Redsk*ns No More!
Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians Tribal Councilor Derek Bailey
Last week, after an eight-year wait in Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) canceled six trademark registrations for the Washington Redsk*ns football team. The PTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) stated in its opinion, “We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered.”
The ruling indicates that the Washington name cannot be trademarked under federal law that prohibits the protection of offensive or disparaging language. A press release issued by the plaintiff ’s lead counsel said that they “presented a wide variety of evidence – including dictionary definitions and other reference works, newspaper clippings, movie clips, scholarly articles, expert linguist testimony, and evidence of the historic opposition by Native American groups – to demonstrate that the word ‘redsk*n’ is an ethnic slur.”
Why is it so accepted for this team to openly use a derogatory and offensive word in reference to the original people of this land? The plaintiff in this case is Amanda Blackhorse (Navajo Nation), who follows up on the prior efforts of Suzan Harjo (Cheyenne/Muscogee) who filed a case in 1992 to the PTO. Suzan was initially victorious in 1999, but the decision was overturned on an appeal due to a “technicality.” This technicality was based upon the federal judge’s ruling that Harjo was too old to be the plaintiff (and that she should have filed the case closer to her 18th birthday).
The matter of the Washington football’s team name and mascot has been an ongoing, and contentious, issue for decades. National protests began in 1988 after the football team was victorious in Super Bowl XXII. American Indian activists, civil rights organizations, and supportive citizens brought forth the message that the word ‘redsk*n’ is derogatory, offensive and racist.
As usual, strong backlash came to those only seeking to change a name that some dictionary sources describe as, “noun – (slang) offensive term for Native Americans”.
A typical argument is that someone knows, or is friends with, a Native American who is not offended by the use of ‘redsk*n’. Or that the team name and imagery is only an attempt to “honor” Native Americans. The use of “honor” is definitely questionable when observing Washington football fans parading around in Native “costumes” and wearing “war paint.”
For many American Indian/Alaskan Natives (AI/AN), this is not an acceptable point of view, as it actually ridicules a proud people who do not need others to describe how honor should be directed towards them. I think we have that handled.
Even from this opinion piece, it can be expected that some will dismiss our point of view and that that the “pc” (political correctness) era is over and to just “get over with it.” But we cannot allow to be idle when there are still wrongs to correct. Imagine as well a voice that predates European contact, and that is only 2 percent of the US population (5.2 million; 2012 US Census), trying to simply say, “hey, it’s offensive.” Not understanding how it’s offensive yet? In your head, simply insert an ethnic slur for Mexican Americans, Asian Americans and/or African Americans where the name REDSKIN is used for the Washington football team. Now why is it so accepted for this team to openly use a derogatory and offensive word in reference to the original people of this land? It’s time to change the name and be done with racist sport team names and mascots.
Nimkee Onquet, Maengun N’dodem aawi, Odawa Anishinaabe.
Derek J. Bailey, MSW, is the former Tribal Chairman and current Tribal Councilor for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Derek is also co-principal at 7th Legacy Consulting, LLC.
Editor’s Note: This commentary was first published in Northern Express. Used with permission. All rights apply.