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.
Johnnie Jae is of the Jiwere-Nutachi and Chahta tribes of Oklahoma. The Executive Managing Partner of Native Max Magazine. Member of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry and the Native American Journalists Association.