The United Nations independent expert tasked with defending the rights of indigenous peoples, today called on the owners of the Washington Redskins football team to consider that the term “redskins” is the hurtful reminder of the long history of mistreatment of Native American people in the United States.
“While I am aware that there are some divergent views on this issue,” Special Rapporteur James Anaya said, “I urge the team owners to consider that the term ‘redskin’ for many is inextricably linked to a history of suffering and dispossession, and that it is understood to be a pejorative and disparaging term that fails to respect and honour the historical and cultural legacy of the Native Americans in the US.”
This echoes a 2012 report by Mr. Anaya on the situation of indigenous peoples in the US, where he stressed that “the use of stereotypes obscures understanding of the reality of Native Americans today and instead helps to keep alive racially discriminatory attitudes.”
In that report, he further noted that, within the US, many stereotypes still portray Native Americans as relics of the past, perpetuated by the use of Indian names by professional and other high-profile sports teams, caricatures in the popular media and even mainstream education on history and social studies.
“Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information,” Mr. Anya said, quoting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The human rights expert emphasized that States must take measures to combat prejudice and eliminate discrimination and to promote tolerance, understanding and good relations among indigenous peoples and all other segments of society.
“Private actors also have responsibilities independently from the States’ obligation to promote and protect human rights,” Mr. Anaya said, referring to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, endorsed by the Human Rights Council in June 2011.”
Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.