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Ruling awaited on 'Redskins' trademark

WASHINGTON - At a hearing for motions on summary judgment in Pro Football Inc. v Harjo et al., it became pretty clear that the defendants who have not produced an Indian witness or deposition have also never spent quality time in an Indian community.

No Indian community comes to mind that would need a dictionary, a film montage, a linguist or historian to decide the word "redskin" is disparaging. No Indian community comes to mind that would consider it anything but disparaging.

In fairness, Robert Raskopf, arguing in U.S. District Court on behalf of Washington Redskins football team owner Daniel Snyder, didn't dwell on the niceties of 86 dictionary definitions of "redskin" on his own initiative. The process enjoined on him by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and its adjudicatory arm, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, is exceedingly formal in its deliberations over whether a trademark merits federal registration.

In this case, after considering the formal evidence of dictionaries, films, a survey, a linguist, a historian, and the personal testimony of Indians, a panel of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board unanimously ruled the Washington Redskins' family of trademarks disparaging to Indians.

If the ruling stands, the Washington Redskins would still be the name of the professional football team. But Raskopf argued that the team would then be open to "every imaginable loss you can think of," presumably because of trademark infringement actions and/or other lawsuits based on withdrawal of the federal registrations that began to be issued in 1967.

Michael Lindsay, attorney for a number of American Indian notables, led by Suzan Shown Harjo (also a columnist for Indian Country Today), rebutted that statement and a host of others, and at the end of the hearing had this to say:

"The Native American parties in this case presented to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board what we believe is a compelling record demonstrating quite clearly and convincingly that the term 'redskins' is one of disparagement of Native Americans. The Washington football team, instead of accepting this outcome, has chosen to nit-pick at the evidence. We don't believe any of their nits will be successful. In any event the total record is so overwhelming that we believe that the [trade]mark will in the end be demonstrated to be disparaging, just as we have claimed from the outset."

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, will rule on the motions after both attorneys complete the record Aug. 1. She did not state a timeframe for her decision.