Published June 19, 2016
AYNOR, SOUTH CAROLINA –
Robert Roche, a Chiricahua Apache who has been active in the Native American Community in Cleveland for 49 years, relayed the history of the four lawsuits against the Cleveland Indians’ racist logo, Chief Wahoo. In 1972/73 a federal lawsuit was filed by attorney Joseph Meissner of the Legal Aid Society for Russel Means, et al. There were about 10 people who filed that original lawsuit as plaintiffs, most of the plaintiffs have passed on. I worked with the plaintiff’s team to brainstorm for this original filing. In 1985, the lawsuit came to fruition with a compromise and a settlement of $35,000 to the two remaining plaintiffs (Russel Means, Jerome Warcloud, and attorney Terry Gilbert).
In 1995, a second federal lawsuit was filed with Judge Manos, presiding. This suit was filed against the Gateway Economic Development Corp. and the Cleveland Indians by Juanita Helphrey and American Indian Movement director Robert Roche, et al. This was filed because the Cleveland Indians refused to allow us to demonstrate at the new stadium, which was constructed with public taxes, and is taxpayer owned. Judge Manos stated that he would rule in our favor if a compromise was not obtained. A settlement allowing demonstrations four times a month with a seven day notice was reached.
In 1998, a civil rights action was filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC), as a prelude before filing a federal lawsuit. The goal was to have the OCRC attorneys represent our efforts to have the racist name and logo changed. This action was filed by Robert Roche and tribally enrolled community members. Three months later the OCRC dismissed the action for what they ruled as lack of probable cause.
In 2016, People Not Mascots, consisting of its American Indian constituents, including Robert Roche and Cleveland American Indian Movement Director, Sundance, and others, filed a federal lawsuit against the Cleveland Indians. This suit parallels the Harjo and Blackhorse suits against the Washington Redskins, as it seeks to have the federal trademark registration cancelled. Dr. Lisa Mach is the lead attorney for this action, with the assistance of a great legal team whose members include the attorneys who were involved in the prior suits. The suit seeks to cancel the trademark registration based on section 2 of the Lanham Act (the logo is disparaging to Native Americans, as well as scandalous and immoral) and on the theory of res ipsa loquitur (Chief Wahoo’s offensiveness speaks for itself). The Cleveland Indians filed for a motion to dismiss the action, which was denied. The action is currently suspended as we await final disposition on the constitutionality of this section of the Lanham Act, which the Patent and Trademark Board has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Robert Roche is currently at the Longest Walk 5 based at the Waccamaw tribal grounds in Aynor, South Carolina, headed by Dennis Banks. They are supporting the fight against domestic violence and drug abuse. Robert Roche ran with Dennis Banks in the original Longest Run. Robert plans to continue to fight for the Native American people, along with Dennis and other warriors.