Courtesy Spokane Indians
Andy Billig

Tribe’s Mascot Gives State Senator New Perspective on Native Issues

Rodney Harwood

The heated debate over Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s refusal to change the name of the NFL franchise’s mascot is making noise in state and national levels of government.

On Thursday, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) joined several congressional colleagues who have denounced “Redskins” and called on Snyder to change the team’s name.

Reid joins House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and President Barack Obama in urging the Washington football team to rethink its mascot.

Washington State senator Andy Billig, who is also the co-owner of the Spokane Indians baseball team, a Class A Northwest League team affiliated with the Texas Rangers, said that it was time to change the NFL team’s name.

“Of course the [Washington Redskins mascot] name is wrong,” said Billig in an interview with ICTMN. Billig was elected to the Washington State Senate in 2012 representing the 3rd Legislative District and currently serves as the Senate Democratic Whip.

“All I can do is take care of business from the perspective of our organization.”

RELATED Spokane Indians Take Historic Step With Logo in Salish Language

In 2006, the Spokane Indians organization began exploring options for a new team logo and met with the Spokane Tribe of Indians tribal council and the tribe’s culture committee. Through that eight-month process, the baseball organization came up with a new logo depicting a red “S” with an eagle feather accent.

The baseball team worked with five tribes in the Spokane area through the Upper Columbia United Tribes and specifically with the Spokane Tribe of Indians since its name is derived directly from their nation.

We use no Native American imagery associated with our team,” Billig said. “We told the Spokane tribe, ‘If we need to change the name (of our team) because it is offending people in our community, we will consider that. How could we not consider changing the name if it’s offensive?”

Because the baseball organization conducted itself in a respectful manner, the Spokane Tribe of Indians council and front office came up with a new logo not only in English, but created an alternative logo without feathers or other imagery in the Salish language, which is the regional language of the Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Colville and Kalispell nations.

They will use the Salish logo as its major imagery on the home uniforms for the 2014 season. The Salish logo is also available on baseball caps and apparel. The proud history of the Spokane Tribe of Indians is not only on display on the new uniforms and apparel sold by the baseball team, there is also a wall of fame at the main entrance at Avista Stadium with old-time photographs displaying the people that once fished for Chinook salmon at Spokane Falls in the City of Spokane.

Through that eight-month process of developing the new logo, Billig said he not only sees life differently (personally), but the working relationship has carried over to how he conducts business on the state Senate floor.

“I learned so much during this process,” Billig said. “This collaboration with the Spokane Tribe is the greatest accomplishment of my professional career with the team. It encompassed so much of what we’re about as an organization and a community. It was about respect and there was this added bonus: it was good for business even though that’s not what we went into it for.”

Billig, the former president of the team, has cut back on his input with the day-to-day operation within the baseball organization since being elected to public office.

He was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 and immediately assumed a transportation leadership position in the House, serving as vice-chair of the House Transportation Committee. In that role, he helped write the state’s two-year transportation budget. Billig also served on the Education, Environment, and Technology & Economic Development before he was elected to the state Senate in 2012.

“This process and our relationship with the Spokane Tribe has been extremely valuable as I have gone on to work in the legislature,” Billig said.

Spokane Indians Salish Language version

“The first bill I passed in the legislature was to create an office of Indian education within the office of superintendent. Spokane School District, out of 295 school districts, has the highest number of Native American students,” Billig said. “So, this was a particularly relevant bill for me to sponsor because of my relationship with Native American tribes. That understanding of having additional support and focus on Indian culture and heritage issues was helpful. I don’t know if I would have gotten that before if not for those meetings with the elders. There’s been a connection and it carries over to what we do with the baseball team every day and it carries over into my legislative career as we deal issues.”