The entire San Juan River valley spreads out in three directions from the southern tip of Cedar Mesa in Utah. Every now and then you can see the mountains in Colorado where the river starts, standing behind Mesa Verde. To the South, the iconic rocks of Monument Valley rise out of the red dirt. A few thin lines of two-lane roads go over the valley floor, taking tourists closer to the wild places they remember from the movies.
But you can't always see that far from Muley Point on Cedar Mesa. Most of the time, there's a haze hanging over the valley, blurring out the mountains and monuments. Most people that drive through this part of the country to see these places don't ever notice the Navajo Generating Station in Page, AZ, belching out smoke to keep the lights on in Las Vegas.
Our mythology of the West tends to overlook the theme of exploitation. But that's the story of the Western lands. That's why you're driving a car down Highway 163 in the first place, stopping to see the sights, buying souvenirs from the Navajo, whose homes sit far enough back from the highway to keep the ruinous poverty and subjugation out of our national mythology.
This week, Dan Snyder touted this Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, his latest move in an ongoing publicity deflection effort. He tabbed Gary Edwards, a Cherokee and retired Secret Service official, to run the foundation, citing his experience working in Indian country.
Days later a report from USA Today revealed Edwards' recent dealings with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in which an investigation determined he bilked the agency out of $1 million.
Edwards' company, National Native American Law Enforcement Association, received a contract from the BIA to recruit much-needed law enforcement officials for the underserved populations on reservations. The contract was terminated after the BIA determined that it "received no benefit" from the deal, one million dollars later.
The Oneida Indian Nation, at the forefront of the efforts to get Snyder to change his team's nickname, released a statement on Friday. Oneida representative Ray Halbritter said:
"This is part of a disturbing, but hardly surprising pattern of behavior by team owner Dan Snyder and his team. Mr. Snyder first insisted that using a dictionary defined racial slur is a way to honor Native Americans. He then hired a former associate of notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who helped bilk Native Americans, and selected a person who financially harmed Native Americans to run a foundation to defend his team's name. These aren't accidents, but part of a systematic campaign to denigrate Native Americans by a team owner who will stop at nothing to keep the team's offensive name."
Edwards doesn't shoulder all the blame for ripping off the government. An internal investigation also cited a faulty process within the BIA, itself an underfunded afterthought in the federal bureaucracy. Bad contracts like this one have been commonplace for 150 years, since the government was making deals to provide beef to reservations ... with ranchers running cattle on land recently cleared of Indians by the U.S. Army on behalf of railroad companies.
Snyder has known Edwards since November. Not surprisingly, Edwards is fine with the team's name. But it was his experience working with Native people that impressed Snyder. He's got a point. You've got to know what you're doing to cheat the Indians out of $1 million through an elaborate contracting scam.
Photo credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Small congregations of SUVs dot the roadsides through Monument Valley. They're stopped to load to up on Kachina dolls and turquoise to take back to their homes and offices to remind them of the beautiful country they drove through and the friendly brown people who were nice enough to embrace our way of life.
Snyder and Roger Goodell like to point to opinion polls that say a majority of people are comfortable with the Redskins name. They can even go one step further than that and say with a straight face that it somehow honors the nations offended by it.
Soldiers once rode through here at the behest of railroads and mining companies, promising Indians a better life if only they would take up farming on the reservations, or a bayonet if they refused. Suits from Peabody Coal came here promising jobs and a way out of the cyclical poverty of reservation life in exchange for what little water the land had to give and a long list of easily ignored health risks. The BIA's promise was to smooth out the problems caused by centuries of exploitation.
A $2 billion NFL team named the Redskins and the owner's Original Americans Foundation is just part of the same cycle.
History paved the way for Snyder's positive polling as soon as we wrote out the part about a rapacious national appetite for the resources on Indian land and hid our disdain for the people living there with the idea of the noble savage.
It's fitting that Snyder would be drawn to a fellow chiseler. After all, they both make money exploiting Indians.