This year has been a year of ups and downs, but by far this year has marked a tremendous amount of progress in the Change the Name movement.
The year began with dealing with the fallout from former Navajo Nation President Peter MacDonald and also Roy Hawthorne, both Navajo Code Talkers, who endorsed the Washington Team in late 2013. The Washington Team “honored” these veterans for their service and also for Native American Heritage Month during halftime of a game in November the previous year. The Code Talkers deserved to be honored, but many believed they were also used as pawns in team owner Dan Snyder’s scheme of, “Look I have Indian friends who aren’t offended by the team name!” The motive behind collecting these Native American friends and tokens was very much transparent.
When this occurred, it was a great upset, but it also forced the Navajo Nation to step up and finally take a stance on the R-word. Up until that point they sat idled and didn’t seem to want to deal with the issue, but in the spring of 2014, the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission stepped up and passed a resolution urging the Navajo Nation Council to oppose the disparagement of the Native peoples in professional sports. One month later, the Navajo Nation Council took heed and passed a resolution opposing the use of Native mascots in professional sports. In addition, many people didn’t realize the Diné Medicine Man Association also passed a resolution in December 2013 against the R-word. The Navajo Nation, the largest Native American tribe in the United States, was finally taking a stance on this important issue.
If that wasn’t enough hype on the issue, it seemed that almost every month a major network or well-known person was speaking out against the name. Comedy Central took on the issue through The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and South Park. President Barack Obama honored Suzan Harjo with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and 50 U.S. Senators and other members of Congress publicly supported the name change through letters of support urging Snyder to change the name. Others such as Phil Jackson, Notah Begay III, Hispanic rights groups and David Letterman spoke out just to name a few. Many non-Native people this year also stood up and are doing the right thing, standing in solidarity with Native people.
Not only were these well-known people and groups standing up, but in the Native communities, tribes and organizations continued to make headway and stand up to the regime of Snyder. The Quechan Tribe of Arizona/California refused $250,000 from the Original American’s Foundation (O.A.F. was created by Snyder) to build a skate park. The Battle Mountain Band of Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians refused to even meet with the team. Navajo people in Monument Valley, Utah, publically spoke out and resisted when the local high school accepted money from the team.
Although there was a tremendous amount of change happening, Snyder’s tactic of divide and conquer was fast moving and done secretly. We watched sadly as the OAF infiltrated Native communities throughout the nation. We watched a very famous Navajo Nation President turn his back on his own council as he sat side-by-side with Snyder himself in Glendale, Arizona. It was clear Snyder was searching for a tribe to endorse them. We watched as he threw his wealth around to tribal communities with high rates of poverty. In communities where the poverty levels are lower than the national average, tribal members found it difficult to stand before their people and ask them to not accept money or gifts being offered to them. Many were bullied or hushed by their own people who lacked awareness on the issue.
The Red Mesa School knew that taking their children to the Washington game in Glendale, Arizona, wasn’t the best decision due to the circumstances, but they did it anyway because they wanted their students to experience a professional football game — something many of them may not have the privilege to do. I know this because I spoke to them myself. This, then, speaks to the power of privilege and what we are teaching our youth. Many of the students didn’t know about the Washington name change issue. They should’ve been given a proper education about the issue — a fair chance to make that decision on their own. I then ask, what are we teaching our Native children? To sell-out or stand strong with dignity? As a people, we may be poor, but our dignities shouldn’t be for sale.
Of course, the highlight of the year was the cancellation of the Washington team’s registrations, including but not limited to the term, “R*dsk*ns”. A team of young Native American people, lead by Suzan Harjo, took out a billion dollar franchise, i.e. the Washington team. For the second time in the past 15 years, the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (TTAB) ruled twice in favor of Native American people and cancelled the federal registrations of the Washington team. After patiently waiting one year and three months from the last hearing and nine years since the start of the case, we won. It was a tremendous victory. It was surreal and moving. I was amazed at the support and strength of Native people throughout the Nation.
Soon after this victory, Snyder sued the four petitioners and myself in federal court. We were sued because we wanted change and were fighting to protect the identity of our children. Currently, the suit is making its way through the court and as always I am confident we will overcome.
Although there were tough times during this fight, Native people proved to be resilient and powerful. We proved this through our protesting, marching and rallies that there is power within the people. Born out of this fight that began decades ago grew a movement and the largest ever anti-Native mascot protest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where about 5,000 people gathered and about 2,500 people marched in protest of the Washington team name and against all Native mascots.
The regular NFL season had a string of protests throughout the nation beginning in Houston, Texas, Glendale, Arizona, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Santa Clara, California, and ending at the last home game of the season in Landover, Maryland, at FedEx Field. Each protest was strong, fierce, well organized and relentless. Native people came out and were ready to show Snyder, O.A.F. and the Washington team how strong and brave we are.
The last protest of the season was the “largest protest of Native Americans at a Washington home game in the history of the franchise” as reported by Mike Wise of The Washington Post. This proves that Native people are organizing, working together and this is only the beginning. I assure you, if there is still the Washington R*dsk*ns in the 2015 season, the protests will double, even triple. The support will continue to grow. We will fight through the lawsuit filed against myself and the four other petitioners. We will prevail in our continued fight against an 82-year tradition of racism. I know as we emerge into this New Year, there is no stopping and no limits to the change and movement Native people are capable of.
Amanda Blackhorse, Diné, is a mother and activist. She and four other plaintiffs won a case against the Washington football team that stripped it of six of its seven trademarks. Follow her on Twitter @blackhorse_a. She lives in Kayenta, Arizona on the Navajo Nation.