UPDATE: In January 2024, the case against the National Congress of American Indians was dismissed with prejudice, and the case against NCAI has been concluded.

On December 1, 2023, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), represented by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), filed a motion to dismiss a case brought against it in the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota. The case, which was brought by the Virginia-incorporated Native American Guardian’s Association (NAGA), alleges that NCAI somehow conspired with the Washington, DC, National Football League team when they changed their name to the Washington Commanders. However, the only act that plaintiffs allege is that NCAI issued a press release supporting the Commanders’ decision to keep their new name. 

Photo of rally sign showing NFL mascot and the word dishonor

NCAI President Mark Macarro responded to the NAGA complaint explaining, “Since 1968, the National Congress of American Indians and its Tribal Nation members have taken the position that the Washington NFL team should change its dehumanizing and derogatory name. Issuing a press release applauding the team’s decision to drop a derogatory name is far from unlawful. All the complaint shows is that NCAI exercised its right to free speech on an important issue that affects Native Americans across the country.”

Race-based mascots, logos, and symbols became popular during a time in our country when racism and cultural oppression were the norm. Not only are they offensive and perpetuate negative stereotypes of Native people, they cause real, documented harm to the mental health of Native youth. The American Psychological Association found that derogatory representations like Native-based mascots create hostile learning environments for Native students. Studies show that the continued use of American Indian mascots teaches young people that stereotyping minority groups is an acceptable practice, further legitimizing discrimination against Native Americans. 

NARF Deputy Director Matthew Campbell, who has worked in forums across the country to change harmful mascots, said, “NCAI has advocated for the elimination of harmful mascots for decades. As an organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for Native people and communities, this sort of advocacy only makes sense. The Native American Guardian’s Association may have a different opinion on this issue, but differing viewpoints are not enough to form a conspiracy lawsuit. This suit is legally unsound and disappointing to see in a time when these mascots and images have been found to harm our youth.”

Learn more about NARF’s long history of working to remove race-based mascots.

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