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November 20, 2014

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Why is Harry Reid so obsessed with the Redskins changing their name?

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Steve Marcus

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls for comprehensive immigration reform at the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, May 27, 2014.

Sen. Harry Reid has made himself the public face of the campaign to change the name of the Washington Redskins.

But the Nevada senator isn’t even from Washington, D.C., and he’s really more of a baseball fan. So why has he put so much emphasis on a team far away from home?

The answer may lie in the Senate majority leader’s affinity for Nevada’s Native American population.

“Without trying to be a bragger,” Reid said in his Capitol Hill office on Wednesday, “ … I’ve spent more time and done more for Native Americans in Nevada than all the rest of the members of Congress in the history of the state of Nevada combined.”

Reid said he didn’t know much about Native American issues until he won his first election for the U.S. Senate in 1986. A reporter asked him on election night what Reid thought the most pressing issue for Nevada was.

“And I said water,” Reid recalled. “So then I had to do something about it.”

Many water issues in Nevada are closely tied to Nevada tribes, which according to 2012 Census data make up about 1 percent of the state’s population and live in mostly rural Nevada. Over his years in the Senate, Reid has advocated for Nevada’s tribes in water-right disputes and other issues.

As he’s learned more about Native Americans, Reid says he’s started to root for them.

“I think that everybody pulls for the underdog,” Reid said. “If there were ever an underdog, it’s the Native Americans. They have been the underdogs. They have been treated so wrongly.”

And Nevada’s tribes appear to recognize their friend in the Senate. A large room in Reid’s office is almost entirely dedicated to artifacts they’ve gifted Reid: Woven baskets, turqoise beads, historic photos of the tribes.

So for Reid, making speeches on the Senate floor decrying the Washington Redskins name as a slur and cheering the team’s backfired anti-Reid Twitter campaign is just an extension of his support for Nevada’s tribes.

“I do not think that my Indians in Nevada are mascots,” he said. “They’re just like you and me. They’re just people. They’re not mascots.”

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