By Erik Lacitis
McClatchy News Service
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To get here, you drive about an hour north of Spokane, past fields of barley, wheat and canola with yellow flowers, past the forests.
It is home for the Spokane tribe of Indians, and for 107 years, the Wellpinit High School mascot name has been Redskins.
Wellpinit doesn’t particularly want to be part of stories about its mascot.
But the tribe gets calls because of the controversy 2,600 miles away in Washington, D.C., with the Redskins NFL team.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office last month canceled the team’s trademark registration, deeming the name disparaging to Native Americans.
Various media outlets around the country have stopped using the name, except in stories about the controversy, saying it is offensive.
In its defense, the Washington football team in 2013 linked to a list of 70 high schools using the Redskins name and later specifically referred to Wellpinit.
“One thing that annoys me,” said John Teters, registrar for the school district, “is that we’re used as an excuse for this asinine process.
“You name it, Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins, whenever those names come up, the school gets called.
“‘If you guys can do it, why can’t we?’ We’re somehow used as a justification.”
The school district isn’t in a big hurry to change the name and sees no big push for it.
The high school is the only one in this state using that name.
Last year, the Port Townsend School Board voted to abolish Redskins as its high school’s mascot. They’re now the Redhawks.
A list of school mascot names in this state, compiled by Marc Sheehan, a Federal Way teacher, shows a few Indians and Chiefs — also not appreciated by Native Americans — but mostly a lot of names along the lines of Eagles and Mustangs.
Michael Seyler has been on the Wellpinit School Board for 19 years. He said there might be a community meeting sometime to discuss the name, and maybe a vote, but nothing is scheduled.
“Casual interest” is how Seyler describes community concern about that “back East” controversy.
Take Clarence Le Bret, who at 90 says he’s the oldest male tribal member in town.
Controversy, what controversy, he says. “It’s the traditional name we always had.”
Said Kyra Antone, 17, who’s going into 12th grade and is wearing one of the T-shirts, “It’s not a negative name for us.
“Whenever I think of Redskins, I think of pride in our sports teams. There’s nothing wrong with being a 17-year-old Native American.”
Still, for a number of Native Americans, the Redskins name is an insult that strikes at their emotions.
“This country was founded on bounties. I grew up with my dad talking about the genocide of Indians,” said Chet Bluff, 53. “This should be in the history books.”
Bluff said she was taught that “Redskin” refers to the bloodied scalp that bounty hunters used to show proof of a kill.
She told a white co-worker who asked what the “Redskin” controversy was about:
“Imagine my husband, my dad, my brother and granddaughter being killed and skinned for $800. Her jaw dropped,” Bluff said.
That the term is derived from the blood from the scalp of a Native American is in dispute, as is often the case with what is and isn’t historically provable.
Ives Goddard, emeritus senior linguist at the Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Anthropology, in 2005 wrote a research paper on the term.
He said the assertion became popularized when Native American rights activist Suzan Harjo said it on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” in 1992.
“There wasn’t anything to support the connection,” Goddard said. “But that’s what everybody now thinks.”
In fact, he said, it was Native Americans who first came up with the term when the whites showed up in this continent: “You guys are white, we are red.”
It became derogatory in later usage, he said.
And, added Goddard, what’s acceptable “is based on today’s language,” and the term is clearly offensive to many.