Outside the American Indian Center in Minneapolis on Monday, Clyde Bellecourt leaned on his walker as he watched a few people tacking a sign to the outside of the building. It reads: ”We are still here.”
For decades, Bellecourt has been at the forefront of the pressure campaign to get the Washington NFL team to change its name. He said he knew this day would come.
“It’s been a long struggle, but you know we never give up,” he said.
Bellecourt grew up on the White Earth reservations in north-central Minnesota. His Ojibwe name translates as “the thunder before the storm.” And Bellecourt’s been a booming voice since he co-founded the Minneapolis-based American Indian Movement in 1968.
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Bellecourt also helped start the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, which is also based in the Twin Cities.
David Glass, who now serves as the coalition’s president, said the movement to change the Washington franchise name had gained a lot of steam since 1992, when Washington played in the Super Bowl at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. About 200 people showed up for a protest that year.
“Fast forward to 2014, we had the largest rally protest in sports history here at the University of Minnesota” when Washington played the Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium, he said. “We had upwards of 5,000 people join us. And that’s law enforcement giving us those numbers.”
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, the first Native American woman elected to statewide office in Minnesota, and only the second nationally, said the depictions of Native Americans in names, logos and mascots are harmful.
“When you erase, when you keep our people stuck as relics of the past, when you don’t acknowledge that we are a contemporary people who are still here, who are very much alive and who will always be here, the policies you pass, the things you do to us and not with us can be pushed aside,” she said.
Following weeks of protests denouncing racism across the country following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, companies like Nike and Amazon removed the Washington team’s merchandise from their online stores.
Bellecourt said he’s hopeful that younger generations will continue to hold accountable companies and teams with racist mascots and names.
“Black lives matter, but so do Indigenous people’s lives,” he said. “We’re going to strengthen our bond,”
Washington team owner Dan Snyder has not yet announced what the team’s new name will be.