For the first time, we are hearing from Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter as he speaks out exclusively to CNYCentral a day after the U.S. Patent Office denied the renewal of the Washington Football team's trademarks, saying the name is disparaging of Native Americans. "I think it's good when our government institutions reflect the values that we want as a society and this certainly is a value of mutual respect that they're deciding upon," Halbritter said. "It's no longer an issue about whether the "r" term is a bad term. It is defined in the dictionary. There's really no gray area in that. It's a slur, they recognize that."
It is a message that Halbritter has been trying to send for many years, that the "R" word, as he calls it, is derogatory and a term used to demean his people for generations. "It was always used as a slur," Halbritter said. "It was the name that was screamed at our people when we were slaughtered, when we were forced off our land, when our culture and legacy as a people was being obliterated and our children were forced into boarding schools. This was a derogatory name. It always has been. It really came from the fact that bounties were paid for scalps of Indian people and they in fact for the blood were red skins. So this is the actual history of it."
Halbritter is calling on the team's owners, players, fans and sponsors to be on the right side of history. He is confident the team will change its name. It's just a matter of time, he says.
The Patent office decision does not mean the team has to change its name. It will just be more difficult to stop others from using it and profiting. "People today, the NFL unfortunately and the owner can try to say that it's some kind of an honor, but they're just saying that because they want to continue to profit from it," Halbritter said.
A previous case in 1999 was ruled the same way, and the trademark was denied. But 10 years later, the team and the NFL won an appeal in federal court and got their trademarks back. Just like last time, the Redskins can retain their trademark protection during a planned appeal.
We also asked Halbritter about a local high school that has the same nickname. He says there are no efforts currently to try to get Oriskany to change its team nickname. " I think right now we're focusing no the Washington team and partly because of the Cooperstown kids and what an inspiration they were to all of us, but we think eventually and inevitably we are going to be seeking not using that racial slur with any sports team anywhere in America. There's no place in America," Halbritter said.