Native Americans Challenge Use Of Washington Redskin Trademark

Friday, August 11th 2006, 1:18 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- American Indians have filed a new challenge to the Washington Redskins' trademark, saying the NFL team's name is racially offensive, speakers at the Native American Journalists Association national convention said Friday.

A petition to cancel the trademark has been filed with a board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, said Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that advances Indian causes.

"There is no compromise with racism," Harjo said. "Power concedes nothing. You have to go in and make change happen."

The office's Trademark Trial and Appeal Board backed a similar petition filed in 1992. That decision was overturned on appeal, but the door was left open for another attempt to invalidate the trademark, Harjo said.

"The Washington football club name has been determined by three trademark judges and the majority of native Americans to be offensive," she said.

Northeastern State University President Larry Williams said in a panel discussion at the convention that a decision this year to drop "Redmen" as the team name for the school in Tahlequah was the right thing to do, even though the decision was not popular.

"I have a responsibility to protect the institution, the integrity of the degree," Williams said. "This is contentious, but change is coming."

The school wants to come up with a replacement name by December. Meantime, he hears from a steady stream of people unhappy with the decision.

"There are two sides to this argument," he said. "Only one has merit, but there are two sides."

Bernard Franklin, an NCAA senior vice president, said his organization remains committed to stamping out racist images tied to sporting events. The association prohibits schools with offensive mascots from hosting championship events. By Aug. 1, 2008, those images also have to be removed from team uniforms, cheerleading and band outfits.

Harjo said that in the 36 years since the University of Oklahoma dropped its sideline-dancing "Little Red" mascot, more than 2,000 schools have followed. Still, some 900 remain, including many in Oklahoma, she said.

"The Redmen may seem like a perfectly nice moniker to place on a sports team," said Jim Gray, chief of the Osage nation. "What if it were Yellowmen or Blackmen? It feels awful just to say."

He has tried, so far without success, to persuade Union High School in Tulsa to stop using the Redskins mascot.

"When institutional change starts, it's the hard thing to do," he said. "It's still the right thing to do."