Ep #3: Native Mascots: Really, Still?

MATIKA WILBUR: Welcome friends and relatives.

ADRIENNE KEENE: Weʻre so happy to have you here with us today and tuning back into this next episode of All My Relations, and today we are in the presence of greatness. Matika and I are so excited to have these warrior women scholar sisters here with us, our mentors, our idols, to talk about the issue of Indian mascots.

MATIKA: So Dr. Keene I thought maybe we could just take a moment to talk about the history of the R word and why this term is so offensive to so many of our people.

ADRIENNE: Well I think there is dissent within the scholarly community about like when the R word was first used to refer to Native folks, it definitely is a word that throughout history was used in a derogatory and negative way towards Native peoples. There's some folks who say that it initially was used to refer to the actual scalps of Native peoples. There are plenty of ads and newspaper articles that from the 1800s that refer to Native peoples by the R word, never in a positive way. It's one of those words that has evolved throughout history regardless of its initial use or origin to definitely mean a racist phrase towards Native peoples. It's not a positive term by any means, to the point that most of my friends who are Native won't even say the word. And I know a lot of us feel that way but it really is a racial slur.

MATIKA: Absolutely I I can't say in my own life, that that anybody has ever used that term towards me in a loving way.

ADRIENNE: I canʻt even, I'm trying to picture what that sentence would sound like and I can't even picture that.

MATIKA: And you know what else is that it's not a term that I think is that we've like taken back and I have like popularized into contemporary culture and and changed its meaning to mean something other than, you know, a word that has a very deep, ugly, racial slur attached to it and it's not used in any other way and, you know, if somebody was to walk up to me and call me the R word. Those would be fighting words, you know, yeah.

ADRIENNE: I often think of like supporters of the word, who seem to think that it's not, I'm not a problem. In, articles, when they're quoted, they never refer to Native peoples as the R word in the article so if they're interviewing a fan who's like yeah I'm such a big R-skins fan and everything is great, then those Native Americans came and they say that they're against the name, but they never say those R words came and they say they're against the name. So if it's not offensive why wouldn't you just use it to refer to us all the time. It's also a dictionary defined racial slur like it says in the Webster Merriam Webster dictionary offensive often slur, and I feel like white folks care very deeply about dictionary definitions for some reason. So there you go, it's in the dictionary.

MATIKA: The best thing about this episode, to me, is that we have the opportunity to talk with Dr. Fryberg and Amanda who are two folks that have really done a lot of research around the ways that mascots and imagery affect our lives with Dr. Fryberg, but also with Amanda in the ways that she's dedicated, you know, a dozen years of her life to trying to get rid of the R word from a public team and is still in that fight so I I find that people often will say to me,” Get over it,” or they'll say to me, that it doesn't actually affect people's lives move on. The point is, is that people often tell us that it doesn't affect our lives and that it's not in any way harmful to our people, and that they're honoring and attempting to respect us in some sort of way by having a characterized savage looking creature, as their mascot, and, and I just, I just can't believe that that's still an argument, and that there's false data to support it.

ADRIENNE: One of the important things to know is that with having Dr. Frederick here and Amanda we have two different perspectives of how we can fight against these Native mascots Dr. Fryberg is doing her research in the psychological and social psychology realm and education world, and Amanda was involved in the court case against the Washington football team, and that court case was one that started out by Suzan Shown Harjo. She decided with a group of folks that they would go after the actual trademark of the team, because we know that money talks and so if you can hit the team by canceling their trademark that means they can't make any money off of that logo or that name ever again. Because anyone could just make R word shirts and sell them or whatever, and making money off marketing is a huge part of the NFL. They found this law that said that you couldn't hold a trademark on a racist term or phrase, they decided to use that to go after the Washington football team, and they actually won, they went all the way through the court system and ruled in favor and said that the name was disparaging, and therefore it couldn't have a trademark on it. But then they lost on technicality and Suzan Harjo, they said that she waited too long to file her lawsuit that she was too old at the time of from injury basically it was too long. So they relaunched a lawsuit again with young people, people ages 18 to 24, because they were like okay if that's the only thing that you said we lost on, then we're going to do it again with younger people. That court case worked its way all the way through, and they won again and then it started working its way through the appeals court because of course the NFL is not going to take that decision lightly. During that time, a band in California, called The Slants, it's an Asian American band, they named themselves The Slants. They went to court to say that they should be able to hold a trademark on their band name, because they wanted to reclaim that slur for, they're banned. And the court ruled in favor of them. And so then it immediately canceled the case that was still pending on the Washington R words because the thing that they were using to argue was deemed unconstitutional. so it meant that the case was lost.

MATIKA: Can we just acknowledge that this is not our responsibility to have to regroup and go back to court again, over a racial slur. This is the responsibility of every single person supporting the NFL and supporting their the fan and the fans actually wearing this inappropriate clothing and participating in very racist behavior. They have a responsibility as well what do we say to the fans Adrian.

ADRIENNE: The research shows that over 60% of Americans have never met a Native American, if you talk to fans one on one, they're not thinking of us as real people. Education is a big part of it. But I also think that there are signs of positive change. I think the Cleveland Indians is a good example that they have finally after like 70 years or something decided to stop using Chief Wahoo on their uniforms, which is a blatantly racist image, and there has been little fan outcry for that like people are kind of at least to me it doesn't seem like people are that angry about it. So I think it's going to take a change from the top. And unfortunately the top right now for the Washington football team is Dan Snyder who has said on the record - you can use all caps that we will never change the name.

MATIKA: We see you, Dan. Get it together.

ADRIENNE: Joining us here today, we have Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, and Amanda Blackhorse. So welcome to both of you. Thank you.

MATIKA: So let's just start with just introducing both of our guests today, and I'm going to introduce Dr. Stephanie Fryberg who is a member of the Tulalip tribes and an expert on the psychological and educational effects of social representations of race, class and culture. She got a PhD in psychology at Stanford University, where she is a member of the multicultural Hall of Fame. Just last month, she was appointed as the Gerberding university professor at the University of Washington, recognizing her exceptional research contributions and accomplishments in the field of American Indian Studies and psychology. Dr Frybergʻs research on stereotypes, race, class and psychological development led her to testify in front of the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, on the impact of racist stereotypes on Indigenous people. My favorite title of a recent paper would be hands down, “We're Honoring You, Dude: Myths, Mascots, and American Indians”. She is also one of the hardest workers I've ever known and one of my most influential thought leaders, and we're super excited to have you here.

ADRIENNE: Amanda Blackhorse is from Kayenta, Arizona on the Navajo rez and is a Dine social worker activist and mother. She was the lead plaintiff in the Blackhorse versus v. Pro-Football Inc., 2012 case which sought to revoke the trademark protection of the term Washington R words. She received her bachelor's degree in social work at the University of Kansas and her master's degree at Washington University in St. Louis. While her training and work history includes focus on substance abuse treatment health care and adult mental health in Native communities. She's fiercely fought against the use of Native American imagery and stereotypes as sports team mascots after filing her case against pro football, Amanda founded Arizona to rally against Native American mascots and later launched the website Both entities are dedicated to spreading education, organizing protests and working towards the elimination of sports mascots based on Native imagery. She's a badass warrior woman and just this week was standing on top of a car in Arizona protesting Native American Halloween costumes. Welcome, Amanda.

AMANDA BLACKHORSE: Thank you. Thank you.

MATIKA: We're really excited to have you here and our season one of this podcast, it means so much just to have you here so we decided to title the project All My Relations and as you know that's a really common theme throughout Indian country not such a common theme throughout non Indian country. And so you know we're really interested in exploring our relationship-based identities, and our relationship to land, our relationship to water, and our relationship to one another. And so part of what we're doing in this show is asking each one of our participants if they could elaborate on on that topic and we realized that all over Indian country we have these, these ways of recognizing all of our relatives and so if you can sort of talk about that, personally, what that means to you. And also, if just if you just take a moment to introduce yourself as you would to a large group of people in a way that you feel most comfortable. We'd appreciate that.

STEPHANIE FRYBERG: Well I'm Stephanie Fryberg, and I on my father's side am Tulalip but on my grandmother's I'm actually not Tulalip, I'm Snohomish [Native language]. And my grandmother said I'm Quinault and Yakima, and I grew up in Tulalip, and am very, I think I've spent my whole life being influenced by what elders have said about the need to get an education and come back and help our children. The term, All My Relations, for me it has to to it brings. I think it brings two commitments to mind for me. One is that I have a commitment to every Indigenous community, not just my own. And we are all related we're all connected in some way, whether it's, you know, over hundreds of years of intermarriage or really just that we stand in a time, a place where our futures depend on each other. And so that relationship and holding up that responsibility to one another is really important. The other way in which I think about All My Relations is going forward and going back. So, when I think back in my past, my ancestors. I feel a responsibility to the fight that they took on to make us who we are today. And then I look at my children and I think about future generations and think about the commitment, and the responsibility I have to make society today, a better place, so that our future generations have a better life than perhaps we have now.


ADRIENNE: Amanda, what about you?

AMANDA: [Introduces self in Dine Bizaad] In Dine, we talk about something called K’e. You know everything that we do is supposed to be around K’e. And they say, [speaking Dine]. And that means, you know we have to everything that we do is intertwined with how we relate to other people. And our relatives around this. And so I always try to live by the mantra of love our people. And sometimes that can be really hard. You know, we're so complex and there's so many different layers to our community. And, you know, I'm sure just, you know, given where I come from and where everyone's fear comes from, you know, we have our challenges and our communities within our families within our relationships and so sometimes it's hard to to really just love our people and stand by that and also have love for ourselves as well, and learn how you know what that really means, so that we can be better role models for our kids and stuff so that's kind of what I think about All My Relations, and it's so it's so neat to see everyone here from very different backgrounds, very different tribes, and we all kind of share that same belief.


ADRIENNE: Thank you. So I think we just want to kind of dive into it and I'm curious to hear from both of you sort of what brought you to this work, this is something that has been a lifelong kind of passion for both of you, a project that you've been working on for a long time so what first brought you to this work around representations and around mascots specifically.

AMANDA: Well for me I kind of just fell into it, you know it's not something that I thought I would never do just happen, that happens to us and you know are working on throughout our lives are based on the struggles that we go through and for me it was just experiencing it and seeing the detrimental effects of Native mascots. For a lot of people, they don't truly understand the issue until they've actually experienced it, or seen, or been affected by stereotypes in some sort of negative way. And for me, you know, I think it was a combination of me growing up on them on the Navajo rez really sheltered, and then leaving and then going you know to a completely different state and experiencing what I experienced with seeing what happens at these games the type of culture that is there, you know the the football culture and the toxic masculinity and the way that people see us and mock our culture, and it's socially socially acceptable. And thatʻs okay to do in society. I think that was the biggest shocker for me, and that's what led me to to pursue this path.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, I mean I think my experience is much the same. I have sort of the experiences as a young person, and then the sort of academic awakening, I think I would say. So as a young person, I went to Marysville Pilchuck High School and we were the Marysville Pilchuck tomahawks. And there was always this moment at games where, you know, they would do the tomahawk chant. And I remember in those moments feeling like ah I got to fit in I'm supposed to do this. And then, often at pep rallies, they, the ASB president who is always white would come out with this chief headdress on. And again, like I remember feeling just very uncomfortable with it. But you know it was back in a time when people didn't really talk about race and discrimination in the same way. And, you know, I would watch many of my peers from the reservation disengage. And I just remember sitting in that space. Not, not sure. I mean, not understanding and feeling uncertain but then feeling like, Oh, this is what we're supposed to do and is this who we are like why is this how we're representing our people. But then, for me, I could, like, as an academic I actually came about this in kind of a sideways piece so I was very interested. Again, connecting back to the responsibility to the elders, telling me to get an education and come back and help our children as I was really interested in how do these public representations of Natives influence Native children? And so a lot of my early work in grad school, where we expose Native students to public representations and looked at what effect they had. Well we determined the representations based on what was most popular in society like what were the most common images. And so one of them happened to be Chief Wahoo, because the Cleveland Indians were actually a good baseball team then I don't think they've been since and I could be wrong, but if they were really I mean World Series and there was even a time period then when it was actually the Atlanta Braves, and the Cleveland Indians and so we included Chief Wahoo in the very first study we did had Chief Wahoo and Pocahontas, and each of them was a different condition. And then these negative stereotypes were really common. And so, what really drew me to the mascot issue which I had been in, I mean I'd certainly been around through the college environment different cases that had come up, but the results of that study surprised me. So the very first study we did showed that exposing Native high school students to Chief Wahoo lowered self esteem. And as we continue to do more work. The strength of that particular image continued to shine through. And so that for me I mean I've taken the role of really being the scientist I haven't gotten so involved in activism because I think it's really important to separate those roles and and so you know we've really worked hard in my lab to, you know, have different people that do stem statistics, and I'm really working to maintain the integrity of the work we're doing on bias. But I think for me, it really came about by seeing how much it harmed Native children.

MATIKA: Yeah. I, I remember when I first became familiar with that study. And I was teaching in Tulalip at the time. And, Shelley had asked me to put together a curriculum of a year's worth of photographic representations of Native people of contemporary representation so we could teach our kids you know in a way that was respectful and something they feel excited about. And I couldn't find enough material to to expose them to positive Indigenous folks from all over the country that wasn't photographed by non Indigenous people and. And when I learned about your work, I was just at the time, feeling so overwhelmed by the sadness in the community and like going to so many funerals in our community and thinking like if, if, negative representations are affecting the self esteem of our kids. And I'm constantly having to lay my kids to rest because of early death for whatever reason suicide or, you know, whatever it is that, that leads to those things in our community I, I realized I had to be a part of creating an image that was different, you know. Yeah, it was really it was like somebody kind of just like a scientist saying out loud like this is true like we're not making this up. This is real. This is the data, it was really meaningful for me and I really appreciate you talking about that and doing that work and I think it made waves throughout Indian country. You know that. I mean, that's how it affected me and I can't even imagine how it affected so many others.

STEPHANIE: Well, I mean I honestly see you and I as having very similar projects right because part of what we're trying to do is to say, look, there's, I mean I love this James Baldwin, quote, that is about. You have to make the world see us as who we are not the idea of us they envision and that's not an exact quote of how he says it but the content is there that you know so much of the work we need to do now is making people see us as who we are as contemporary Native people and not continue to allow them to see us through their ideal of us, so they like the romanticized image they like the Pocahontas, the Chief Wahoo. I mean I have just been so surprised over the years you know you hear the common arguments that people make. For example, it's just a mascot don't Native people have more important things to deal with and what you just said is exactly why the mascots important that you're playing with identity, when you look at health research psychological wellbeing, education, it all comes down to how we're represented all of those literature bases, tie back to identity. And so how I density is being used by mainstream society matters. And not because we don't have strong identities, but because we have to negotiate that public identity out there. And when we're not shown in these really highly capable ways as being contributing members of society, there are consequences for that. And that's the omission. You know that's the what it allows non-Natives to feel good about American history it allows them to feel good about their, their lot in life where they are situated and not have to realize that they got there as a result of what they've done to other groups. And so it's I mean I really see us as engaged in a very similar project right is how do we how do we maintain and understand and change that representational space.

MATIKA: And I learned about your research from Adrienneʻs blog and whatʻs funny about that Adrienne was writing about it from Stanford and I was reading about it on my rez.

STEPHANIE: All My Relations. Here we go.

ADRIENNE: Amanda you said that you just sort of fell into this world and we're kind of thrust into it and you've been at the forefront of the fight for now, like going I mean it's almost a decade at this point. But the ways that you've seen the conversations change either for the better or I know you face personally, a lot of blowback from your activism and involvement in this issue so maybe talking about. If there's ways you've seen the conversation change in the time you've been involved and also the challenges that come with doing this work.

AMANDA: So, for me, it's been about 13 years now. I've been involved in about 12 years since the case started.

ADRIENNE: Unfortunately our Skype connection wasn't that great so much room and is recording as an audible. So we're going to summarize some of what she says and offer the best of the audio that came through.

MATIKA: Amanda along with the defendants Marcus Briggs-Cloud, Philip Gover, Jillian Pappan, and Courtney Tsotigh have been actively fighting against the Washington R words for over a decade now. Her court case was filed in 2006, it was tricky because it was pending Suzan Harjo case, which she eventually lost because of a technicality. The Supreme Court said that she should have filed the case when she was the majority age. Basically they said she was too old, which led to Suzanne, helping Amanda and other young people filing suit.

AMANDA: For those folks who don't know the case officially started with the trademark law. It was the under Ed Administrative Court, and the purpose was to cancel the federal registrations of the Washington team name the R word and a logos, to, you know, to get rid of their name, so that the team no longer has rights to that and they can no longer profit off of the name and the logo.

ADRIENNE: When Amanda's case was filed she was only 23. She just graduated and was off to the University of Kansas and around this time she started her family. She says the entire court case shaped her 20s.

AMANDA: I kind of grew up with the case I feel like my young adult years, all of those years were, you know, I grew up with it, and so did my kids.

ADRIENNE: In 2009 Suzanne's case was officially thrown out and that's when their case picked up steam. And then, finally,

AMANDA: 2014 was when we won when our big victory.

MATIKA: It was a huge victory in Indian country but then it went into the appeals court and just this last year, they lost.

AMANDA: And we eventually lost this year because of a separate case that had to do with the constitutionality of the piece of legislation that leaves in our case it was deemed unconstitutional. So, we had no foundation we had no real legal footing to move forward with our it died in....

MATIKA: The whole thing has not been easy on Amanda, she had to relocate, people have been horrible to her. She's encountered real bullying, and it even affected her stability.

AMANDA: And eventually, I ended up losing my job, because of all of this. Fell into some really hard times, I lost my job, I had to relocate to Phoenix which is why I'm here. There's so much, you know, because of the way that people feel about this case people's opinions about this are so polarized either for it or they're against it, but that's just the type of feeling that it evokes in people from what I've seen.

MATIKA: She's still trying to regroup from the whole fiasco.

AMANDA: Itʻs definitely been a long journey and I kind of went through my mourning period, and now it's like okay now you need to have your ceremony and figure out what to do next. You know, it's okay to just itʻs okay to mourn for a while. And now you need to figure out what you need to do moving forward.

ADRIENNE: Amanda has been incredibly resilient and has continued to stay in the good fight, pushing Native causes around representation all around the country.

AMANDA: Feeling the invisibility invisibility of Native people, so strong, you know, we're so invisible in this world, we have done everything we're supposed to you've done everything right we have, you know, we have done our speeches we've done our peaceful protesting and it's like, what's next.

MATIKA: I'm really glad that you touched on in visibility because you know Fryberg as you said that often you say that you like to think about how to make the invisible visible. And, you know, how has your research, and your, your recent research with Native truth and reconciliation. How have you been working towards that in your work?

STEPHANIE: Yeah, and that's really been the focus. I think what we, the way we've shifted is that now we feel we have enough evidence to show that invisibility is the modern form of discrimination against Native people, and that there's really been a practice of actively writing us out of contemporary life. And I, you know, I really appreciate what Amanda was saying, because you know it's touching us at the everyday level. And I think what people, I mean again it always comes back to people think that the mascot issue is not a big issue, but actually it's a huge issue, because it's very emblematic it represents the way that we're being treated on every other issue. It just happens to be the most public issue. So when you think about the Megyn Kelly issues last week, it's very similar. So there was outrage over blackface not outrage over red face, and you look at the Elizabeth Warren, President Trump situation I mean here are two people who keep locating contemporary issues around whiteness and not around what's happening to Native people, and we have to take control of that narrative. And what I love about the Reclaiming Native Truth Project and now IlluniNative. My next stage is really about taking that back, taking control of the narrative, working to both understand so in our own work. We've been looking much of the research so they're kind of two really interesting pieces as we've continued to push that work forward is that many of the issues about bias against Native Americans is actually about how white people feel about themselves. So once again, it's about whiteness, but it's about nationalism, and the extent to which people identify as being American and how important that identity is, the more the more American people identify with the more comfortable they are and actually prefer the invisibility of Nativepeople and the less support they have for any social issue, you know holds for the mascot issue for material inequity so poverty issues, issues related to sovereignty is so really big issue and so not only have we been able to show those relationships but what we show is that what underlies it like what mediates or explains, these relationships, is how people connect it to racism. And so there's this denial of racism, when it comes to Native people. We don't experience discrimination, African Americans experience discrimination. And I want to be really clear here because to me they do. This is not a African Americans, really don't or you know the the oppression Olympics. This is really about a recognition that discrimination is discrimination and people of all groups in America are experiencing it, but there are many indicators by which we are experiencing discrimination at much higher rates than any other group you look at violence against women. You look at police brutality, you know, just, you know, issues around health and psychological well being, suicide, kids dropping