On the other side, sitting quietly a few feet away, patiently waiting her turn before the phalanx of cameras and voice recorders, was a bespectacled, regal American Indian woman, Suzan Shown Harjo — great-granddaughter of Cheyenne Chief Bull Bear, daughter of U.S. soldier Freeland Douglas, a decorated code talker who saw combat in Italy with the U.S. Army’s 45th Infantry Division in World War II; proud American, through and though.
“The argument has always been the same,” Harjo once told me. “ ‘We are honoring you,’ they say. ‘No, you’re not,’ we reply. ‘Shut up,’ they say. That’s pretty much the divide.”
Harjo is 67. She doesn’t need this. She has been fighting forever, it seems, returning land to her people, curating museums, advocating for native peoples’ rights almost all her life. Twenty years now she has been coming to these court proceedings, alongside attorneys who work for free because they believe that rich, white owners don’t get to decide what honors or doesn’t honor an ethnic minority.
This was Bruce Allen’s first day in court. This is what he said when asked if the case was really about money:
“You would have to ask the, uh, I think they’re called the plaintiffs in this case, what their motives are.”
Memo to Allen, Daniel Snyder and the gang: The American Indians who feel disparaged by your team’s name aren’t about to open a Redskins store in the foyer of FedEx Field once the team is again stripped of its trademark rights as it was in 1999 before a higher court overturned the decision on appeal.
They have no interest in marketing Robert Griffin III’s jersey or even monetary reparations for the billions made of a red-pigmented man on a helmet or Barcalounger. Harjo, Amanda Blackhorse and the other, uh, plaintiffs just want you to stop calling yourselves Redskins, because it’s a slur.
“In this day and age, could you foresee a team called the Blackskins?” I asked Allen on Thursday. A three-second pause later, he uncomfortably replied, “I . . . I don’t know.”
I’ll help him: No, America wouldn’t stand for a team called the Blackskins — or the Mandingos, the Brothers, the Yellowskins, insert your ethnic minority here.
Allen gave as strong a defense of why this is important to him and the team as he could. But at one juncture he said, “I know there are Native Americans who are very proud of us, who are fans of our football team.” And unfortunately for him that came across like a man accused of racism might resort to the old “Wait, I have black friends.”