The name Washington Redskins is disparaging to Native Americans. That’s the determination of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which has canceled six federal trademark registrations for the team.
But for now the trademark stands, as owner Daniel Snyder begins what is sure to be a lengthy appeals process. “We’ve seen this story before,” the team said when the Patent Office announced its decision June 18. “And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo.”
The lead plaintiff in Blackhorse et al v. Pro-Football Inc. is Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo activist and psychiatric social worker, says she’s confident Snyder will lose his appeal. The Daily Beast spoke with Blackhorse about the case, how she got involved, her thoughts on other Native American mascots, and what the future holds.
How did you get involved with the protest movement?
A group of us were protesting at the time at a game in Kansas City. I understood at the time that mascots were not OK, just based on my education and being a part of the Native American community, but my eye-opening moment with all of this was at the game. When you see people and how they act, and the way that they appropriate our culture, you see the stereotyping right in front of you.
And when you peacefully protest their stereotyping of you, they lash back at you and they call you horrendous, horrific names. They were telling us, “Go back to your reservation!” “Why don’t you just go get drunk!” “We won, you lost,” “Get over it.” you know, throwing their beers towards us, that sort of thing.
And I felt like, for the general population at the game, it was socially acceptable to demean an entire group of people in this way, out in the open. We didn’t even say anything back to them when they were saying things to us. We were demonstrating peacefully, but to have to take that and not say anything back, it was very difficult. I’m glad I didn’t take my children with me.
What is your opinion about the use of other Native American names, even ones that aren’t necessarily a racial slur, like the Chicago Blackhawks?
I believe any professional sports team, like the Braves, the Blackhawks, and the Cleveland Indians—Chief Wahoo is one of the most racist cartoons out there—shouldn’t be using Native American mascots.
There is a culture in sports where people go to games and have fun, but also to make fun of or yell at mascots, because they’re not human. You see people in war paint or doing the tomahawk chop and saying, “Scalp him.” If you have Native Americans in that position, you’re opening up our culture to ridicule.
That’s where I have a problem with all this. Whether your intent is to harm people with a name or not, you have no control over what happens during those games. What happens in those games is ludicrous. I can’t believe that people cannot see this.
Even in the most recent study by Professor [James] Fenelon [of California State University, San Bernardino], in which 67 percent of Native Americans stated that the Redskins team name is a racial or racist word and symbol, 60 percent of non-Natives still disagreed. What would you say to that majority to try to convince them?
I don’t think it’s my job to educate them. This is an issue where we need to look at the Native American population and say, “How do we help them with this issue?” I don’t think the attention should be on the percentage of people who say they are for Native American mascots. I think we misguide ourselves when we do that and we say, “How do we get people to understand?” It’s ignorant, at the end of the day.
I am more than willing to talk with anyone who’s willing to listen, but my goal is not to focus on those who disagree.
Even though a majority is still in opposition, there’s been a fairly large swing in public opinion toward changing the name. What do you think is the reason for that?
This fight has being going for over 30 years, and a lot of that is due to the work of Suzan Harjo. I feel like up until recently, people haven’t been really questioning it or challenging it. Now, the reason why this has grown is due to non-Native supporters, like senators and congressman, and people in the sports community who have spoken out. The Native American voice is usually dismissed pretty quickly, or it’s never even heard.
That says something about the society that we live in. Where does the power lie? The power does not lie in our hands.
The organization Eradicating Offensive Native American Mascotry is going to protest outside the Cleveland-Arizona game. Will you attend?
Yes. I am not a part of that group but I am totally in support of what they’re doing. I think they’re doing amazing work, and they’ve led so many different efforts, from the hashtags to the Twitter storms on social media to get the attention of Nike or FedEx and other sponsors. I think that’s the direction that things are going right now. Dan Snyder’s not just operating alone here. For the longest time, people focused on Dan Snyder, but really, there are other groups that also very powerful that are involved.
When the Washington team comes to Arizona, we will have something for them on October 12, the day before Columbus Day.
If you did have a chance to speak to Daniel Snyder, what would you like to say to him?
I have nothing to say to him. I feel like I’ve said it. I’ve asked him the question before, “Would you call me a Redskin to my face?” and he brushed it off with “I don’t know her,” and then he made that comment about never changing the name and putting it in all caps. It was pretty arrogant.
We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, and our actions speak louder than words. He knows how we feel; he just chooses to ignore it. And that’s the problem. He can afford to.
He needs to come down from his ivory tower and listen to people. And not just him; the other owners and sponsors, they need to be a part of this conversation, as well.
Snyder is appealing the decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the team seems confident that it will win again. How do you think you’ll do this time?
Oh, I am very confident that we will get through the appeals process. The difference between our case and her [Suzan Harjo’s] case is that we’re younger, and the reason they lost is based on a legal technicality, because they waited too long to file.
I was actually kind of hoping that he’d accept that he lost and give in. But of course he didn’t do that. I guess I’m too optimistic. I try to look at the good side of people.
I’m sure someone can find a legal technicality somewhere, but I’m also hoping that a lot of the social change that is happening might be a deciding factor.