SD Tribe Rejects Snyder Foundation Grant as Attempt to Buy Its Soul

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August 5, 2015; Washington Post

A Native American tribe in South Dakota has told Dan Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation that it doesn’t want the Washington NFL franchise’s money. It has turned down $25,000 that the foundation has already offered and let it be known that it isn’t interested in future purported philanthropic donations from Snyder’s NFL empire. The Cheyenne River Sioux Council also directed the chairman of the tribe to “cease all unsanctioned communications” with the Washington NFL franchise and anyone associated with it, meaning the Original Americans Foundation. A member of the tribal council, Ryman LeBeau, posted on Facebook an image of the $25,000 check, dated July 10th, made out to the Cheyenne River Rodeo Association, with his own personal notation: “Sold our souls…Price was cheap.”

The check to the Rodeo implies that the Original Americans Foundation is still actively trying to solicit support for the franchise’s racially derogatory name, even though the Foundation’s website hasn’t been updated with any news since the spring of 2014 (with a longstanding posted commitment that “we’ll be updating this site with more information about the foundation”). NPQ’s email of April 1st, 2015 to team and foundation spokesperson Tony Wyllie requesting an update on the foundation’s previous six months of activity went unanswered.

Despite the silence on the foundation’s website, the Snyder juggernaut has been using its philanthropic and non-philanthropic tools to deter opposition to the team’s racist name, including team president Bruce Allen’s friendly offer to a representative of the National Council of American Indians to “make this right,” meaning eliminating opposition to the team name without giving up the name itself, and the team’s lawyers’ less friendly SLAPP suit against the Native American challengers to the team’s name and logo trademark.

It seems that the silent foundation has been operating in the background trying to find willing tribal leaders that will do business with it, with the implicit or explicit quid pro quo of using or endorsing the racially disparaging name that Snyder still defends as his NFL franchise’s birthright. Writing in Indian Country Today, Tara Houska, a tribal rights attorney who was among the founders of NotYourMascots.org, may have pointed out the real problem: The foundation simply hasn’t achieved what Snyder wanted:

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“Divide and conquer is an old trick, but despite the OAF-funded iPads, playgrounds, jackets, box seats, and half of a backhoe, no tribe has formally endorsed the Washington team… Not one of the 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States has endorsed his team. Not one.”

The Cheyenne River Sioux’s reference to “unsanctioned communications” with Snyder, his team, and his foundation is revealing, not only that the foundation is operating behind the scenes, but that it or the team is attempting to reach individual tribal leaders with emoluments even if the tribes themselves officially aren’t responding. For example, this past spring, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah dismissed its chair, Gari Lafferty, for accepting a flight plus hotel to D.C. for her and her husband and family to attend a regular season game of Snyder’s team and to take a picture with team president Allen.

Washington Post reporter John Woodrow Cox reports, “Though the young organization has yet to disclose its financial activities to the IRS, it is spending millions of dollars on nearly 250 projects with more than 50 federally recognized tribes, according to a team spokesman.” But the foundation isn’t speaking to the public, either with information on its website or via some other documented list revealing its grantmaking.

Once again, it should be clear that whatever the merits or lack of merits of the Original Americans Foundation’s grantmaking, the foundation’s efforts to buy the allegiance and endorsement of Native Americans are not only not working, but are a perverted use of philanthropy that should be rejected by national foundation and nonprofit trade associations. Moreover, its unwillingness to reveal on its website or anyplace else what it has done with the “millions of dollars” it has purportedly given to federally recognized tribes is an affront to the increasing commitment of American philanthropy to disclosure and accountability.

The Original Americans Foundation isn’t achieving what Dan Snyder might have wanted, but in its own way, it is having a real effect of harming the integrity of foundation grantmaking, abetted by the silence of the nation’s nonprofit and foundation trade associations. Fortunately, tribes like the Cheyenne River Sioux aren’t having it and are speaking out, even if nonprofit sector leadership organizations won’t.—Rick Cohen