Johnnie Jae debunks the idea it’s only white-guilt motivating the change of the Washington team name, and promises that Native folks like herself won’t give up.
Contrary to what Dan Snyder and R-word supporters would like you to believe, the #Changethename movement against the Washington football team and native mascotry is not a new battle. It has been waging for decades. The belief that this is a controversy stirred up by White Liberals is, also, the furthest thing from the truth.
For over 50 years, Indigenous activists, organizations and their allies have been fighting to end Native Mascotry. While much of the battle and progress has gone unnoticed by the mainstream, two-thirds of all native mascots, team names, and logos have been retired. There are fewer than a thousand left to go.
One of the most recognizable activists in the fight against the R*dskins is Suzan Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute. In 1992, she filed a lawsuit to have the R*dskins trademark protections revoked. Seven years later, the Trial and Appeals board ruled in favor of canceling the trademark protections on the grounds that it was disparaging to indigenous people. However, it was a short-lived victory as a federal court overturned the ruling due to a technicality.
After the original ruling was overturned, Suzan Harjo recruited and helped a new generation of activists organize another lawsuit to have the R*dskins’ trademarks canceled. The plaintiffs involved in the new lawsuit are Amanda Blackhorse, Marcus Briggs-Cloud, Jillian Pappan, Courtney Tsotigh, Shquanebin Lone-Bentley, and Phillip Glover. These natives are all activists that have spent the last eight years working to once again prove that the trademark protections for the R*dskins should be revoked. It was work that was not done in vain.
On June 18th, 2014, in a landmark decision by the U.S. Patent Office, we saw the cancellation of six federal trademark registrations for the Washington R*dskins. While the cancellations won’t force a name change and the previous trademark protections will remain in place during the appeal process, the ruling will definitely make it more challenging for Dan Snyder and R*dskins supporters to defend the continued use of a derogatory slur as a “Badge of Honor” or tribute to indigenous people. The message that this ruling sends to the R*dskins organization and all supporters of the name is that acceptance and normalization of racism towards indigenous people will no longer continue unchallenged.
As for the “bigger” issues that Dan Snyder and his supporters like to use as a reason for natives to let their ignorance slide by unchallenged, let’s be honest about this whole situation. We are under no illusion that changing the name will solve all our problems. There are a lot of issues that we face as Indigenous people like alcoholism, poverty, suicide, violence against women, drug abuse, etc and no one is denying that. No one knows more about the issues that we face than those of us who live with the reality of those issues.
Every single day, we have native individuals, organizations, and whole communities working and making progress on the issues that our people are dealing with. Save Wiyabi, All Good Thinking, Lakota People’s Law Project, We R Native, Native American Suicide Prevention Organization, NCAI, Native Youth Sexual Health Network, Owe Aku International, EONM, and I could go on and on listing the wonderful organizations and individuals that we have working on all the issues.
Unlike the mass of R*dskins supporters who are clamoring to claim “Indian blood in their background” to say that as “Indians” they’re not offended, we don’t get to pick and choose what days and on what issues we’re going to choose to be indigenous. We ARE indigenous, which is why we, also, don’t get to pick and choose what issue is or isn’t important. Every issue is important because they directly affect our people as well as the way that we are viewed and treated by mainstream society. This is why it is a ridiculous notion to believe that our other issues are being ignored just so we can focus on the blatant racism of the R*dskins moniker.
While our efforts on other issues are not splashed across the headlines on a daily basis, you have to remember that the issue with the Washington football team is interrupting the worship of America’s true religion, football. It is challenging the long-held notion that there is honor in the use of a slur and in the mockery of our people and our culture. Kind of funny and sad that our “bigger” issues are only a concern to the mainstream when they can profit from them or use them to marginalize and silence native voices. You know, the way that Dan Snyder uses his Original American Foundation as a way to sell the belief that he’s interested in “honoring” and “supporting” native causes, just so he can keep clinging to his ignorance and bigotry.
The truth is that there is an awakening that is occurring among our indigenous people. At no other time have we had so many indigenous individuals and organizations tackling our issues in the mainstream media with such tenacity that our voices are getting harder to ignore. We are seizing upon every opportunity we have to make our voices heard and to remind people we are “indomitable” and “unyielding”. Social media has given us the platform to discuss our issues and form alliances on such a scale that the mainstream society can no longer pretend that we are a conquered or extinct people who can continue to be marginalized, fetishized, and exploited for their entertainment and profit.
This is why the R*dskins organization is desperately trying to perpetrate the belief that this issue is being “manufactured” and is the political agenda of White Liberals. As long as the general public believes that this is a “Liberal” temper tantrum, the longer that Dan Snyder and supporters can continue to marginalize native involvement and continue the R*dskins’ 81 year tradition of normalizing and promoting racism towards indigenous people. The problem with their “let’s pretend 91% of all natives are honored by our use of a slur” approach is that they continue to illustrate how out of touch they are with the native community and reality.
It’s 2014. It’s time for Dan Snyder and supporters to get on the right side of history because there is no changing the historical or modern context of a derogatory slur. It’s time to exercise basic human decency and respect towards each other as human beings and stop normalizing racism. We’ve survived centuries of continued genocidal policies. We’re not a dying culture or a people on the brink of extinction. The “Warrior Spirit” that is supposedly honored by the R*dskins’ organization is alive and well, so we will not stop fighting against the use of a slur that is used to disparage our people and to celebrate the murder of our ancestors. It’s time for Dan Snyder to get his priorities straight and change the name.
Artwork by Amay Tadits
Oh, yes a question to be asked of the Federal Communications Commission “is Redskins a racial slur to be barred from the Federal Airwaves, to be added to Carlin’s 7 words you can’t say on TV or be fined or lose your FCC license? Someone with standing for Native Americans should ask the FCC for a ruling.
The website is that of an employee of Dan Snyder’s Red Zebra network which broadcast the team’s games. You can see the great respect they have for the people and not the team$. The Washington Pro Football team has a long history of Racism which Dan Snyder is evidently proud of the team’s history. First pro football team to market itself as racist(fight of old Dixie) making the case that they would lose money if they integrated, being forced to integrate or not have a place to play(sound familiar) and George Preston Marshall the original owner, the person who named… Read more »
You have sited a website set up to advance your agenda. The following are examples supporting keeping the REdskins name including a Native American school district in Washington State. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dc-sports-bog/wp/2014/06/26/school-board-of-majority-native-american-district-votes-to-keep-redskins/
Former Redskins QB Mark Rypien is a Native from Calgary, Canada.
Your entire argument can be defeated with 2 facts. 1) George Preston Marshall, the man who renamed the Boston Braves to the Boston Redskins was an unrepentant racist. 2) He renamed the team not to honor anyone, but to make money. There is a 1933 newspaper article where Marshall said he renamed the team to distinguish it from the Boston Braves baseball team since they shared afield at the time. He felt fans were confused and thought he’d draw more attendance as a result. The term is a racist slur by a racist man for the worst reason possible….money. *drops… Read more »
I am not insensitive to your complaint however. Washington’s NFL franchise does not have a Native American mascot. I also believe their logo of a profile of a dignified, proud Native American honors the Native American, it doesn’t mock Natives like the Cleveland Indians cartoonish “Indian” or the Braves Noc-a-homa. When I was kid I rooted for the Redskins especially against the Cowboys because in some small way I felt that when the Redskins kicked the crap out of the Cowboys it was a kind of symbolic retribution for Native Americans. It really was the only place the Native American… Read more »
Where do you draw the line. I am 100% 4th generation Irish American. It bothers the hell out me that the University of Notre Dame’s nickname is “Fighting Irish”. Fighting in this usage describes the nature of the Irish as bellicose, which I take exception to in the extreme. Its offensive to refer to my ethnicity as fighting. Are you seeking to change the team name of the University of Notre Dame? Because its not necessarily a slur even if I say it is.
I suppose if a short fighting leprechaun had been used as a symbol, and was as fully historically documented, for the slaughter, rape, maiming, and near genocide of an entire culture of people, then it would be on the same level as the racist slur that is the term redskins.
I bet there would be all sorts of support for anti-leprechaun logos too.
Redskins was never used in the way you describe. And BTW, Ireland under the control of the British during the famine was a major food exporter. Yet, the British did not permit enough food to stay in the country to feed its citizens. There are fewer Irish in Ireland now than there were in Ireland before the famine. Irish were routinely characterized as short, fat, stupid and drunk. Sound familiar- Native Americans were characterized similarly, but the term “Redskins” was not among the terms used. The Irish were raped, maimed and murdered too. Ethnic groups all over the globe have… Read more »
You might think it’s offensive but I think it’s pretty awesome. Maybe you’re just too sensitive?
What makes the term Redskins a slur? Because you say it is? That is a slippery slope indeed. It has nothing to do with race or ethnic origin. As is historically verified it refers to a practice, a practice engaged in by the French as much as it was by the Algonquin during the French and Indian War. I will fight to death to defend my tradition, a tradition shared by many Native Americans. The changes you reference have taken place because those schools have been shamed, unnecessarily, into changing tby a minority viewpoint that may very well have grown… Read more »
I would again suggest you “look up the amount of historical documentation available referring to the term in its fully derogatory manner is mind boggling in its volume”. This would be the actual history that the majority of North Americas Aboriginal peoples find abhorrent and that is forever tied to your preferred term.. And again, if you’re truly interested in understanding that viewpoint, read through the changethemascot.org website. You may fight all you want to keep that term as your badge of honor, but you can’t just try to change the facts of history to make yourself feel better about… Read more »
I have researched it and your assertions to the contrary do not change the facts that it is not a slur, never was intended as a slur and you calling it that does not make it a slur. Because people with similar views as yours saying its a slur even if the volume is great does not make it as slur. Because someone says it over and over again does not make it slur. I note that my post about the University of Notre Dame’s nickname the “fighting Irish” was deleted. You and the editors of this site aren’t censoring… Read more »
If your argument is that Native Americans uniformly and unanimously feel the name Redskins is offensive, you are wrong. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary. The nickname of the largest High school on the largest reservation in the United States is REDSKINS. The fact is the name has nothing to do with the skin color of Native Americans nor does it have any racial connotation. The name comes from practice engaged in by the Algonquin and their French Allies during the French and Indian War and that was they painted their skin red in preparation for battle in… Read more »
I think you could benefit from extending your education about Indigenous history in North America. Nobody claims all of Native Americans feel the term is a slur, just the majority of them, which by the way, includes the peoples from Canada. What is often overlooked when the fact that there are a number of Native American schools with the term as a team name is brought up, is when and who originally named those schools. However, there has been a large reduction in those schools holding onto those names, which was recently noted in another article. It points out. “There… Read more »
Using the term ‘Native American’ as if it ONLY applies to natives of the United States just re-enforces that caricature image, it makes us look like idiots. Anybody that boasts about about how proud they are to be NATIVE AMERICAN obviously has never looked up the meaning of the term. At least Columbus had a plausible excuse for mistakenly calling us Indians. So what’s our excuse for misusing the century plus old term ‘Native American’? Arrogance or ignorance? There’s no amount of personal attribution error that can justify this errant behavior. How about we develop a more distinctive label for… Read more »
Thank you for your writing. I have been speaking out too, and I have come against the same points you mention over and over, and then some. I’ve copies 40 pages of debates and as clear as it is that there are people who would like to keep their “traditional logos and mascots”, seem to be a lot more coming around. I believe it’s very important to keep the messages going and the education about all Aboriginal peoples deepening. I’d like to share some that I give back when I encounter some of those attempts to deflect the point: •… Read more »
Do share more. Great article.
The ‘People Not Mascots Logo’ is meant to be a Native American protest caricature of the racists Chief Wahoo logo of the Cleveland Indians Baseball team. It was originally painted in 1992 by David Jakupca at the historic ARK in Berea for the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance along with the Lake Erie Native American Council (LENAC) incorporating elements of the Theory of Iceality on Environmental Arts, it has drawn criticism from some sportswriters, fans and local businessmen, but gained immediate acceptance among humanitarian, religious groups and Native Americans. It gained international popular attention when it was… Read more »
Thanks for the information; I’m glad to see the myth debunked.
Ultimately, though, the whole question of who is pushing for the change is a red herring, just like the question of how many people are offended by the name. The only question that matters is: “Is the name racist?” Yes, yes it is. So we need to change it. End of discussion.