Victory. It was in the air, it was in the smiles, it was in Amanda Blackhorse’s voice as she gave the keynote speech on Saturday to a room of Native journalists about her long battle against the Washington football team.
Native Americans don’t win often; ours is an existence marked with constant struggle. From the time of first contact, we have had to fight for what is ours. Our lands, our languages and cultures, our children, our equality as sovereign nations are constantly under attack to this day.
Here was the fight to take back our identity, to take back that which was not given, to push America forward and recognize that the slurring and caricaturing of an entire race is unacceptable. And we had won.
The Washington football team has vowed to appeal the ruling and continue its 22-year long legal assault against Native Americans. It appears they have learned nothing from decades of protests and lawsuits – that the steadily rising clamor of voices calling for change has not reached their ears. But I believe it has.
With the creation of the Original Americans Foundation, I saw a billion-dollar football franchise realize it had a serious problem.
Divide and conquer is an old trick, but despite the OAF-funded iPads, playgrounds, jackets, box seats, and half of a backhoe, no tribe has formally endorsed the Washington team. I’m sure Dan Snyder knows a losing record all too well, but at least his team scores a few touchdowns now and again. Not one of the 566 federally-recognized tribes in the United States has endorsed his team. Not one.
So what happens now?
While the Washington team leadership licks their wounds and stubbornly clings to a racial slur, we have a unique opportunity. Fighting a football team helped open the door to Native issues and voices more frequently reaching the general public. Mainstream media is running more than the occasional story about poor conditions on reservations, our stories are being told on Native and non-Native platforms alike.
Grassroots movements across the country are engaging with school boards, with educators who are looking at their own Native mascots with new eyes. Education is the key – we will reach a time when all students are taught about modern Native peoples, about treaty rights and sovereignty, about historical trauma. I might even stop getting asked if I live in a tipi.
We got here because we interrupted America’s sports, but now we have its attention. Taking down confederate flags has intertwined with a broader discussion about racism. Ending the era of racial mascots necessarily includes acknowledgment of how Native Americans have been and still are treated by this country.
We reminded society that we’re still here – that genocide, marginalization, and dehumanization of Native peoples matter. We are NEVER going away. You can use all caps.
Tara Houska (Couchiching First Nation) is a tribal rights attorney in Washington, D.C., a founding member of NotYourMascots.org, and an all-around rabble rouser. Follow her on @zhaabowekwe.