The Forks Estate: Native leaders on the portrayal of their culture

One of the vice presidents of Native Leaders for Change shares his thoughts on the issue of representation

In this episode of Forks Estate, Cassandra Laubach talks with Josiah Lester, one of the vice presidents of Native Leaders for Change, about how native people are used as mascots for sports teams, mainly the Washington Redskins. Lester explains how it is not the word "Redskin" that is offensive, but the modern context in which it is used. He says "it's as if they don't see us as a modern entity." Lester goes on to explain his resentment of this portrayal, "... It keeps you up to a certain standard when you're people are labeled after a national football team and that's what they're most known for. Not their tribal teachings or what else we have to offer."


Cassandra Laubach: Hello, I'm your host Cassandra Laubach, and you're listening to The Forks Estate. Today on The Forks Estate I spoke with an officer from The Native Leaders for Change organization on campus, Josiah Lester. I was able to speak to him about whether he believes that sports teams names, such as the Washington Redskins, are empowering or whether they're disempowering to him and his community.  

Josiah Lester: I am involved with The Native Leaders for Change. It is a new club on campus. Native Leaders for Change focuses on creating opportunities for Native American leaders. Students will be encouraged to enhance skills such as public speaking and interviewing, things to get them prepared for the job, scholarships, internships, etc.  

Cassandra Laubach: So my first question is, just in your personal opinion, do you think that this name and other names like it are empowering or do you find them offensive?

Josiah Lester: The name itself is not as offensive as people make it seem. If I was called a redskin I don't think it would be as offensive as somebody calling an African-American the N-word. It wouldn't be in the same context. I feel as if it's not empowering either. It's almost in this state where we're not taking it to mean respect. It's as if they don't see us as a modern entity. They see Redskin as a label, as if we're this eighteen hundreds, living in a teepee top people. Some people think Native Americans are extinct altogether. I feel like the word Redskin and how they portray Native Americans on their emblem, that's how people see us today. Truth is where we're just like anybody else. I feel like people just put us in the past. 

Cassandra Laubach: Why do you think that people put you in the past? Do you think it's a stereotype problem, an education problem, or what do you think it is?

Josiah Lester: I think it's stereotypes and education. You know the word Redskin and the logo does add on to that. You don't see people putting on turbans or any other cultural regalia and cheer on their sports team except for Native Americans. That's the only kind of sacred regalia that's used in sports today. I believe that adds on to the stereotypes, it kind of just puts us in a sense like we're not here as well. 

Cassandra Laubach: What do you think the difference is between the Washington Redskins versus a team like the Fighting Irish, which is Notre Dame's team? I understand that Notre Dame's team isn't at the NFL level, they're a college team, but their mascot is a little Irish guy. So why do you think that maybe that isn't seen as bad in the media or doesn't get as much attention? 

Josiah Lester: Because they use the word Irish I guess. The Irish is a clear defined term for Irish people, and I don't think Redskins is the same level as that. I think a more accurate term would either be Native American or American Indian instead of Redskin. 

Cassandra Laubach: Do you think that Washington could easily fix the flak that they're getting behind their name by calling themselves the Native Americans, or do you think they'd have to completely come up with a different mascot and totally change their name altogether? 

Josiah Lester: I would like them to change their name altogether and I believe that they can. I feel like it sucks because that's how they have identified as for years now. I don't think it's going to change anytime soon, but I feel like there can be a compromise somewhere. I feel like it is possible.

Cassandra Laubach: What's one thing that you would say to someone that says "The sports teams names don't matter. It's not important. It's always been that way. It's not directly impacting you in everyday life." What would you say as someone who says something like that?

Josiah Lester: In general I tend to ignore people like that, because there's a certain level of ignorance that comes with that. It does impact communities, not necessarily myself. I know it keeps you up to a certain standard when you're people are labeled after a national football team and that's what they're most known for and not their tribal teachings or what else we have to offer.

Cassandra Laubach: Unfortunately that's all the time that we have for today. Thank you so much Josiah for joining me, and thank you for listening to this podcast. I'm your host Cassandra Laubach and I'll see you next time. 

Previous Episodes:

Forks Estate: Congressional Case Work

Forks Estate: Experts explain why it is still so hot in Phoenix

A look at what went into the making of the documentary 'Seeking Asylum'

Reach the podcaster at or on Twitter at @CassieLaubach

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