Now that the opposition to the Redskins name has gained some traction, proponents of the name have opted to supplement their defense by attacking one of the men leading the charge against it.
The Daily Caller and others have questioned whether Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter is a legitimate member of the tribe.
“He is not even technically an Oneida. There is not a drop of Oneida in him,” New York Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney said.
The Daily Caller also characterized Halbritter as “an Obama crony who is raking in casino money and paying back only small stipends to his tribe members.”
The reference to President Barack Obama helped catch the attention of Rush Limbaugh, who declared on his radio show Tuesday, “The guy is a fraud. He’s an Obama crony. Was there ever any doubt that Obama’s behind this? Not in my mind.”
Oneida Indian Nation’s V.P. of communications Joel Barkin, who compared the attacks on Halbritter to the persistent questions about President Obama’s birthplace, said that the attempt to smear Halbritter deliberately confuses the issues.
“The formula for this particular kind of prejudice is as old as it is offensive,” Barkin told PFT by email. “First Native peoples were forcibly removed from their lands, then they were herded onto reservations, then they were dehumanized as mascots, and now the most committed bigots of all pretend their leadership’s ancestry and heritage doesn’t even exist. While the fact an NFL franchise is using a name that is defined as a racial slur is bigger than any one person, the nature of this attack on a respected and recognized Native American leader whose family members were killed because of their race is bigotry at its worst and shocks the conscience.”
Barkin also forwarded to PFT an excerpt from a judicial opinion in which Senior U.S. Judge Frederick Scullin, appointed to the federal bench in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush, slammed the door on ongoing attacks against Halbritter’s legitimacy as Oneida Indian Nation leader.
“Plaintiff’s argument in this regard is not only specious, it comes very close to being sanctionable,” Judge Scullin wrote. “[T]he Department of the Interior has determined that ‘the United States unconditionally recognizes [Ray Halbritter] as the current [Oneida Indian] Nation representative’ and the [U.S. Court of Appeals for the] Second Circuit has adopted this determination.”
The NFL tells PFT that it is aware of the contentions regarding Halbritter, but that it has no comment on the issue. The league explained that the planned meeting with Oneida Indian Nation representatives will still proceed.
Even if the effort to challenge Halbritter’s legitimacy were legitimate, the growing debate regarding the team’s name would still exist. At its core, the challenge seems to be aimed at motivating the base, at a time when it could be getting harder and harder to continue to stubbornly support the name with a straight face.