Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington NFL team, announced the creation this week of an absurdly named nonprofit foundation for Native Americans. Depending on which side of the debate you come down on, the new group’s aim is either to “provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities” (Snyder’s words), or an obvious “attempt to buy the silence of Native Americans with a foundation that is equal parts public relations scheme and tax deduction” (that’s Rep. Betty McCollum, the co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus).
It’s no secret which side of the fight we come down on here at Slate. We stopped printing the nickname of Snyder’s team last summer, and on Tuesday my colleague Josh Levin made the case that the new nonprofit served as a clear message from Snyder to the Native American community, one that amounts to “if you want my money … you’re going to have to choke down my nickname along with it.”
Now, it appears that Native Americans may have reason to be skeptical about seeing the full benefit of Snyder’s cash even if they’re willing to choke down that racist nickname. USA Today reports that the man Snyder has tapped to lead his new Native American group has a questionable track record when it comes to running groups that are supposed to help Tribal communities.
In addition to running Snyder’s new foundation, Gary Edwards—a Cherokee and retired member of the U.S. Secret Service—also serves as CEO of the National Native American Law Enforcement Association, a group that has drawn significant criticism from the U.S. government in recent years. A May 2012 report from the Interior Department’s inspector general found that group—NNALEA for short(er)—provided “no benefit” after being paid roughly $1 million in federal money to help recruit law enforcement officers to work in Indian Country.
The IG’s report, to be fair, assigns a good chunk of the blame to the Interior Department, which it says drew up a “poorly written contract” in the first place. It was that document—written with the help of the NNALEA—that the IG says allowed the nonprofit “to take advantage” of the government “to produce unusable contract deliverables.” According to the IG’s count, NNALEA provided the government with 748 job applications for law enforcement positions, “none of which were of use to” the Office of Justice Services, in part because a large chunk of them were either too young or too old for the job. A little more of the nitty gritty of how the Edwards-run group failed to deliver in the eyes the IG (via USAT):
- “When NNALEA’s CEO proposed significant modifications to the statement of work, [Bureau of Indian Affairs] officials simply accepted them in part because they said that they were under pressure to get the contract out.”
- “NNALEA reported that it conducted an onsite recruiting event at the Crow Fair Celebration, held August 13-17, 2009. The contracting officer’s technical representative, however, told us that they attended the Celebration and did not observe a NNALEA recruiting booth or representative in attendance.”
- “NNALEA reported that it placed recruiting advertisements in the Aberdeen News, a news publication that is circulated in South Dakota, for October 11, 2009, and October 18, 2009. An Aberdeen News representative, however, told us that they had no record of NNALEA placing the advertisements.”
In a statement released by the Washington team late last night, Edwards says his group did everything that was expected of it. (Of course, given the apparently lackluster contract, that’s kind of the point.) “The NNALEA believes it met and exceeded all of its obligations under the contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Services, and subsequently was paid after the contract was completed,” he said. The team, meanwhile, has declined further comment.
Snyder’s critics, however, have been more than happy to talk. Here’s the zinger Rep. McCollum, the Minnesota Democrat who co-chairs the Congressional Native American Caucus, offered up to USA Today: “Even though I am a Vikings fan, I hope Dan Snyder does more background research on his team’s potential draft picks than it appears he did on his foundation’s CEO.” Ray Halbritter, a rep for the Oneida Indian Nation, which is leading the Change the Mascot campaign, opted for more punch and less punchline: “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.”
As the nickname controversy rages on, Snyder has, as Josh Levin put it earlier this week, made it clear that he’ll “throw whatever (or whoever) he can at what he perceives as a nettlesome PR problem.” The best example of that is probably Chief Dodson, a nickname supporter who the team described as “a full-blooded American Inuit chief.” As Dave McKenna would go on to detail in Deadspin, however, Dodson was not an Indian chief—and probably not even an Indian. And that wasn’t the only other time Snyder’s PR Hail Marys have been batted to the ground. Far from it, and the latest one likely won’t be the last either.