In recent weeks, controversy has swirled again around the name of Washington, D.C., National Football League team the "Redskins," with debate centering on whether the name is offensive to Native Americans and should be changed as a result. On May 3, "Redskins Nation," a television series produced by team owner Dan Snyder, hosted a man claiming to be an "American Inuit chief originally from the Aleutian Tribes of Alaska" and a Redskins supporter in favor of keeping the team's current name.
For those who weren't previously offended by the Redskins organization, that might do it.
For longtime Alaskans and those familiar with Alaska Native culture, the quoted phrase above should immediately raise some red flags. The Inuit -- or, more more accurately in Alaska, the Inupiat -- and Aleuts are two distinct groups among Alaska Natives. Apparently, the Redskins public relations department took the man -- who called himself "Chief" Dodson but whose name is actually Stephen D. Dodson -- at his word. They published a press release noting that contradictory title and claiming that he "represents more than 700 remaining tribe members" as "the eldest member of his blood line."
Indian Country Today published an article the day after Dodson's appearance that failed to question his credentials, but a Deadspin article Friday revealed more about Dodson himself -- the "Chief" moniker is apparently only a nickname -- and pointed out the numerous discrepancies in Dodson's story.
Among them? Dodson referred to himself and his family as "Indians," when Alaska Natives typically use the term "native" or more specifically refer to themselves by traditional designations, like Inupiat, Aleut or Athabascan. He said during his interview with "Redskins Nation" that he and others would refer to themselves as "redskins" as a term of endearment while "on the reservation." Alaska has only one Indian Reservation, Metlakatla in Southeast Alaska, a long way from the Aleutian Islands, and the only Tsimshian village in the nation.
Meanwhile, Deadspin spoke with several folks actually in Alaska, who noted that the title "chief" is unlikely to be used today, and certainly not to refer to someone outside of a village where they could have earned that title. They also questioned the reservation statement and the alleged use of "redskin" in casual conversation. Dodson reportedly attended high school in Bellefontaine, Ohio, where his sister still lives and who reported that "Chief" was merely Dodson's nickname. Dodson currently lives in Maryland.
Dodson, though, appeared to be sticking to his guns when contacted by Deadspin reporter Dave McKenna, and he descended to new levels of inaccuracy about Alaska Native life and culture:
When I told him that various groups representing Inuits and Aleuts in Alaska question the description of him as a "full-blooded Inuit Chief originally of Aleutian tribes," Dodson said, "I don't get into organizational things like that. We are a people and that's what we need to focus on, instead of dealing with non-profits run by Mexicans."
What exactly that means it isn't clear, but what is clear is that Dodson's company, Charley's Crane Service, got pretty prominent play by appearing on his shirt during his "Redskins Nation" interview and in the official release from the Redskins press folks.