To protect and honor Native American culture and history, State Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Phila., announced he is introducing wide-ranging legislation this month, November being Native American Heritage month.
The Native-centered legislation is aimed at bringing awareness to the indigenous peoples, their culture and history, and how Pennsylvania can right the wrongs of misappropriation.
Rabb authored a resolution in 2021 aimed at amending the rules of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to include a formal land acknowledgement at the beginning of each legislative week. In 2018, he introduced a bill to formally abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day (H.B. 2110). He has reintroduced the latter legislation twice.
“Symbolism matters – particularly when it’s tethered to substantive action,” Rabb said in a statement. “That’s why rhetoric must be followed by redress.”
Rabb has also put forth, with the affirmation and involvement of tribal leaders, legislation to protect Native American trademarks. The legislation would prevent the use of Pennsylvania state trademarks by non-Native groups to claim Native American patterns and tribal names, as well as other cultural heritage and intellectual property.
Rabb cited the name change of the NFL’s Washington team to the Commanders, calling it a small step to address the use of racist logos and team names in professional sports. In Pennsylvania, schools and stores sell clothes, keepsakes, and household items that use North American tribal names, patterns, and symbols supporting teams using Native American mascots. Rabb noted that the profits from these sales support groups that are not affiliated with Native Americans.
“We have a special responsibility to ensure that our state and state laws do not support cultural theft and profiteering,” said Rabb.
Rabb has authored two bills relating to Native mascots, one that prohibits their use by public schools and another that would assist schools in Pennsylvania committed to updating mascots, logos, school or team names through a grant program. The bill would provide grants to schools that have a Native American mascot and voluntarily discontinue their use of the mascot.
Pennsylvania has more than 60 schools whose mascots embrace Native American culture. These schools have retained their Native American names and mascots despite continued calls from the Coalition of Natives and Allies and other advocacy groups.
“Decades of social science research have shown how derogatory mascots have a serious negative psychological and social impact on those with an indigenous heritage,” said Rabb. “In fact, it is well established that mascots, logos and the like that stereotype or fetishize indigenous peoples highly correlate to the alarmingly high suicide rate among Native youth.
“As the descendant of 16 great-great-grandparents of African descent born across six states wherein slavery was state law, the systemic denial of ‘personhood’ and the use of racist stereotypes to further dehumanize marginalized people is deeply personal to me.”
Rabb will draft legislation in the new legislative term to study the elements of a land back initiative toward re-establishing sovereignty, particularly the political and economic control of lands, for indigenous peoples descended from tribes that predated settler colonization of Pennsylvania.