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Archive for Saturday, August 12, 2006

Indians challenge use of native mascots

August 12, 2006

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— American Indians have filed a new legal challenge to the Washington Redskins' trademark, contending the NFL team's name is racially offensive, speakers at the Native American Journalists Assn. national convention said Friday.

A petition to cancel the trademark was filed Friday with a board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington.

"There is no compromise with racism," Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, said at the conference. The institute is a Washington-based nonprofit organization that advances Indian causes.

"Power concedes nothing," she said. "You have to go in and make change happen."

The patent office's Trademark Trial and Appeal Board backed a similar petition filed in 1992. That decision was overturned on appeal, but the door was left open for another attempt to invalidate the trademark, Harjo said.

"The Washington football club name has been determined by three trademark judges and the majority of native Americans to be offensive," she said.

Bob Raskopf, an attorney representing the NFL and the Washington Redskins, said he couldn't comment on the petition because he has not seen it yet.

The petition was filed by six American Indians ranging in age from 18 to 24. It states that the Redskins trademark should be canceled on grounds that it is a "pejorative, derogatory, denigrating, offensive, scandalous, contemptuous, disreputable, disparaging and racist designation for a Native American person."

"This public act of allegiance by Native American youth with the efforts of their elders to combat intolerance is truly heroic and reflects a courageous willingness on the part of these young people to protect Native peoples from slurs and vulgarities," Harjo said.

Northeastern State University President Larry Williams said in a panel discussion at the convention that a decision this year to drop "Redmen" as the team name for the school in Tahlequah was the right thing to do, even though the decision was not popular.

"I have a responsibility to protect the institution, the integrity of the degree," Williams said. "This is contentious, but change is coming."

The school wants to come up with a replacement name by December. Meantime, he hears from a steady stream of people unhappy with the decision.

"There are two sides to this argument," he said. "Only one has merit, but there are two sides."

Bernard Franklin, an NCAA senior vice president, said his organization remains committed to stamping out racist images tied to sporting events. The association prohibits schools with offensive mascots from hosting championship events. By Aug. 1, 2008, those images also have to be removed from team uniforms, cheerleading and band outfits.

Harjo said that in the 36 years since the University of Oklahoma dropped its sideline-dancing "Little Red" mascot, more than 2,000 schools have followed. Still, some 900 remain, including many in Oklahoma, she said.

"The Redmen may seem like a perfectly nice moniker to place on a sports team," said Jim Gray, chief of the Osage nation. "What if it were Yellowmen or Blackmen? It feels awful just to say."

He has tried, so far without success, to persuade Union High School in Tulsa to stop using the Redskins mascot.

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