Monday, February 04, 2008

Tsosie quoted in Indian Mascot article

Native community divided on mascots
Paola BoivinThe Arizona RepublicFeb. 1, 2008 11:06 PM

Lost in the enthusiasm of Super Bowl XLII is a story line without pompoms and foam fingers: Many local Native Americans are struggling to pass a metaphoric peace pipe to an organization that allows team imagery viewed as demeaning by many tribes."It is, simply, inconsistent with the human right of people," said Rebecca Tsosie, the executive director of the Indian Legal Program at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. Sunday's game is expected to attract protesters who question the NFL's tolerance for the mascots of the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins. The D.C. franchise is the most controversial and the subject of a petition filed at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the trademark. Many in Arizona's Native American community feel conflicted about the league, which has supported their causes in other ways. In January, the Super Bowl Host Committee sponsored a three-day Arizona Indian Festival in Phoenix that attracted 22 tribes and showcased art, crafts and musical and dance performances.The NFL Players Association has had a long relationship with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, and the NFL was one of the few professional organizations that embraced American Indians in its early years. "The Cardinals," league spokesman Greg Aiello said, "are very active in the Native American community in the Phoenix area."Additionally, the Pima and Maricopa tribes are hosting the New York Giants at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa on the Gila River Reservation. "That's nice, but it doesn't excuse everything," said Suzan Shown Harjo, the president and executive director of the Morning Star Institute, a national Indian-rights organization. "The offender shouldn't be the one to tell us what offends."The NFL had an early relationship with American Indians. Its first league president was Olympic track standout Jim Thorpe, a Sac and Fox Indian whose nickname was Wa-tho-huck (Bright Path). During the 1922 and 1923 seasons, an entire team of Native Americans including Thorpe - the Oorang Indians of LaRue, Ohio - played in the league.The first 1,000-yard rusher in the NFL was a Native American. Beattie Feathers was a Chicago Bears rookie in 1934 when he hit the milestone. Others who have come through the league include Hall of Fame halfback Joe Guyon, a member of the Chippewa tribe, and Sonny Sixkiller, a University of Washington standout who played briefly with the Los Angeles Rams. In Arizona, most high schools on reservations have football teams, and their popularity is beginning to match that of the beloved basketball programs.For Val Northrup, who sold crafts at the Arizona Indian Festival, she has no trouble seeing Native American imagery used for team logos and mascots."At least they know we're out there," said Northrup, who lives on First Mesa on the Hopi Reservation. Several booths down, Alison Francisco of the Tohono O'odham Culture Center and Museum bristled."Am I bothered?" she said. "I think that 'bother' is not a strong enough word that fits how much it affects us. It doesn't make me angry, it doesn't make me sad, it makes me feel separate."Francisco believes the NFL's Chiefs and Redskins are "false representing" themselves."Walk around here, you don't see people dressed like that. Maybe the dancers, but they're interpreting dances from long, long ago," she said. "What the games are doing aren't interpreting dances, so why?"No one should be more divided than Nick Lowery. The 17-year NFL kicker is the president of Nation Building for Native Youth, a leadership program for young Native Americans, and has spent many years working with the American Indian community.Lowery said he has met many tribe members who told him they are fine with the symbols "as long as it honors us and treats us with respect."Jim Warne, a member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe, understands the ambivalence on the reservation. He grew up in Arizona, played football at Mesa Community College and Arizona State before making a brief stop in the NFL. He now serves as the director of the Center for American Indian Rehabilitation and is an actor and stuntman in Hollywood."I know about stereotypes because I'm never the guy asked to play the nerdy Ph.D.," he said. "The NFL has done a lot of good things, but that doesn't mean it gives them a free pass to not address the issue, because until they do, many Native Americans will hold it against them."NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said little about the issue but rankled many Native Americans after he scolded Washington running back Clinton Portis for defending Michael Vick's dogfighting ring."Dogfighting's bad, but they ignore the genocide of Native Americans?" said David Tom, a member of the Navajo Nation. "Redskins is not just a reference to skin tone. It's trappers bringing Indian scalps to sell. It's blood. It's hard to understand how the NFL can be so nonchalant."The debate about mascots has its roots in the Lanham Act of 1946, when Congress outlawed trademarks that disparaged persons, living or dead.That was the backbone of a petition filed in 1992 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by a group of Native Americans. The office backed the petition, but it was overturned on appeal. That paved the way for the current petition, filed by six American Indians ranging from 18 to 24.Many believe the Native American community is sending mixed signals. A Peter Harris Research Poll in 2002 reported that 83 percent of Native Americans interviewed on reservations said they didn't believe pro teams should stop using Indian nicknames, mascots and symbols."I don't know who they're interviewing. They need to continue listening to us," Francisco said. "Because just like football is going to stay here, we're going to stay here, too."

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