Amanda Blackhorse: 'Holding my breath'

Mark Trahant

Newscast for July 16. Conversations with Amanda Blackhorse, Nina Polk, Jim Warne and Steve Wyche

The newscast looks at the Washington NFL dispute from several angles. We start with a conversation with Amanda Blackhorse. She was the lead plaintiff in the trademark litigation against the Washington team. 

Comments made during the newscast.

Amanda Blackhorse

Amanda Blackhorse

"For me, it started back in 2005. At the time I was a part of a group called Not In Our Honor, with Rhonda LeValdo, Ryan Red Corn, some other folks from Haskell and the University of Kansas. And so at the time, my first sort of introduction to the movement was going to a protest. And that was when Kansas City and the Washington team played in Kansas City and it was such a big deal that year, because it was the first time in a while in Kansas City that the two sort of Native theme sports franchises were going to play each other."

"I had never gone to a professional football game before and when I saw what happens there it was just very appalling. And what was even more appalling was how people responded to us as peaceful protesters. You know, we're the actual Native people who are saying, 'No, this is not okay. This is harmful to us.' And they just reacted, you know, the way that they reacted to us, to demean us and to be violent with us."

"Oh my gosh. Ups and downs. At least the last couple of weeks since everything has been happening it's just been a roller coaster of emotion. It's been, it's been stressful. It's been great hearing that after all these years, the team is going to retire their name and logo, but also just, I'm very, I'm a cynic when it comes to the team just because I know how they operate. I know the way that they treat Native people, the way that they treated us throughout all of these years, so I'm holding my breath and I'm really just waiting to see what they're going to rebrand to. I'm just hoping it's not anything Native theme but just given their history and the things that they've said recently, you just never know."

"Definitely. I think they're like the ones that are trying to sneak out the back door unnoticed by everyone right now. So much of the focus has been on the Washington team and so I don't think that they think they're gonna catch that much flack, but I mean, they're definitely on our radar."

"I'm glad that Cleveland is looking at a review. I definitely think that Kansas City is next. The Braves look like they're trying to dig their heels in at this time."

"I think it just sort of happened this time around, thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement and what's happening in this country."

"For me, I was just, you know, I was at home, I was pregnant and I'm trying to survive this pandemic. And people were like, 'Let's do this, let's do this. Now's the time. Now's the time.' And I'm just like, 'Oh my gosh,' you know. It's just so much, it's overwhelming. So it just kind of happened organically on its own without a whole lot of push, I think, from the Native community."

"Definitely thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement and it's just really unfortunate that it had to come after the murder of George Floyd. But I'm glad that people are starting to understand what racial inequality is right now."

Nina Polk

Nina Polk

"I haven't gotten like head to head racism about what's been going on but I would mainly just get like racial slurs here and just jokes in school and out of school. And I would always hear stories about little kids getting them even a lot more than me."

"I just want to inspire the Native youth that I live with and just all around just to stand out no matter what society says and no matter what any mascots any sports team says. I'm a lacrosse player and I play traditional lacrosse as well. I want to spread awareness about lacrosse and the history of that. And I've been getting a lot of comments too from elders and adults and even children that I've inspired them to do better. And even just hearing that from little kids it's very heartwarming."

"The schools I go to, none of the teams are racist but I would hear different stories about different high schools that have racist names and teams. For example, one of them is Port Neches-Groves High School. That was a recent issue. Their team is called the Indians and their goal is they operate without discriminations of sex, race, color, religion. And to me, it's sad to hear when their school is based off being racist to Natives."

"It's sad to hear that they're inspired to have everyone be equal when their school stands out with a racist mascot, racist slogans. So that's what really got me inspired to just stand up to others too and help change the name."

"And that's why we're fighting this school for sure because this school has had this name for quite some time. So we have different petitions to sign and a lot of people are against it and signed a petition to keep the mascot. And that's from a bunch of different elders that went to that high school and say that, 'This needs to stay cause this brings us memories and we are honoring you guys.' So it's just sad to have a debate about this. Even when all these other schools, even the pro NFL teams are changing their names too."

Jim Warne

Jim Warne

"That was a good day and it was an honor to be with Suzan Harjo who you mentioned earlier and interviewed earlier. So I'm glad that you had her on the show and that was a good day to share experiences and they wanted athletes and actors and academics and advocates and I happen to fit all four of those elements as a former player, as an former actor and filmmaker and all that. So I was able to share those perspectives. And I know that some of the senators appreciated some of my Indian humor, if you will, in terms of trying to bring the point across utilizing some of our Indian humor."

"That was a great day to be able to be there with other advocates and other tribal leaders that wanted to make a difference with this issue. So it was nice to have an audience of senators and folks there where we could get things in the record in terms of what our perspectives were and we were able to share some of those perspectives and ideas with the senators. Now that we're here today, we're experiencing some of those changes. The unfortunate reality is this has not happened as a result of Indian voice. Obviously we set the foundation but it takes our non-Indian brothers and sisters to join us, to walk side by side with us so that we can collectively make a difference."

"Snyder was influenced by money and not necessarily Native people. And so again, that's a reality that we've had. Many changes and cultural history have become a result of money or sponsorship. And, that's okay. You know, even if he doesn't get it, at least now he's pressured to make that change for good."

"The University of Oklahoma, you know, the mascots they had and Stanford had their mascots and somehow they're still legitimate universities. They survived by changing their mascots. And I don't see any other cultures protesting that they're not mascots. So I think that's another indicator that this is a step in the right direction."

"I've been interviewed about this over the years back when I was drafted in the NFL in the '80s. So this has been a subject matter for me personally and the organizations do their best to honor but they just don't quite get there in that fact but the biggest culprit is the fans. And some of the things the fans are allowed to call us. Fans are there and they are allowed to call and yell at players, that's part of the game. But when it gets to a racial element, that's something to where that just gets irritating. And quite honestly, I played a violent sport so it was almost a motivator when I'd see the Tomahawk chops or some of the, 'Cut your hair Indian' comments and things of that nature that obviously allowed me to play better in football with an ability to hit somebody as a result of that, catharsis, if you will, on the field."

"Very rarely I had an issue with another player. Generally, the fans and some of the things that they're still allowed today, for instance, the Thompson brothers in professional lacrosse are still dealing with scalp the Indian, and we just need to stop that. It is time."

"Brother George Floyd, America's brother, this is a big impact that he's made worldwide and this is a residual effect, is this issue coming to us. Again, we must acknowledge that as a result of that horrible murder some good things will happen and future generations will benefit including my grandson. And that's why I'm doing it. I want my grandson to have a better world to grow up in and not have to deal with some of those ignorant mascots and things of that nature that just keeps us down in a cartoon level versus a human being level."

Steve Wyche

Steve Wyche

"The Colin Kaepernick issue with the 49ers in 2016, I was the reporter who broke that story. And look, he was taking a stance against, you know, judicial inequality, police brutality and here we are four years later with this whole magnanimous movement, which four years ago when he tried to get things going, he was ostracized. And now it is a complete shift that has led to so many things, including the economic pressures being put on the football club in Washington to finally change that nickname and logo.""This happened with me, I've never said it my entire life. The way I was raised in a household with my mother. We're a family, we've never done the absolute genealogy of it but we're raised with a lot of Native American traits in our family. So this was always a no-no, it was offensive to anyone who said it around us. I never repeated it. And when people did, I wasn't comfortable with it. So when I had my opportunity to use it, it was never used. Even when I was a writer. Or in a script when someone puts a Washington nickname, I said, I would tell them, I'm not saying it. If that's an issue, that's your issue. It is not my issue."

"It is offensive. I have talked to people such as yourself, to students and fellows and faculty from the Native American Journalist Association. The passion behind the voices against that name just affirmed again, my upbringing and my belief that it was wrong, it is offensive and it should never, ever have been used, especially by a football franchise, which was the last one to integrate. Like the changing of the nickname, it had to be forced to integrate."

"That's a real interesting question, Mark, because some owners absolutely have seen the light. Some of them have seen the light a long time ago. Other owners had been incredibly silent, right?"

"In previous years, when this issue with the Washington name has come up, nothing has been said. The difference this time is Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner. He didn't wait for the 32 voices and the approval of the 32 owners he decided to lead. So I think that made the players and employees and a lot of other people involved with the NFL, including sponsors, to say it is okay now for us to step out and wield our influence and wield our voices. And again, that has spurred a lot of change and it spurred a lot of pledges. I think a lot of us are still somewhat cynical to see what's going to happen. But again, I think the conversations that have not been had are finally taking place."

"Well, I have to tell you, this is where timing could really be optimal because there might not be many fans in stadiums because of COVID-19. So they may have several months and maybe even a full season to get used to the adaptation of this. We might not have the, in your face resistance to this change. And so by the time, this thing really comes into play and fans are deeply involved. There could have been somewhat of a grace period of adjustment where they've gotten used to the new name. Let's hope so, but for those ardent, rebellious folks who don't want to change too bad, that's just how people have to take it, too bad. For years people have had to be offended now, too bad, you have to deal with it."

Mark Trahant anchor's Indian Country Today this week. Also on the broadcast is Washington editor Jourdan Bennett-Begaye. 

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