A Native American activist instrumental in the petition that led the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to strip the Washington football team of its federal trademark was named a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient this week.
President Barack Obama announced Monday that 19 people, including activist Suzan Harjo, will be awarded the medal at a White House ceremony later this month. Other recipients this year include Tom Brokaw, Rep. John Dingell, Ethel Kennedy, Stevie Wonder, and Meryl Streep.
“Suzan Harjo is a writer, curator, and activist who has advocated for improving the lives of Native peoples throughout her career,” the White House announcement read.
Harjo was not listed as a plaintiff in the latest case challenging the team’s trademark, but she was a plaintiff in the similar, though ultimately unsuccessful, suit 20 years ago that laid the groundwork for this recent victory. Harjo is the current president of the Morning Star Institute, a D.C.-based national Native American rights organization.
The Post reported in June:
When the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board declared the football team’s name and logo were disparaging to Native Americans on Wednesday, Harjo’s name was not among the plaintiffs. But few would argue that the victory was any less hers. In 1992, she and six other Native Americans filed a similar suit, called Harjo v. Pro-Football, Inc., laying much of the groundwork that was presented in the current case.
“It’s a victory for all of us,” said Harjo who has remained vocal on the issue through the years. “We won. We all did this in small and large ways. It’s a tremendous victory.”
Ray Halbritter, representative of the Oneida Indian Nation, which launched the “Change the Mascot” campaign, issued a statement today congratulating Harjo:
Suzan Harjo is a true leader, and a fearless and tireless advocate for Native Americans. She has dedicated her entire life to creating a brighter future for the next generation. For decades, she has been relentless in demanding that the Washington NFL team change its disparaging name. The recent success of the Change the Mascot campaign has been because we are standing on the shoulders of giants – and none more so than Suzan Harjo. I congratulate Suzan, and could not think of an individual who better exemplifies the great American ideals which the Presidential Medal of Freedom recognizes.
Obama has already publicly stated that he thinks owner Dan Snyder should consider changing the football team’s name.
Photo via the White House