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Native Americans at Levi's Stadium protest against Washington team mascot

Native Americans and their supporters hold signs outside Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., protesting the usage of the word "Redskins" as the name and mascot of the Washington, D.C., football team, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) ( Karl Mondon )

By Joe Rodriguez

POSTED: 11/23/2014 04:44:23 PM PST0 COMMENTS| UPDATED: 18 DAYS AGO

SANTA CLARA--About 400 Native American activists and their children and allies marched and demonstrated Sunday in a boisterous but peaceful protest against the controversial name of the Washington, D.C., football team just before its game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium.

"Personally, I was never fazed by the name of the team until my daughter came home from school after she was made fun of for being Native American," said Tashina Bercier, a 28-year-old, member of the Pima tribe and San Jose resident. Her 7-year-old daughter, Raven, said classmates taunted her after she demonstrated a traditional dance at school.

Native Americans and supporters march down Tasman Drive past Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., protesting the usage of the word "Redskins" as the name and mascot of the Washington, D.C., football team, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) ( Karl Mondon )

"I'm a 49er fan and I have mixed feelings about being out here on game day," Bercier said. "We Native Americans are still here. We have feelings. And this is a stereotype that has to stop."

Soon after, as fans of both teams walked past the demonstration across from the new stadium, Duane Bumpass proudly showed off his Redskins jersey and stopped to argue with a few protesters also itching for an argument.

"If you want to attack the Redskins then you have to address the perspectives of the other teams, too," the Maryland resident said without naming other team names. "The Redskins are not on top of the list."

Listening intently, Jacqueline Keeler, a Navajo and Dakota from Portland, Oregon, shot back, "Yes they are!" she said. Bumpass and Keeler started talking vehemently and argued their points. After they finally separated, Keeler said, "They really feel like they own our image and can tell us what our issues are."

And that's about as close as Washington fans and the protesters got. A phalanx of Santa Clara police officers made sure of that. At the same time, the protesters mostly stayed in a plaza in front of the city's convention center across from the stadium. They dangled banners and protest signs along a sidewalk and about an arm's length from thousands of fans heading for the stadium entrances. Police reported no fights or injuries related to the four-hour demonstration.

Dozens of the 49ers fans who walked past the demonstration expressed their support for the campaign to force the Washington team to change its mascot.

"Racism sucks!" said Mukesh Darke, an East Asian from San Francisco. His friend added, "We have no support for the Redskins."

The Washington mascot has been controversial for decades, but the campaign against it has gained momentum in recent years. The California Assembly in August described the nickname as disparaging and urged the National Football League to change it. Similar votes were taken in New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia.

Bea Woodard sat quietly before Sunday's protest and happily greeted many of the older activists who recognized her. A retired health worker from San Jose, the Okanagan tribal member protested against the Washington mascot some 20 years ago when the team played against the Raiders in Oakland. Only about eight protesters showed up that day.

"We had a hard time getting people out then," she said with a laugh, welcoming the much larger turnout Sunday.

Woodard said nicknames that hearken back centuries promote stereotypical images of Native Americans as savages or buffoons. Fans dressed up in outlandish native costumes probably don't know it, she said, but they're demeaning spiritual vestments and dances. "People who don't know us don't know that we've moved on, many of us becoming professionals. What they're doing is a dishonor to us."


Dan Snyder, owner of Washington's National Football League franchise, has vowed never to change the name. The team has pointed to polls that show support for the Redskins mascot nationwide, including a 2004 Annenberg Public Policy Center poll found that 9 out of 10 Native Americans were not offended by the name.

Tony Gonzales, director of American Indian Movement-West, took issue with the poll.

"Polls are as good as you can throw a rock," Gonzales, a Chicano with roots in native tribes in northwestern Mexico. He pointed out that the Annenberg survey was 10 years old.

"We're going to win this and Dan Snyder is going to lose," said Gonzales, holding a cellphone he used for calling other leaders of the demonstration. "It's only a matter of time. They're getting arrowed from all over." Gonzales said his group is also going after hundreds of similar nicknames for high school and college teams.

About 100 of the protesters started their day by marching about one mile to the demonstration site from the Ulistac Natural Area, a preserve that Native Americans and environmentalists wish to protect from development. This group included Lisa Young and her three children, a young Native American family with All-American appeal.

"I don't want my kids to grow up in a society where slurs can be made against our culture," said Young, a Cherokee and Taos tribal member. "They have eliminated slurs for other groups in society. Now it's time to eliminate a slur used against us." Her 7-year-old daughter, Kiona, wore a "fancy" shawl for traditional dancing. The girl had pinned a message on the back: "I am not your mascot."

Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767. Follow him at

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