Clyde Bellecourt says U of M is "scholastically retarded" on Native American issues
The National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media wants the University of Minnesota to prohibit the Washington NFL team from playing on campus at TCF Bank stadium on November 2 unless the team changes its nickname.
But U officials, citing the terms of its lease with the Vikings, say they don't have the authority to do that. Their stance prompted Clyde Bellecourt, a founding member of the coalition, to call everyone at the U from President Eric Kaler on down "scholastically retarded" on Native American issues during a news conference yesterday.
This morning, we contacted Bellecourt and asked him to explain that quote, which raised the eyebrows of one of the Star Tribune's Vikings reporters.
Bellecourt stands by what he said.
"They don't know anything about Indian people, they don't know anything about our history," Bellecourt tells us. "The Washington Redskins think they're honoring us, but if they knew the history of where that name came from..."
Bellecourt says the team's name originated with the way blood would trickle down the head of a Native American who had just been scalped by a bounty hunter. That aside, he argues Minnesotans' knowledge about Native American communities and their history is woefully inadequate.
"[The U of M] has a policy not to discriminate in any way, whether it be people of color, [GLBT] or any other protected class, but they're willing to violate their own policies to accommodate the Vikings," Bellecourt says. "So we're thinking that students, particularly student organizations, should know that and demand equality, but unfortunately they grew up not knowing any of that history."
"People know nothing," Bellecourt continues. "You don't hear anything about the [Native American] uprising in the state of Minnesota, about the scalping policies initiated by one of our first governors [Alexander Ramsey] -- Indians refer to him as 'long knife.'"
Bellecourt makes a forceful case that society wouldn't tolerate other groups of people being denigrated the way Native Americans are with names like the Redskins and mascots like the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo.
"If the New Orleans Saints had a mascot dressed up like the pope, and every time there was a touchdown, instead of doing the tomahawk chop, he sprinkled holy water on drunks and said the Lord's Prayer, the church would never allow that to happen," Bellecourt says.
Bellecourt singled out President Kaler, who on August 1 wrote a letter to Rep. Betty McCollum saying, "I agree that the current name is offensive and should be replaced."
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"Kaler made a statement that they shouldn't be allowed, that they weren't going to be allowed to wear uniforms with that mascot, but he's willing to bend that because [the Vikings] have a contract with him," Bellecourt says. "It's all about money."
But the university says its proverbial hands are tied.
Contacted for comment, a U of M spokesperson sent us a statement that says, "The lease of public property by a governmental entity does not carry with it the ability to generally regulate the content of expression -- even offensive expression -- by the private parties using the property. And the lease of public property does not mean that the government has endorsed that expression."
"When the University leased TCF Bank Stadium to the Vikings, the University did not get the right to exclude the Vikings because of the offensive name of its opposing team," it continues. "As much as the University agrees with the National Coalition in denouncing the name of the Washington team -- and other sports team names that promote negative and harmful stereotypes -- the University does not believe that the National Coalition has any legal basis to ask a court to enjoin the University from honoring its lease with the Vikings to play a scheduled game against the Washington team at TCF Bank Stadium.
Bellecourt says his group is considering some sort of lawsuit aimed at forcing the Redskins to change the team's name. In the meantime, he expects protests outside TCF Bank Stadium on November 2 to be far larger than the ones outside the Metrodome in November 2013 when the Redskins last came to town.
"[The game] is on a university campus and there are 60,000 students that go to school there," he says. "We've already been contacted by student organizations putting [protests] together."
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