnets is an insult to the culture.

The Tribune interviewed several members of the Native American community in Montana, receiving opinions from both sides of the debate. The National Congress of American Indians commended the team for removing a name that "disrespected, demeaned and stereotyped all Native people." Chippewa Cree tribal member Melody Bernard, on the other hand, said that she "has no qualms" about the name and that the team provided much-needed support by building playgrounds and sponsoring tournaments.

The Tribune reports that Washington's logo actually came from the Native American community in Montana. A Blackfeet man named Walter "Blackie" Wetzel originally designed the team's logo. Born on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, Wetzel became a political leader and the president of the National Congress of American Indians. Once he moved to Washington D.C., Wetzel proposed designing a helmet for an NFL team. He developed the look in 1971, using a composite of Native American photographs.

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"It always really bothered me that because of his association with a logo, his name has been so conflated with a racial slur," Wetzel's grandson, Bill, said in a statement to the Tribune. "He was much more than that. He was Blackfeet Tribal chairman, president of the National Congress of American Indians, and spent his life working to advance civil rights. Among his greatest accomplishments are his pioneering work in job training and housing programs, which impacted not only Indigenous people but the populace at large. My wish is in the future we can concentrate on those much more important, and less polarizing, accomplishments in his legacy."

While members of Wetzel's family understand the reason for the change, some said they are "sad" to see the family legacy go. Jacob Wetzel, the designer's great-grandson, said that he believes the logo represented Native people in a positive way. However, he understands that times are changing.