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Native American Journalists Association criticizes Washington Post poll


At a time when Washington owner Daniel Snyder and supporters of his team’s name cling to an opinion expressed by 450 self-identifying Native American adults as the last word in the debate regarding whether the name should change, other Native American voices are chiming in with the opposing view.

The Change the Mascot movement has not relented in its opposition to the name, and the National Congress of American Indians calls the poll from the Washington Post “irrelevant.” Separately, the Native American Journalists Association has suggested that the poll is irresponsible.

“Not only does the reporting fail to pass the test of accurate and ethical reporting, it also attempts to legitimize a defined racial slur and is an egregious example of creating the news rather than simply reporting it,” the NAJA declares in a statement released Friday.

The NAJA takes issue with the poll’s reliance on “self-identifying” Native Americans, pointing out that this “is not a reliable indicator of indigenous tribal ancestry.”

“There are numerous available examples of statistical data sets, including the U.S. Census, that are skewed by non-Native individuals claiming to be Native American based on personal belief rather than verifiable citizenship with a tribal nation, or verifiable lineage from a tribal citizen,” the NAJA explains, adding that because only 44 percent of the persons polled claimed to be tribal citizens, the other 56 percent “were likely not Native American.”

The NAJA also points to a potential conflict of interest arising from the relationship between the Post and the team, given that the team “is a key part of its coverage and business model.” While this dynamic hasn’t kept the Post from criticizing the team in the past, it’s obvious based on the statement from Snyder that he’s currently feeling pretty good about the local paper for facilitating the “overwhelming support from the Native American community” for the team’s name.

The bigger problem, from NAJA’s perspective, is that the poll legitimizes a “dictionary-defined racial slur” by suggesting that the propriety of the term is the subject of a “nuanced debate.”

“It is our contention that the continued use of a racial epithet is an act of overt racism that is harmful to an entire segment of American society, in particular its young people,” the NAJA says.

“By framing this story as simply a matter of public opinion, the Post has willfully ignored the harm . . . that will inevitably result from its coverage,” the NAJA argues. “The reporters and editors behind this story must have known that it would be used as justification for the continued use of these harmful, racist mascots. They were either willfully malicious or dangerously naïve in the process and reporting used in this story, and neither is acceptable from any journalistic institution. . . . It is NAJA’s position that journalism should only be practiced when it is in the interest of public enlightenment and democracy, and should never be used as a tool of racial oppression or corporate cheerleading.”

Those who support the name tend to complain that opposition to it comes only from white, liberal journalists who are obsessed with political correctness. This persistent framing of the issue requires not simply high-level mental gymnastics but willful ignorance of the views being expressed by groups that speak on behalf of Native Americans. Native American groups like Change the Mascot, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Native American Journalists Association are strongly opposed to the name. That should count for something; it definitely should count for more than the random views of less than 500 Native Americans who may not even be Native Americans.

Although much of modern American discourse consists of developing a position, becoming stubborn about it, embracing any facts or arguments that support it, ignoring any facts or arguments that undermine it, and shouting down anyone who dares to disagree, the NAJA’s view is that the use of the Washington team name isn’t a proper subject for debate, and that the mere act of making it into yet another a red state/blue state/you’re-wrong-and-I’m-right talking point in and of itself is inappropriate.

In other words, the NAJA believes that this shouldn’t be a topic for debate or polling, and that the name should be recognized as the dictionary-defined slur that it is and no longer used. As conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer explained it three years ago, certain words that possibly were once acceptable become unacceptable over the course of time. At best, that’s what has happened in this case, and the best proof continues to be that no expansion franchise in any professional sport could get away would even try to adopt that name in 2016.