On July 8, during a layover at the Houston airport, I heard the great news. United States District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee upheld the decision to cancel the Washington NFL team’s trademark registrations, a decision made by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) on June 18, 2014. Judge Lee wrote an impressive 70-page opinion that resoundingly affirmed the TTAB.
Less than one year after being sued by the NFL franchise, my co-plaintiffs Courtney Tsotigh, Jillian Pappan, Marcus Briggs-Cloud, and Phil Gover, and I have yet again another confirmation by a federal tribunal that the R-word is offensive and disparaging to Native Americans. This is actually the third time that the federal government has decided that the team’s trademark registrations need to be cancelled because they are disparaging.
The TTAB made this ruling in 1999 in Harjo v. Pro-Football (an earlier case brought in 1992 by the legendary Suzan Harjo and others), and again in Blackhorse, et.al. v. Pro-Football in 2014, and now in 2015 by Judge Lee. We have not exhausted ourselves, but it appears the team is about to exhaust itself.
The team now has the option to appeal Judge Lee’s decision. They have 30 days to file an appeal and they most likely will. Bruce Allen, the team’s General Manager stated, “I am surprised by the judge's decision to prevent us from presenting our evidence in an open trial. We look forward to winning on appeal after a fair and impartial review of the case. We are convinced that we will win because the facts and the law are on the side of our franchise that has proudly used the name [expletive] for more than 80 years.”
Mr. Allen seems to accuse Judge Lee of not being “fair and impartial.” Does the team accuse the referees when they lose on the field also? It seems that the team intends to drag out this battle and milk the racial team name for the sake of it, or for profit, for whatever motivates them. At this point it seems that, from the team’s perspective, it is not about right or wrong or doing the right thing. They have invested so much money, years, and personal pride into this that they seem committed to litigate until the bitter end. While this is a clear victory for us, the team continues to call themselves the Washington [expletive]. Our work is not done, until the team is called another name. The struggle continues.
On July 11, I gave the keynote address at the Native American Journalist Association and National Native News Conference in Arlington, Virginia. I had been asked and confirmed to do this keynote address several months prior and was happy and honored to do so. After the last hearing on the case Pro-Football vs. Blackhorse, et.al. on June 23, 2015, I knew a final decision in the case was to be made any day, and I had no idea it would happen during my planned trip to the D.C. area.
It was an amazing trip, and as I stated in my keynote address on Saturday, spiritually I believe it was no coincidence I was there to celebrate the victory but to also be in the presence of prominent Native journalists, and in the presence of Suzan Harjo, at the time of the Native Youth White House Initiative, and during one of the largest U.N.I.T.Y. gatherings in Washington D.C.
To top it all off, I was personally invited to meet with the Navajo Nation President and Vice President at their Washington D.C. office to receive a personal congratulations. I am a believer, a person of faith, and believe the tide is turning, the floodgates have opened, minds are changing, the paradigm is shifting, and we are getting somewhere. But this is only a beginning. We have much more work to do while we have the momentum.
Currently, there is a caravan of the Apache Stronghold headed to Washington D.C. to fight for their homelands; there are several movements of indigenous people happening now throughout this country and in Hawaii; the indigenous people who are now called the Mission Indians California want more than an apology from Pope Francis and have been speaking out against the canonization of Junipero Serra as it will further the historical trauma they suffered, and the list goes on.
Our homelands continued to be threatened; the weekend was chalk-full of hipster headdress offenders including, but not limited to, Jessica Simpson, Susan Boyle, and the biggest offender of all: David Guetta. Offensive, very much so, but as the list continues we need to talk about violence in our communities, and we need to be ever so vigilant at this time because police brutality in Native communities continues to exist. Our children are at the front lines of fighting racism and mascots in their middle and high schools. And so the struggle continues.
The message that echoed at the NAJA and National Native Media Conference was #EmpowerYourStory, and at this time we must all be empowered from our struggles. The struggles which we all come from, with which we live, and the difference between now and 20 years ago is, today, we may be less afraid to speak. We may be more empowered and have more at our disposal to tell the truth, to speak about colonization, and the decolonization that must occur. I know change is happening, I can feel it.
For example, in December 2014, I wrote an article titled, “Blackhorse: The Hate Mail I Receive is Hostile, Aggressive, Racist, and Sexist” and since then the hate mail has significantly dwindled to, I’d say, about 80-perecent. The outward, in your face, disgusting hate mail as since disappeared. Was the article the reason for this? I’d like to think so. I think people have caught on and realized their hate mail can be made public information and, with immediate access to the world through social media, racism is no longer a private thing.
Don’t get me wrong, the hate continues and I still get angry, racist messages on Twitter and Facebook, but the mood has definitely changed for the better. In using my voice (I understand I am privileged to have a powerful platform to do so) I’ve found an empowered ability to showcase what I experience. It is scary at times to put things out there, but it is also very powerful. Voicing your thoughts and opinions about your experiences with oppression helps others understand your struggle. When we stand up to racism and corporate giants, we rise above, we unveil the racist institution, which has been for so long sheltered and protected. When we unveil that which as been hidden, the racism in people comes out. When we showcase that and put it out there for the masses, the mirror is then turned onto racism itself in the most raw and unfiltered manner.
A bit idealistic, of course, but that is how we should always be.
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 Phoenix, Arizona.