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3/12/2013 11:18:00 AM
Navajo woman challenges Washington Redskins 'offensive' name
Kayenta woman argues football team should not be allowed to trademark name that some Native Americans call a racial slur
Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo woman from Arizona, argued that the name Washington Redskins is racist and hurtful and that the government should strip the team of its trademark to the name. Photo/Michelle Peirano
Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo woman from Arizona, argued that the name Washington Redskins is racist and hurtful and that the government should strip the team of its trademark to the name. Photo/Michelle Peirano
Suzan Shown Harjo talks with reporters after a trademark hearing on the Washington Redskins name, which she calls a racial slur. Photo/Michelle Peirano
Suzan Shown Harjo talks with reporters after a trademark hearing on the Washington Redskins name, which she calls a racial slur. Photo/Michelle Peirano
Michelle Peirano
Cronkite News

A Navajo woman was in Virginia last week to argue that the Washington Redskins should not be allowed to trademark what she and other Native Americans see as a racial slur.

"I think enough people have spoken out," said Kayenta resident Amanda Blackhorse, of the number of people who have called the team name offensive. "One is too many."

Blackhorse was one of several Indians telling the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that Pro-Football Inc., the team's parent company, should not be able to trademark the "Redskins." In a petition first filed in 2006, the group of six plaintiffs said the team's trademark should be canceled because it is used offensively, a violation of federal law.

But team officials argued that there is not enough evidence to show that the team's use of the name is offensive to Native Americans.

Pro-Football Inc.'s lawyer Robert Raskopf said surveys asking Native Americans if they thought the name was offensive did not find significant results, and were filed too late.

He also argued that several dictionary definitions say "redskin" simply means North American Indian, and that only a few dictionaries suggest it should not be used.

Redskins' General Manager Bruce Allen said the team's name is more often associated with the good deeds the team has done in the community since its inception.

"I'm extremely proud to be a member of the Redskins," Allen said. "What we do in the community ... helping kids ... between the team and the foundation, over 100,000 kids have benefited."

He said the name and logo are a significant part of the team's history. The Redskins have had fans "for more than 80 years, and that's who the team represents," Allen said.

But Blackhorse said that attitude ignores the damage the word does to Native Americans who still suffer from negative stereotypes.

"It's gone on so long we are desensitized from it," she said.

She said she would like to see the name and logo banned entirely, but that the team would still be able to use the name even if it lost the trademark. But it would no longer be the sole producer, Blackhorse said.

This trademark fight is just the latest attempt to get team owners to change the name.

In 1992, another group of Native Americans petitioned the patent office on the same grounds and won. But the team appealed that ruling to U.S. District Court, which found in 2005 that there was not enough evidence against using the name.

Suzan Shown Harjo, a plaintiff in the 1992 case who was at Thursday's hearing, said the underlying question in both cases is whether team owners are arrogant or ignorant.

"I don't think they're ignorant," Harjo said. "They are ignoring that we are up against so many pressures in Indian Country."

The name brings up a painful history for Native Americans and keeps that history alive by characterizing them by skin color, which carries a deeper societal implication, Harjo said.

"If it's permissible to call us bad names in public, it's permissible to do bad things to our children," she said.

Blackhorse said she decided to get involved after attending a protest at a Redskins game when she was in college. Her petition was filed in 2006, and it could take another year to get a decision, lawyers said.

"The way our culture was mocked and the things people said to us," Blackhorse said. "I got to see how offensive the games actually are.

"It's hard to tell sometimes, but I have met a fair share of people who have been offended by it," she said. "And like I said before, one is too many."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, May 6, 2013
Article comment by: m taylor

A lot of the comments made by Natives or those finding "Redskin" not offensive aren't familiar with Indigenous history.

The Europeans intro of scalping went beyond that. After the kill, some skinned the dead Indians, which brought the name red skin.

You all should be appalled by this and denounce the Redskin usage and start studying Native American history.

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2013
Article comment by: becca martinez

"Redskin" is a good name.... get a life.... read the news and just be glad we have freedom and and our creator. rdm

Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Article comment by: marc yaz tyson

A lot of anger towards “Indigenous First Americans” at CNN on same article. What makes people so hateful? Is it the centuries of structured hate against "Injuns" and "Redskins" flowing through government policy and the private sector? Is it in-grained subtle hate in education? Or is it deep hatred towards every brownish-reddish skin tones? What makes white people hate so much? Generations after generation, there is innate hatred by European-Americans. Now, black people are included to hate on brown without reason. Oh, perhaps “they” are barely inventing a culture among cultures in existence before Christ and calling it American culture? As original Americans, we will always hold clear cultural distinction as to who we are, and ingrained with heavy spirituality. All these hateful people of America should remember their champion religion tells them earthly actions send you to hell or heaven. Last time grandfather meditated, his visions revealed only sprinkling of European-American people in heaven, but hateful white people need not worry if they fear being alone, the same vision revealed they dominate hell.

Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Article comment by: marc yaz tyson

My dineh maternal and paternal ancestors lineage had names like BIA, Madman, Fat, and Slowman. The white jerks that gave names in the late 1800 and early 1900 never used our real names from our Native tongue. They had a field day, I am sure at the end of each day they laughed as they compared derogatory English language names. Make an issue of that, forget the Redskins and have them fund Native American scholarships.

Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Article comment by: Dorothea Stevens

my whole family cheers for the Redskins - leave it alone! I cheer for them because they are named REDSKINS, you are wrong when you say you are representing all Nations. Alot of us are not with you and your petty cause.

Posted: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Article comment by: JC Adams

What a waste of time and effort. None are the names were EVER meant to demean!! She should put her efforts to some other "cause." How about working to bring more jobs. This is so stupid.

Posted: Saturday, March 16, 2013
Article comment by: What Ever

Hey Amanda and Suzan - What about the Tuba City Warriors? Why can't they change their name?!? The alumni of Tuba City High School voted on this issue back in the 1960's and they were proud of their mascot. To some of us Native Americans it is an honor that a high school mascot is named after our tribe. It is a sense pride and the high school holds the mascot as an honor. Come on... fight for clean water, updated sewer system and most of all pride in our Indian Community!!!

Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Article comment by: john Adamson

Nearly every high school already changed their name from Indian nicknames years ago, look at the North Dakota Fighting Souix, who were 'forced' to change their deragatory name. Now the North Dakota Fighting Who. Why does change have to start with the youth, while grown ups look the other way, especially when it boils down to a rich white owned NFL franchise?
Call them the Washington Spendalots, fittting.

Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Article comment by: Ella Bowen

This is just stupid and petty and should be left alone. I'm native american and don't let silly things like this bother me. Sounds like more liberal's stirring up trouble. Focus on things that really matter.

Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Article comment by: Lena Tsosie


Posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Article comment by: ronald thomas

why don't you spend money on developing a detox center instead of wasting it on a stupid lawsuit. our families are falling apart due to "firewater", so change direction and do something for the families rather than this nonsense.

Posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Article comment by: Chris Sloan

I never could understand what is so demeaning or negative to use the word "Redskin" in terms to team associates or athletics. Obviously, this circumstance isn't new. I've heard these rants and arguments from when I was child to now and I still ignore what is being implied. I know the history of our people and know the degree of persecution we have endured as a people, but I don't know why this debate continues. I feel we should stand up for who we are and not necessarily for what we are. Character always speaks louder than the superficial appearance of what we are and I would rather define myself as someone who works hard, honest, trustworthy, and kind. My reputation resembles and associates with who I am as Dine and never the other way around. What good would that do if I allowed my race or ethnicity define who I am? Rather, it speaks volumes to others when my faith and beliefs define who I am and what I do. Just saying.

Posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Article comment by: G Schramm

The name 'Redskin' was used by Native Americans, they made it up to differentiate themselves from the white men. Furthermore, the name was only deemed offensive around 1933 after the Boston Reskins were founded. Not to mention the historical basis of it being offensive is largely believed to be unreliable by historians. there is only a secondhand historical account. and if you just want to look at the surface, i think the Native American community should be fighting for things like clean water, better education on the reservations, and favorable living conditions. Imagine if all the time and effort this group of people put into getting a football team's name changed they put into something to actually improve the quality of life for their so-called community. I'm beyond confident that most Native Americans would rather have a decent house with heat and running hot water.

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