The Washington professional football team bowed to public sentiment and pressure from Native American activists including Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and have abandoned their identity. Nez called the Redskins’ team name and logo “racist and disparaging.” Not all Indigenous people agree, but the team preferred to withdraw their name and image anyway. The name “Redskins” may have some controversy attached to it but was it necessary to drop the logo, too?
The logo of a Native American in profile is taken from the 1913 Buffalo Coin designed by James Earle Fraser. He is the same renowned sculptor of the EquestrianStatue of Theodore Roosevelt that has been in front of the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, since 1939. This huge bronze sculpture, the second most famous piece in the NYC, is unjustifiably headed for removal to an unspecified location. The statue is accused of being “racist”. However, Fraser’s own written record contradicts any “racist” intent in the TR statue.
The classical realist sculptor, James Earle Fraser, 1876-1953, originally from Winona, Minnesota, was raised in South Dakota. As a boy there on the frontier, he was taught to carve by a Native American. He went on to study sculpture formally in Chicago and Paris.
Fraser witnessed Native Americans being pushed off their land onto reservations. He was upset at the railroads ruining their land. Throughout his life Fraser maintained a friendship with Indigenous people.
Unfortunately, the American Museum of Natural History, NYC, and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers, neglected to inform the public of James Earle Fraser’s admiration for Native Americans, from childhood on.
Fraser’s own words in his letters and notes about the statue are kept at the Special Collections Research Center of the Syracuse University Bird Library, which I reviewed with the help of the librarian. His writing makes clear that he wasn’t racist at all. The Mayor’s Commission kept my research on the TR statue from the public.
Fraser says he observed TR riding firsthand and that he was a phenomenal equestrian. He writes of his sculpture, “Roosevelt rides forth with his always dynamic and highly enthusiastic manner.” Being seated on a horse honors Roosevelt as President and as a leader, while Fraser depicts him as a naturalist “who has made a notable collection of animal specimens from Africa and America.” Fraser at first called the companion figures “symbols” then he crossed that out and put “guides” – “The two figures at his side are *symbols andguides of the continents of Africa and America, and if you choose may stand for Roosevelt’s showing his friendliness to all the races.” The companions are thus allegorical and meant to stand for brotherhood.
The Mayor’s Commission failed to inform the public that the horse Fraser used as a model for the sculpture was the magnificent Man o’ War, “not as a racer, but as a fully grown stallion”.
As to the Buffalo Coin, Fraser said three chiefs were the models who posed for him – the Cheyenne Two Moons, who had participated at the Battle of Little Big Horn, Ogala Lakota Chief Iron Tail, who performed with Buffalo Bill, and Kiowa Chief Addoeette, known as “Big Tree.” The coin represents a composite of their features.
Those legendary chiefs considered it highly prestigious to pose for the famous sculptor. Seneca Chief John Big Tree, later an actor who made over 60 movies, boasted he was the model of the coin from the forehead to the lip, and the only model for Fraser’s most well known sculpture End of the Trail. Fraser disputed John and said no, for the coin he used Addoeette, also called “Big Tree”, and Fraser said that John Big Tree, and others, posed for End of the Trail.
For the reverse side of the Buffalo Coin, Fraser used a robust specimen at the Bronx Zoo as his model.
The question remains, what will the Washington team come up with for a new identity? Nez would like them to name the team “Code Talkers” after the Navajo and other tribes who served in the US military. They baffled the Nazis during WWII with their unbreakable coded messages. The only problem with this name is that “talking” doesn’t imply action, as in aggressive moves on a football field.
Also in the news – the New York Times just wrote up a new exhibit in DC in the National Museum of the American Indian on “Americans”, with visuals of Native Americans. The Washington Redskins’ logo is in the exhibit and mentioned by the curator. He doesn’t say anything about the three famous chiefs the logo represents. Questions to the Smithsonian and the Indian museum went unanswered about this logo and the lack of information about the chiefs it represents.
In addition, the Smithsonian previously wrote a biased, inadequately researched article for their magazine on the TR statue, entitled, The Racist Statue of Theodore Roosevelt Will No Longer Loom Over the American Museum of Natural History. The writer never consulted Fraser’s own words and had no idea that the statue shows TR mounted on Man o’ War.