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Houska: Navajo Nation Files Brief Against Washington NFL Team

The Navajo Nation filed an amicus brief in support of Amanda Blackhorse and her fellow defendants in the case Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse.
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Last week, the Navajo Nation reiterated the tribe’s opposition to the Washington football team with the filing of an amicus brief in support of Amanda Blackhorse and her fellow defendants in Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse.

The brief was filed as a direct response to the NFL’s suggestion that the Nation and its members do not find the term ‘redskins’ offensive.

Peter McDonald, a member of the Navajo Nation, filed an amicus brief in support of the team name and is specifically cited in Navajo Nation’s filing, “…[McDonald] is but one among over 300,000 enrolled Navajo citizens. He speaks on his own behalf, and his view is not reflective of the Nation …”

Instead, the Navajo Nation’s “elected and appointed and traditional leaders speak for the Navajo people.” The leaders are unified in their opposition to the team name, stating that it is both disparaging and harmful to the health and well-being of tribal members.

In April 2014, the Naabik’íyáti committee, an elected body with the power to issue the policy of the Navajo Nation, unanimously passed a resolution against the term ‘redskin’ and other disparaging references to Native Americans by sports teams. The resolution’s passage was based on the finding that disparaging terms have a negative effect on the self-esteem and self-image of Native youth.

The Naabik’íyáti committee views were shared by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, which unanimously passed a resolution against the term based on the findings of the United Nations, which found that stereotypes rendering Native American as “relics of the past” are perpetuated by Native sports mascots.

Navajo Nation’s amicus brief also addresses the oft-cited Red Mesa High School, a school on the Navajo reservation that uses “Redskins” as their sports mascot. Red Mesa High School is one of 130 schools on the reservation; it is the only one that uses that term. Further, the brief notes, “[It is] a state public school – it is not created or sanctioned by the Navajo Nation,” and has actually challenged the sovereign authority of the Navajo Nation, in an effort to exempt itself from the Nation’s laws.

The brief concludes by urging the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the cancellation of the Washington football team’s trademark. An additional amicus brief was filed by 59 Native American organizations against the team name.

Amanda Blackhorse, one of the defendants in the case, spoke with ICTMN about the filings, “I am happy to see the amount of support from our Native community. Not only did my Nation back us, but so did many other prominent Native organizations.” She continued, “Many times in this struggle, Washington fans and naysays attempt to trivialize this issue. They say we are a bunch of left-wing, politically correct opportunists. The support from our Native community shows we are not alone, we are the overwhelming majority who want a name change!”

Of the 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States, not one tribe has endorsed the Washington football team. The nearly 24-year legal fight of Native Americans against a term repeatedly found disparaging will next be heard on appeal this year.

Tara Houska. Photo courtesy Josh Daniels.

Tara Houska (Couchiching First Nation) is a tribal rights attorney in Washington, D.C., a founding member of, and an all-around rabble rouser. Follow her: @zhaabowekwe.