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Outside the Lines

Native Americans


Chat wrap: PGA golfer Notah Begay

The long walk of Notah Begay

Mascot mess


 Suzan Shown Harjo
Suzan Shown Harjo, who sued Washington's NFL team, explains the origin of the term "Redskins."
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This three-day online series is a companion to the ESPN Outside the Lines television special on Native Americans and sports that originally appeared Nov. 16.

Tuesday, June 3
Harjo: Get educated

When an activist for American Indian rights meets fans who insist that the Washington Redskins' name is not racist, look out. Throw in a few mean-spirited people who are ignorant of Native American issues, and the debate gets even more gritty.

Yet, that's reality when it comes to the issue of Native American mascot names in the United States.

Below is a transcript of a chat session between Suzan Shown Harjo and ESPN.com users on Nov. 17, which was conducted as part of the Outside the Lines series on Native Americans and sports:

Harjo's bio
Suzan Shown Harjo is president and executive director of The Morning Star Institute, a national, non-profit Indian rights organization for Native Peoples' traditional and cultural advocacy, arts promotion and research.

Founded in 1984 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., Morning Star is the sponsoring organization for a lawsuit regarding trademarks of the Washington Redskins. The case was filed before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Board in September of 1992 by seven prominent Native Americans.

They won earlier this year, on April 2, when a three-judge panel unanimously decided to cancel federal protections for the team's name because it "may disparage Native Americans and may bring them into contempt or disrepute." New Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has said he has no interest in changing the team's name.

Harjo is Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, and a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. She is the great-great-granddaughter of Chief Bull Bear, who was a Cheyenne Peace Chief, a Dog Men Society Chief, the first signatory of the Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty and a leader of the Cheyenne resistance for the latter half of the 1800s.

Snce 1975, Harjo has developed key federal policy and law regarding issues important to Native Americans.

Mn Ojibwe: Mii-gwech for standing up. Especially towards the federal governmnent. Hopefully, we'll have more young people like myself trying to follow the lead paved by our elders into the future.

Suzan Shown Harjo: You make me confident about the future. Mi-gwetch!

Kevin S.: Why did you sue the Redskins and not the Braves?

Suzan Shown Harjo: Because the r-word is the most derogatory thing Native Peoples can be called in the English language.

Harry: Don't you think that this is a pretty petty thing to be nagging about? Aren't there bigger issues out there in the world today than name-calling?

Suzan Shown Harjo: Most of the people who ask that question don't do anything about our big issues. The Native American parties to our lawsuit are the ones who are doing something about the big issues, and this is one of them, because it is contextual, atmospheric -- it affects federal Indian law because, for one thing, policymakers don't make good policy for cartoons or for people who are used for others' sport.

Harry: Where do the proceeds from casino gambling on Indian Reservations go?

Suzan Shown Harjo: For health and education programs, scholarships, child care, care for elders, firewood for people who need help in the winter -- for basic people needs -- and to support the local and national arts and culture programs, including those of non-Indian people.

Adam G.: Would you say that sport participation among Native Americans is a considerable amount?

Suzan Shown Harjo: Yes, considering our population in the U.S. -- only two million -- and our poor health conditions. Native Peoples' participation in sports, like our representation in all of America's wars this century, is disproportionately high compared to our total numbers.

rmr: People who question the situation with casinos fail to consider the situations on the reservations. The feel like the American Indian is getting something that they do not deserve, like -- what about me? Why am I not getting something, too. They do not consider what the tribes have gone through and continue to go through. Years of genocide and blatant discrimination are rather large issues in comparison to casino revenues and profit-sharing checks. I applaud you, Suzan, for stepping up and fighting against the continued discrimination against the American Indian. Keep up the good work.

Suzan Shown Harjo: I agree. And, I thank you for the kind words. Aho.

Marcus: Is the Cleveland Indians' logo offensive to Native Americans?

Suzan Shown Harjo: Native Americans are not monolithic, so not all of us think any one thing. The overwhelming majority of us at this time in our history see the Cleveland symbol as Little Red Sambo -- an embarrassment and shame on its promoters.

R-Skin Fan: Are you drunk???

Suzan Shown Harjo: As a political and health decision, I don't drink at all. Alcohol is a powerful medicine that weakens natural healing medicines, so it's not a good idea to mix medicines. Thank you for asking.

MRC: I think the names should be changed, that is the least America could do for the people they stole this country from.

Suzan Shown Harjo: Ditto.

JJ: Ever think that instead of promoting equality, this fight of yours will sour people about Indians. People may think that Indians are kind of stupid for trying to change a mascot's name.

Suzan Shown Harjo: The thoughts of those who could be soured over a bid for justice are of little interest to me -- what are they going to do? Get mad and take away the western hemisphere?

Harry: I am first to agree that what has happened to the Indians by the Americans was a horrible thing, and it shouldn't be looked over. However, how long are you going to play that trump card? Eventually, you need to move on as a group and realize that things are never going to revert back to the olden days. Eventually you are going to have to take responsibility for yourself and stop pulling out that same card.

Suzan Shown Harjo: We aren't trying to go back to a bygone era. We seek justice in our own time and in comparison to all the other human beings of our time.

Noah Hurwitz: I'm alarmed at the number of offensive remarks that people have made during this chat. Why is it that there is so little respect given to Native Americans?

Suzan Shown Harjo: That's one of the problems with dehumanizing, objectifying images, names, behaviors -- promotion of disrespect.

Scott: Don't you think this is petty? If Native Americans have health problems and all suffer all the other ills of our society, wouldn't you be better serving your people by concentrating your effort on these issues and not what a football team writes on their jersey? Don't you think your priorities are a little out of whack?

Suzan Shown Harjo: I and other Native American parties to our lawsuit have worked very hard to achieve the American Indian Health Care Improvement Act and to gain clinics and hospitals in Indian country. What have you done to help our health conditions?

Hawkeye: Are there some instances where Native American-inspired mascots are appropriate?

Suzan Shown Harjo: Nope.

James Jones: I pay taxes!

Suzan Shown Harjo: So do I. So what?

Dave: I did not care for some of the ignorant questions you were asked, either.

Suzan Shown Harjo: Thank you.

8thKickapoo: Don't you think if a team were the Casper Skinned White Devils some people would take offense?

Suzan Shown Harjo: You see, part of the perception problem for many white folks looking at this issue is that there is no equivalent pejorative for all white people that's anywhere near the same as the r-word for Native Peoples or the n-word for African Americans.

Skins fan: I have a lot of sympathy for the injustices your people have faced. I have a family member who is a Native American that was adopted. But I also feel that the nicknames of teams such as the Braves, Seminoles, and even the Redskins were meant to honor your people and not to disgrace them.

Suzan Shown Harjo: Even if that were the case (and I respectfully disagree with that view), they are not considered honorifics today by the vast majority of Native Americans. And, even if it were the case that one team meant well by it, it still would be the job of the other side to mock the image, name, traits of their opponents. The very nature of the context makes it preferable to just make the change and move on. My guess is that the Republic will still stand.

A. Anthoney Allen: The arrogance and insensitivity of some white people never ceases to amaze me. If sports teams and mascots are not called the crackers, the chinks, the wops, the spicks, the kikes or the niggers, then how can anyone feel the term Redskin is not offensive? Removing these offensive names would be an excellent way for this country to start the new millenium. It's not ironic that the Washington Redskins are a team in our Nation's capital. After all, this country was founded on the skins of Red people. It's as simple as that!

Suzan Shown Harjo: Take heart. These Native references in sports are going the way of the lawn jockeys.

8thKickapoo: What do you think about the Native American push to make their symbols and names proprietary? For example, what is now going on in New Mexico and the controversy surrounding the symbol used on that state's flag?

Suzan Shown Harjo: These are separate issues. There's name-calling, which is the problem with the r-word in sports. Then, there's cultural appropriation, which is the problem with New Mexico using the Zia sun symbol without permission. More and more Native Peoples are declaring their cultural property rights, as is an orderly, proper thing to do, and Congress views the matter as serious and timely for legislation.

Jason Sleik: You pay taxes? Give me a break. No, you don't. How can you come on here and lie like that. Choose the questions you want, but at least answer them truthfully. You might pay taxes, which the tribe pays for you, and the money the tribe gets is from us anyway. So I guess you do pay taxes. All sane people know that's the case.

Suzan Shown Harjo: Reminds me of a song lyric -- he knows a lot of stuff but it's mostly wrong. Yes, Jason, I pay taxes. No, Jason, I don't lie or have any person or entity pay my taxes. By the way, sanity and ignorance are very different things.

lil' indian: Hey, go back to your reserve that we as a country set up for you and chill there!

Suzan Shown Harjo: Reservation comes from the word reserve. Native nations reserved certain lands in treaties ...

But, to your overall point -- wow. I stand amazed.

Jeff S.: Why are you picking the most racist comments and ignooring logical one's like I have posed?

Jeff S.: lil' Indian, that's not nice

Suzan Shown Harjo: Very logical. You were better off "ignoored."

Rob S.: Please STOP selectring moronic, insulting questions. We get your point. Okay, there are lots of brain-dead racists out there. Can you please select an intelligent question for the rest of us?

Suzan Shown Harjo: I'm reading as fast as I can. Where are they?

Richard Baker: About the push to make Indian symbols proprietary? You aren't going to make the r-word proprietary are you? I hope not.

Suzan Shown Harjo: Nope. That's name-calling. A slur.

SM: Sadly, as you can see, sport fans are not the most thoughtful and articulate people. But what can you expect of those who live vicariously through watching other grown men make good money off chumps like them. Keep up the fight.

Suzan Shown Harjo: Thank you. Most of the other "questions" have become increasingly nasty and racist, and I think we've given far too much time to that ilk. Thank you to all the people who really are trying to understand the point of view I've expressed, and for those who have disagreed in a respectful manner. All the best on the long journey. Aho. Suzan

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