Defamation, Football, Intellectual Property, Native Americans, Sports, Trademarks

The Washington Redskins Controversy: An Interview with Amanda Blackhorse

redskins logo.jpgFor most of us, today is Thanksgiving! For a small segment of the population, today is the 2009 National Day of Mourning. The United American Indians of New England describe the day as:

An annual tradition since 1970, Day of Mourning is a solemn, spiritual and highly political day. Many of us fast from sundown the day before through the afternoon of that day (and have a social after Day of Mourning so that participants in DOM can break their fasts). We are mourning our ancestors and the genocide of our peoples and the theft of our lands. NDOM is a day when we mourn, but we also feel our strength in political action. Over the years, participants in Day of Mourning have buried Plymouth Rock a number of times, boarded the Mayflower replica, and placed ku klux klan sheets on the statue of William Bradford, etc.

The arrival of white folks from across the sea led to a Native American holocaust, theft of native lands, and the trivialization of Native American culture for the sake of national and college team mascots.
We’ve written a few times about the Native American battle to get the Washington Redskins football team to change its name. After a 17-year battle, the Native Americans lost a trademark suit against the team. The Supreme Court denied cert for the case earlier this month, meaning that the Redskins and their attorneys at Quinn Emanuel kept their laches victory. (As you certainly remember, not everyone at Quinn was pleased about that.)
In our post about the Supreme Court ruling, we asked:

Are we really going to make it through this entire case without any judge having to rule on whether or not it is appropriate to put “redskins” on a football helmet? Maybe not.

Drinker Biddle & Reath partner Philip Mause, who is representing the Native American plaintiffs, has another petition regarding the Redskins name pending before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. The Board previously ruled in 1992 that “redskins” is defamatory and cannot be trademarked. But that decision was overturned in federal court due to the laches issue. The new case, though, is led by Amanda Blackhorse of the Navajo Nation; Blackhorse and her co-petitioners were in their late teens and twenties when they filed their petition, so the courts won’t be able to dismiss the case based on the time elapsed/age issue.
This petition means there might be a Drinker Biddle v. Quinn Emanuel, round two. We’ve got an interview with lead petitioner Amanda Blackhorse after the jump.

The Blackhorse petition filed with the Trademark Board in 2006 was put on hold pending the outcome of Harjo v. Pro-Football. Now that the Harjo case has run its legal course, Blackhorse’s case will come back to life.
Here’s some background on the Blackhorse case from Indian Country Today:

The appeal to the high court centered on a 2003 decision by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly who found that the plaintiffs waited too long to challenge the trademark for the team, which was first issued in 1967.
The judge later clarified her decision, writing that the youngest plaintiff turned 18 in 1984 and therefore waited almost eight years after coming of age to join the lawsuit.
Kollar-Kotelly indicated that if the name was truly disparaging, the suit should have been filed earlier – implying that someone needed to file a suit as soon as they were legally able.
No judges have ever addressed whether the Redskins trademark is offensive or racist.
Now, a legal team is prepping to try to meet the perimeters of Kollar-Kotelly’s judgment.
Six younger Indian plaintiffs who range in age from 18 to 24 have already been assembled and have filed a similar suit, Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, to challenge the offensive team name and logo.

We interviewed the lead petitioner, Amanda Blackhorse, last week. Blackhorse, now 27, grew up on the Navajo Reservation, graduated from Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas, and is now a social worker in Phoenix working with severely mentally ill adults. Here’s a synopsis of our Q and A:
ATL: What was your reaction to the Harjo decision?
Blackhorse: I was saddened by it. But our case is now going to move forward. For legal questions, please talk to our attorney, Philip Mause [partner at Drinker Biddle].
ATL: When did you start thinking about team mascots this way?
Blackhorse: During my sophomore year at the University of Kansas [Ed. note: she later transferred], I started to become aware of my history as a Native American. I grew up on a Navajo reservation but never learned my history. A major thing shared between tribes is oppression. I literally cried when I realized our social problems stemmed from this.
ATL: How did you get involved with the case against the Redskins?
Blackhorse: In 2005, my friends and I decided to protest at a Redskins – Kansas Chiefs game in Kansas City. I was shocked to see the way people thought we were. They didn’t consider us human beings. People threw beers at us, told us to go home, yelled racial slurs. After that, I knew I needed to do something.
ATL: Have you ever heard “redskin” used as a slur?
Blackhorse: Yes. A lot of people shorten it to “skin.” It makes my skin crawl. Native peoples don’t have a sense of belonging in this country. Names like this, making us exist as mascots and symbols, make it worse.
ATL: What other team names would you want to see changed?
Blackhorse: There are so many. I don’t think it ends here. The Braves, [Kansas] Chiefs, [Cleveland] Indians… Any depiction that uses Native American culture. We chose the Redskins because it is the most racist name you can call a Native American person.

If Blackhorse’s petition succeeds, the Redskins wouldn’t be forced to change their name, but the name would lose trademark protection, likely resulting in a major loss of revenue.
Changing team names has happened before in Washington, D.C.. The NBA’s Washington Wizards used to be the Bullets. Owner Abe Pollin (R.I.P.) changed the name in 1995, due to discomfort over the high crime and homicide rate in the District
Petition seeks to cancel ‘Redskins’ trademark [Indian Country Today]
Building a new generation to take on the Redskins case [Indian Country Today]
Earlier: Eeek: SCOTUS Denies Cert in Redskins Case
Quinn Emanuel Associate Has Reservations About ‘Redskin’ Victory

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