Native Americans Go on the Warpath and Tackle the Redskins

Article excerpt

Washington football team faces Supreme Court battle to retain "offensive" name

OPPOSITION TO President Barack Obama isn't the only subject that has Washington mulling over thorny issues of race and bigotry. As the new American Football season hits its stride, the city's beloved team, The Redskins, is being taken to the Supreme Court over its name.

A group of native Americans have filed a legal challenge against a trademark the club owns over "Redskins". They claim the term is offensive and disparaging - and say it should not be entitled to any form of commercial protection under US law. For a name to come before the nation's highest court may sound comically petty. Yet the case is quite the reverse. It pits the future of a billion-dollar sports franchise against the grievances of a people whose historic mistreatment represents a stain on the national conscience.

At its heart is an issue of semantics. Coined in an era before political correctness, "redskin" is seen as insulting by many Indians. Most dictionaries describe it as "offensive". In some quarters, the term is considered to be as unacceptable as the "N- word" for blacks. "It is the worst thing in the English language you can be called if you are a native person," said Suzan Shown Harjo, a native writer who is lead plaintiff in the case. "It is basically characterising a person by their skin. How wrong is that?"

Nonsense, asserts the football club, which is among the most storied in the sport's history. It claims the name, which was adopted in 1933 and registered as a trademark in 1967, is taken from an affectionate term once used to describe the red paint Indian warriors used on their skin. The legal dispute between the two groups has been rumbling since 1992, and saw an initial victory for the native lobby in 1997, overturned on appeal. Ms Harjo and her supporters are petitioning the Supreme Court to make a final ruling and the request is due to be considered by Christmas. …