The name of the National Football League team in Washington, D.C., is the worst word that is used about us in the English language. And I do mean worst.
It harks back to the days when colonies, trade companies and some states issued bounty proclamations for exterminating Native American people and providing the bloody “red skins” as proof of “Indian kill.” In 1863, for example, the Daily Republican in Winona, Minn., carried the following notice: “The State reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory. This sum is more than the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth.” And it could be even more horrifying: When such bounties were offered on a sliding scale of payments, depending on whether the dead were men, women or children, the notices often used the term “scalps” when they in fact meant the victims’ genitalia. That was the only way to truly distinguish the gender and maturity of the skinned corpse. Many times the killers reserved the term “top-knot” for an actual scalp of a head with hair.
The heinous origins and history of the D.C. team’s name should tell you why the overwhelming majority of Native American peoples support litigation against the Washington franchise – and why our fight is far from over. Last week, in a historic decision, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled the Washington team’s trademarks, pending appeals. The TTAB held that the six trademark licenses issued to Pro Football, Inc. between 1967 and 1990 were “disparaging” to a “substantial composite” of Native American people. That was the second time the TTAB – the expert judges on trademark law – ruled against the team’s name; the first was in 1999 in Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc.