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The Justice Department has announced that it will defend the Lanham Act in the legal case between the Washington Redskins and the Native Americans.  Back in August, the Redskins sued the Native Americans after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s appeal board ruled that the team’s name and logo are in violation of the Lanham Act, which does not allow disparaging trademarks.  In their lawsuit, the Redskins argued that that the Act is “unconstitutionally vague” and that their trademarks embody “the entirety of the Redskins long history and rich tradition.”  Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda said of the decision, “The Department of Justice is dedicated to defending the constitutionality of the important statute ensuring that trademark issues involving disparaging and derogatory language are dealt with fairly.”

You can read the full story at The Washington Post.


Horace Poolaw was a Kiowa photographer whose photographs are now on display at the National Museum of the American Indian in Lower Manhattan.  His photos captured the time when Native Americans were being forced by the United States to assimilate into mainstream society.  In one photo, a mother and daughter wear traditional buckskin gowns, but while the mother’s hair is braided, the daughter’s is in a bob.  Since 2008, his negatives have been restored by organizers of the exhibition.

Read more about Horace Poolaw’s photography at The New York Times.

Protesters, Fans Clash at Washington Football Game

On Sunday, at the last home game of the season, opponents of the Washington football team mascot drew their largest crowd yet to protest the team’s name. More than 100 protesters gathered less then half a mile from the stadium as thousands of fans passed by on their way to the game. The protesters’ chants were met with silence, defensive shouts, profanity, and even rude hand gestures. One group of tailgaters, somehow oblivious to the much-publicized controversy, went ahead with a fundraiser originally called “Scalp Out Cancer: Because Bald Is Beautiful.” They changed the name after the Washington Post reported on it, but the original name could still be seen on merchandise they were selling.

Read the full story at the Washington Post.

Bill introduced in House to strip NFL of tax-exempt status

Last month, D.C. delegate to the House of Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced a bill designed to strip the NFL of its nonprofit status, arguing that tax-exempt organizations have a duty to the public to not derive profit from offensive trademarks. Norton named the Washington football team as the target when introducing the bill. This legislation is a companion to a similar bill introduced in the Senate by Senator Maria Cantwell in September.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the Washington football team was criticized for a tone-deaf tweet that featured their offensive logo and team name alongside Thanksgiving greetings. The Washington Post reported that the post on the team’s Twitter account drew the ire of Native Americans who are critical of both the holiday and the team.

Even if the legislation doesn’t pass, the support we’re seeing in the House and the Senate to change the name of the Washington football team shows that there’s real groundswell around the issue. You can read more about Norton’s bill at Washington City Paper.

Judge will allow Washington football team to sue Native American activists

A U.S. District Court judge decided to allow the Washington football team to sue a group of Native American activists, despite their attempts to get the case dismissed. The activists helped bring about the decision earlier this year of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to strip them of their trademark protections. The judge found that although the Native American activists don’t have an economic interest in the outcome, they do have a “personal stake” in the matter and suing them is the only recourse the team has to protest the ruling.

You can find the whole story at the Washington Post.

Native Americans in Minnesota gather to protest Washington’s football team name

Residents of “Little Earth,” a federally-subsidized housing complex in Minneapolis, have gone through hard times but they have always found the energy to protest offensive team mascots. Recently, their efforts were directed towards the Washington football team when they came to town to play the Minnesota Vikings.

You can read the full story at the Washington Post.

“Why offend somebody if you don’t have to offend them?”

That’s the position taken by Jim Plunkett, winner of a Heisman Trophy at Stanford, regarding the school’s decision to change its team’s moniker and mascot way back in the 1970s.

Unlike Dan Snyder and the Washington football team, Stanford’s president Richard Lyman listened to a group of Native American student activists back in 1971 and moved to change the team name in response to their concerns. Some alumni were understandably upset, mounting some of the same arguments that proponents of the Washington football team’s name have recently, but in general, the transition from “Stanford Indians” to “Stanford Cardinal” was accomplished smoothly and is no longer discussed much.

Daniel Brown in the San Jose Mercury News has the full story. See the quote from Rick West, founding director of Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and father of the co-writer of the upcoming dramatic film about Native American activist Larry Casuse.

Suzan Harjo is among distinguished Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients

On Monday, activist Suzan Harjo was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in recognition of her advocacy for Native American causes.

In 1992, Harjo spearheaded the effort to strip the Washington football team of its trademark protections on the basis that its team name is disparaging to Native Americans. Early this year, Native American activists scored a major victory when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the team’s trademark registration. Reflecting on the time passed since 1992, Harjo said, “We started the case 22 years ago, and it’s been 22 years that they have not returned to the Super Bowl. That’s an extraordinary coincidence. […] It’s karma.”

Read more about Harjo and the 17 other recipients of the Medal of Freedom at the Washington Post.

Matthew McConaughey likes offensive Washington NFL team nickname

In his cover interview in the November issue of GQ, actor Matthew McConaughey says he grew up as a fan of the Washington NFL team, and that some Native Americans are disingenuous about their feelings regarding the offensive name. McConaughey says, “I know a lot of Native Americans don’t have a problem with it, but they’re not going to say, ‘No, we really want the name.’ That’s not how they’re going to use their pulpit.” He also stated that he loves the team’s logo. “It gives me a little fire and some oomph. But now that it’s in the court of public opinion, it’s going to change. I wish it wouldn’t, but it will.”

Consider those sentiments, in light of the stand in favor of Native American causes that Marlon Brando took more than 40 years ago. We hope film and TV fans take these comments into consideration when viewing or patronizing future McConaughey projects.

Native Americans Seek Dismissal of Washington NFL Team Name Trademark Suit

A lawyer for the five Native Americans challenging the Washington NFL team over the use of their offensive name, asked federal Judge Gerald Bruce Lee to dismiss the team’s lawsuit against them. The five, who include activist Amanda Blackhorse, insist the defendants are not qualified to be sued in the trademark case because they have no legal or financial motive to control the team’s logo. The activists also say the suit was filed in the wrong courthouse- one in Alexandria, Va. Their attorney Jesse Witten says the case should be dismissed on those grounds. The team filed against the five Native Americans after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office determined that the slur is offensive, and thus the team’s right to renew the trademark should be denied.
The team adopted the name in 1933, and their owner Daniel Snyder states he will never change it or the team’s logo and symbols. Forty years later, Larry Casuse, a Native American activist in New Mexico, lost his life in the incident depicted in our feature film Casuse. Many of Casuse’s protests were against campus practices in a college town, or were campus events. Nearly all U.S. colleges no longer use Native American sports team names, logos, or mascots.