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Imagining the Indian, an upcoming documentary film currently in production at The Ciesla Foundation pinpointing the movement working to eradicate Native American names, logos and mascots in the world of sports and beyond.

Co-directed by award-winning filmmaker Aviva Kempner, who made the sports films The Spy Behind Home Plate and The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, and the historical documentary, Rosenwald, which she dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement, Imagining the Indian takes a deep-dive into the issues through archival footage and interviews with those involved in the fight.

Imagining the Indian is co-directed by Native filmmaker Ben West (Cheyenne), and co-produced by filmmaker Sam Bardley (Without Bias) and Washington Post sports columnist and ESPN panelist Kevin Blackistone. The film’s executive producer is Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

“I remember walking through downtown Minneapolis to the Metrodome in 1992 to see Washington play Buffalo in the Super Bowl,” co-producer Blackistone said. “I saw a bunch of people identifying themselves as Native protesting the Washington team name as a slur against them. It was the first time I’d thought about that. But it led me to understand the need to change the name. Because what happened to Native folk on this continent over 500 years ago was the seed for the racism we as black people continue to fight today in protest against police killings of black men like George Floyd.”

“I believe that my purpose on this earth is to make films that counter negative stereotypes,” explained co-director Kempner. “I am turning my attention to the insidious use of Native Americans in mascotting and the underlying racism behind these symbols.”

“I feel a sense of both honor and obligation in highlighting the vital work Suzan Harjo and others have undertaken for decades and the activism they have inspired for the next generations,” noted co-director West.

“As Commissioner Goodell and other power brokers in the sports world are finally affirming the humanity of black people, after years of outcry and protests from black athletes and journalists, maybe it would be in their best interest to be proactive in ending Native mascotting, which many feel is dehumanizing,” added co-producer Sam Bardley.

With news that Land O’Lakes® removed Native American imagery from its packaging and that a majority of D.C. Council candidates oppose the name of Washington’s NFL team, the filmmakers believe the time to fully examine the issue of Native American mascotting is now. The time is especially ripe, coming out of Mental Health Awareness Month, due to the negative psychological effect these names, logos and mascots have on Native American people.

Recently, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that it was time for the Washington Football Team to change their name. The tweet has thus far garnered over 800,000 likes and retweets. Oscar winning director Spike Lee and Oscar nominated director Ava DuVernay have also spoken out about the need to change the team’s name.

Co-Director Aviva Kempner said: “With the news that the baseball season is about to begin, the Atlanta Braves must own up to the fact that the tomahawk chop is so insulting to Native Americans as St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley (Cherokee) told the world during the playoffs last year.”

Co-Director Ben West said: “By the time the NFL takes the field this coming season the Washington football team must have a new name.”

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