Photo courtesy Gregg Deal
Hundreds protest the name of the Washington football team outside FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland December 28, 2014.

Blackhorse: We Will Overcome; the Fight Against Indian Mascots Continues in 2015

Amanda Blackhorse

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.

Activist Winona LaDuke, Ojibwe, addresses thousands in protest of the Washington football team name outside TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 2, 2014. Photo courtesy Simon Moya-Smith

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.

Hundreds protest the Washington football team name December 28, 2014, outside FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. Photo courtesy Kristy Blackhorse.

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. Photo courtesy Malcolm Benally

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.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
2015 will be an interesting year considering other events and activities directly impacting the daily lives and fueling issues that a great many Indian families have to contend with. It doesn't appear the Political wars of Democrat versus Republican will fade despite having an all Republican Congress versus a lone Democratic President (vice-versa). Many issues that feed indian communities using US Federal help will once again BE TIED up and watching who blinks first.>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> THe Navajo Nation Government as official representatives of Navajo people are given the handling of appropriating the $550 MILLION settlement on behalf of the Navajo people. Bear in mind many current reps of Navajo Govt have been indicted on Tribal Charges of ethics, mishandling, etc. My question is who is watching the Tribal Government?>>>>>>>>>>>>> Another issue that may be more interesting to ICMTN readers is the federal charges against the Pine Ridge Medicine Man - "world famous as reported" - of sexual predatory allegations. As I understand the alleged is in jail awaiting court/trial. In the meantime the Pine Ridge, SD community is torn apart in two. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> These are trival examples of far greater and more urgent demands pressed against American Indian communities and what better than an established SOcial Media Network of Facebook, Tweetters, Meeeters, etc. to challenge and work to improve the lives of Indian people directly.

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
Ms. Blackhorse, You fail to mention there were TWO other CodeTalkers present and thier invited families (spouses) So a total of at least 4 represented the Navajo Code Talkers with Mr. MacDonald who represents entire NCTA. In fact, its been reported he attended a Phoenix-valley event honouring the CodeTalkers. As much as im trying to locate the "many" who are offended of the continued use of REDSKINs, the "many" are more concerned with everyday livlihoods of jobs, food prices, transportation and the basic necessities that WE take for granted living OFF the reservations. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Many of the navajo nation delegates were voted out of office. The Navajo Nation Governemnt is mired in political debates, i.e. Navajo Presidential Election rescheduled. And as Navajo people, we are still trying to figure what hte Navajo Rights Commission does. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> The usual cast and characters are nothing to those who 'support' are nothing NEW. In fact, the recent Congress changed where the prior Congressionals were voted out of Public Office as well. Letterman is FINALLY stepping down! And this country has rapidly witnessed Racial Declines and Upheavel (some) say worst than the 1960s. Yet, we have elected Leadership arriving at the scene only AFTER the riots, beatings, police murders have occurred. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> A select few in Monument Vallye, Utah have spoken out and based on understanding, your family members and relatives are very much supportive and loving. Congrats! However, there are a GREAT many othe rNavajo communities who would and who SHOULD use an opportunity of money/dollars/appropriations being given because it is needed badly. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> I agree with your analysis that 'high rates of poverty' exist especially on the Navajo Reservation. Where is the Social Media-FaceBook- Tweeters to challenge the Navajo Tribal (Native Indian Governments) of why poverty is so prevalent? I do DISAGREE with your projection of 'being hushed or bullied'. I had asked a elder relative of their thoughts on the Redskin argument fiascos, and their response was "if they can give me $750.00 to fix my rack and pinion steering" - then maybe i can join them by getting on top of my house or yelling out of my house". >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> As I under Red Mesa High School, AZ and the Red Mesa community is alive and vibrant and so very proud of their high school football events and games. A true fan-base as they call themselves - "your in Redskin country". Principle -Tommy J. Yazzie even took time to listen to you from your phone call. Im sure you well aware that Red Mesa is only a mere 70 miles east from Kayenta, AZ. The Shiprock Chieftians (the famous Lady Chieftians of the 1990s) is one more hour away into northwest New Mexico. Lets also mention the TuBa City, AZ Warrior Nation and their Warrior Pavilion is one hour and half WEST of Kayenta. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> As reported, when a Red Mesa elder was asked on the Redskin fiasco, he held up a gallon of water that he carries and asked for safer cleaner water (because the localized water is contaminated with uranimum tailings in the area). He also stated the conditions of dilapidated buildings in/around Red Mesa. So AGAIN, i ask where is the established Social media Network of Facebook and Tweets to challenge the Tribal Governments and the US Federal Government over basic Indian people needs. Will Facebook and Media Tweets be watching dogging the $550 MILLION that the Navajo Government recently acquired? >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Navajo people and indian collectively have choices and they RIGHTLY make individuals for their own reason. To paint the picture of being ill-advised and not informed is only making your arguments murky, unclear, and gray. Half-truths as your promoting will not gain more supporters (particularly those struggling to survive in the confines of the Reservation(s). Any institution, corporation….individual still has RIGHTS (right now) in this country to challenge arguments (even if illegitimate), so why should be a surprise. 2015 doesn't appear to be friendly to Indian affairs considering how Democrats and Republicans are once more going to play the politic game of "who blinks first" (at the expense of Americans-general and Indian people). Where will the Redskin Social Media agitators be then?