March 25, 2009

Most Indians oppose "redskins"

Apparently a few readers still don't get the "redskin" issue. They think most Natives don't care about the word or deem it acceptable. I'll try again to disabuse them of this notion.

Honoring Native Americans with DisrespectThere are more than 500 Native groups, hundreds of tribes and tens of thousands of signatures calling for the retirement of the more than 3,000 Indian-name mascots currently in use. The United States Commission on Civil Rights, chaired by Elsie Meeks, a highly respected Lakota woman, has urged public schools to cease with such names. In 1992, the NAACP issued a resolution stating that Indian logos undermine “self-determination and dignity of Indian people” and urged all teams to change their names; for athletes, particularly Black athletes, to use their influence to effect change; and for everyone to stop purchasing items with racist logos. Others standing against Indian-name teams include the National Education Association, the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association

In 1999, after seven years of litigation, Harjo, with the support of many of these groups, convinced a three-judge appeals board of the federal Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the Washington pro football club’s moniker on the grounds that the name disparages Native Americans, which is a violation of federal law.

Four years later, however, a lone federal District Court judge overturned the decision, saying that the decision was not supported by the record and that challengers had waited too long to file their claims. Now Harjo is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to reinstate the original decision. The court will hear oral arguments Nov. 23.

In August, Indian and religious organizations filed friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of Harjo. They include the National Congress of American Indians, representing two-thirds of the 327 federally recognized tribes; the National Indian Youth Council, the largest Indian youth organization; the Tulsa Indian Coalition Against Racism, founded by 39 Indian Nations; and the Religious Interfaith Council of the Washington Metropolitan area.
Comment:  Let's elaborate on Harjo's lawsuit. The Native litigants amassed volumes of evidence on how Natives perceive the word "redskin." That evidence was enough to convince a panel of judges to cancel the Washington Redskins trademark.

Beyond the findings of the lawsuit, who thinks "redskins" is offensive? Repeat:  500 Native groups, hundreds of tribes, and tens of thousands of signatures. Two-thirds of the federally recognized tribes (excluding Alaska Native villages and corporations, I presume).

If you disagree with their conclusion, I suggest you take it up with them. Tell these Native leaders that you know better than they do. Let us know how they respond.

But whatever you do, don't waste my time telling me not to criticize the word. This isn't some criticism I've invented out of thin air. It's a reiteration of the position held by 500 Native groups, hundreds of tribes, and tens of thousands of Indians.

I'm not telling Natives what *I* believe, I'm reflecting and restating what they believe. I have a right--indeed, a responsibility--to reflect and restate their views accurately. If you don't like it, I suggest you leave. Because I don't intend to stop promoting a Native perspective on "redskins" or anything else.

Below:  A typical red-skinned savage who won't go to Harvard, win a Nobel Prize, or become president.

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