FARMINGTON — Navajo lawmakers have officially weighed in on the debate of using Native American names in professional sports.
On Thursday, the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee approved legislation to oppose the use of disparaging references to Native people in professional sports franchises.
The bill mentions that several professional sports franchises make references to Native Americans in mascots and team names, but it only calls out the Washington Redskins by name.
It also explains the term "redskin" or "redskins" originated when bounties were offered for the murder of Native Americans.
The bill passed in a vote of nine in favor and two opposed, according to a press release from the legislative branch.
Delegate Joshua Lavar Butler, who represents Tó Nanees Dizí Chapter in Arizona, sponsored the bill.
"I'm happy the Navajo Nation has an official position on this topic," Butler said.
Before the bill's passage, committee members approved an amendment to remove any references the bill made to the Navajo Code Talkers Association.
The code talkers association was included in the bill after four members appeared at an NFL game between Washington and San Francisco in November. Some members have also met with executives from the Washington team.
Their appearance made some individuals in Indian Country think the Navajo Nation supports the use of such terms, Butler said in a previous interview.
After Speaker Pro Tem LoRenzo Bates certifies the bill, copies will be submitted to the National Congress of American Indians and to the Washington Redskins headquarters.
Although the name debate has gone on for years, there isn't a consensus on it among the Native community.
Elijah Etsitty was volunteering at the San Juan College Contest Powwow on Friday at McGee Park Memorial Coliseum at the San Juan County Fairgrounds.
For Etsitty, the term "redskins" promotes a negative self-image for young Native Americans.
"I think it puts them down. It makes them want to be ashamed of their culture," the 17-year-old said.
Etsitty said he watches professional football. His favorite team is the Indiana Colts, but when the Washington team plays, he changes the channel.
"We're not red, obviously. Naming a team after that is not right," he said.
Elton Benally, 36, said he is undecided about the name.
"It has its pros and its cons. It's just the way a person looks at it, what their viewpoint of it is," Benally said.
Benally echoed Etsitty's opinion and said his skin is not red, but brown, and only blood is red.
"I think it's a good step. It's a right step. You got to start somewhere," Benally said about the bill.
When JoJo Begay, 40, heard about the Navajo lawmakers' action, he said there are bigger problems that need addressing on the reservation, like economic development.
"I don't believe it's a problem, and it shouldn't be a problem, and it shouldn't be an issue," Begay said.
He added, "Why get yourself involved in an issue that you know is not going to get resolved? If the NFL would have the guts to do it, they could have done it a lot earlier," he said about changing the name.
Sarah Thompson paused before providing her opinion about the bill.
She said the Washington team's name has been there for many years, and, if it changed, it would open the door for other sports teams, from high school to college, to also change their names.
"I think I would say leave it alone. Just leave it the way it is," the 59-year-old said.
In a poll posted on The Daily Times website in fall 2013, about 61 percent of respondents said they think the Washington team's name is offensive and it should be changed. About 17 percent said the name is offensive but it does not need to change, and about 22 percent said they are not offended by the name and no change is necessary.