The fans poured into the bleachers on Friday night, erupting in “Let’s go, Redskins!” chants that echoed across a new field of artificial turf, glowing green against a vast dun-coloured landscape.
The rural Red Mesa High School on the nation’s largest Native American reservation has embraced the Redskins mascot as their own since the early 1970s.
Most of the people in Red Mesa reject claims that their team’s moniker is a slur. They have emerged as a potent symbol in the heated debate over the name of the more widely known Redskins – Washington’s NFL team.
While that team’s name is denounced as offensive on Capitol Hill, by Native American activists and civil rights leaders, team owner Daniel Snyder contends that it honours Native Americans.
Red Mesa Superintendent Tommie Yazzie is clearly thrilled with the new football field, which cost nearly $400,000 (£250,000) in federal aid at a school that struggles to pay for computers and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.
“This is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to change the name,” he said, trying to make his voice heard over the cheers. “I don’t find it derogatory. It’s a source of pride.”
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