The "Redskins" name controversy has played out all over America for years now, in precincts high and low. It's now turned up, though, in the last place you'd expect—Lancaster, N.Y. Some of the same spurious Indians defending the NFL team's name jumped in the small-town fray this week.
The sports teams at Lancaster High have been called the Redskins since the early 1950s. But enough locals have asked for a name change that the school district organized a meeting of interested parties on Tuesday night.
Mark Yancey was among those who packed the school cafeteria, and at least one Indian at the gathering let him know he was regarded as a carpetbagging phony. Yancey, who told the locals he'd traveled from Connecticut for the assembly, was there to claim he was a Native American and that he took pride in any team with that name, professional or otherwise. He's been delivering that spiel to anybody who'd listen since last summer. Yancey became a front man in the debate (and got VIP status at the Washington Redskins training camp in Richmond) when he showed up at the NFL team's workouts wearing an Indian-looking ensemble with a red bandana, a Westernish necklace, and a cap with turkey feathers. He told reporters his name was Mark One Wolf, and that he had founded a support group called Native American Redskins Fans that would lead the fight to keep the name. Soon enough Yancey was given a starring role in a short film titled Redskins Is a Powerful Name. That pro-name PSA was produced by another clique called Redskins Facts, and was initially billed as a grass roots fan effort. Alas, Redskins Facts was eventually exposed as a team-funded propaganda project concocted by hired guns at public relations behemoth Burson-Marsteller.
Yancey's celebrity waned quickly, after Indians on the other side of the name battle started questioning his claims and accusing him of playing Indian as part of a cynical game of dress-up. Through the years, it turns out, Yancey (his birth name) has also called himself Mark Suzuki, Mark Yan, Kram Yecnay, Mark Yazzie, Dalaa Ba'Cho, and Jimmy War Eagle, along with his training-camp handle, Mark One Wolf. And he has at various times identified his tribal roots as Cherokee, Shinnecock, Chiricahua Apache, Mexica, Navajo, and "Native American/Alaskan."
Anti-name folks looked into Yancey's genealogy after he became a leader in the movement, and say they found nothing that left him qualified to speak for native peoples. Instead, only African-American and Japanese roots were on his family tree, and all available evidence indicated that he was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area and had never spent any time in Indian Country. When Deadspin contacted Yancey last year and asked him for any information that would corroborate any of his tribal claims or give him some real Indian cred, he did not provide any.
He stuck by his declarations of nativeness, however, saying that his mother nicknamed him "One Wolf" when he was young and that his grandmother told him he was Chiricahua Apache, which is the same tribe as the nearly mythic warrior, Geronimo.
"Your grandmother tells you something," Yancey told me, "you're going to believe it."
Indian activists on both sides of the name issue dismissed Yancey as a Pretendian and laughed him off the scene after that. "One Wolf" became "One Puppy" on message boards when Yancey was referenced. Former Washington Post columnist and anti-namer Mike Wise called Yancey a "fake" on Twitter and offered to pay for DNA testing to settle the matter. Yancey declined Wise's offer, but became invisible in the name fight after his bloodlines became a talking point.
That hiatus ended on Tuesday night in Lancaster. Yancey, reprising the "One Wolf" nickname and identifying as an Apache, was put front and center at the name hearing by some Lancaster High alums who wanted him to perform his pro-name song and dance in front of folks who wanted to banish "Redskins" from their school.
"It's about the systemic eradication of native imagery in sports," Yancey tells me, when I ask why he traveled to Lancaster. "This is not an isolated Washington Redskins issue or just about 'redskins' period. We see this as our heritage and our legacy, and we take it very seriously."
Yancey was not taken seriously by all the locals.
"He's an idiot," says John Kane, a Mohawk Indian activist living on the Seneca territory in Western New York.
Kane, who lives about a half-hour away from Lancaster, was among the representatives of regional tribes invited to participate. He says he's been keeping up with Indian mascoting issues on both the national and local name scenes, and also discussing them on a radio show he hosts that airs Sunday nights called Let's Talk Native on WWKB in Buffalo.
So Kane was aware of Yancey's Redskins fan group for Native Americans, as well as his failure to prove any of his claims of Indian heritage. And, Kane says, he called Yancey out for putting on what many Natives allege is an act.
Mark Yancey holds court with the local media. Photo via Facebook
"He embarrassed himself," says Kane. "I told him, 'You come here with your artificially straightened hair and your cheesy beads?' He looked ridiculous. Every native person gave him the same ration of shit for showing up as this token Indian for angry white people, and maybe he got so much shit it messed him up, because he was terrible last night. He basically said he was a huge Washington Redskins fan. That's it. That's sad if you're native and your only source of native pride comes from being a Washington Redskins fan, like using these mascots is the only way we stay relevant. If you have to reduce yourself to that, you've already been assimilated and indoctrinated. There's nothing left of you."
Kane says word at the meeting was that Yancey was paid for his travel to Lancaster and accommodations.
Asked about those rumors, Yancey says that he initially approached the pro-"Redskins" faction in Lancaster when he heard about the squabble, and that folks from side asked him to attend. He admits he didn't pay his way, but asserts he doesn't know who did.
"I think it was an anonymous donor," he said, adding that the trip "to my knowledge" was not funded by Dan Snyder.
Yancey likely got some value out of the appearance. If he's in it for look-at-me-look-at-me chuckles, he got to be a multi-media star in the Buffalo market for a couple days, and even got to see his name in the New York Times' writeup. And he says the event left him culturally pleased.
"We had a group of Native Americans in a hall with a captive white audience," Yancey tells me. "You don't know what that means because you're not Native American, but that's huge."
A day after the Lancaster meeting, Indian activist Jackie Keeler criticized Times writer Matt Higgins via Twitter for identifying Yancey as a Native American in the piece: "Would the @nytimes identify someone as French if they self-ID'd as such? With no actual citizenship or proof of descendency?" she wrote. Higgins told Keeler he went with how Yancey self-ID'd. Higgins agreed to Deadspin's request for comment, then didn't comment. Keeler tells me she has asked his editors to issue a correction.
The way Kane sees things, whoever from the pro-name side paid Yancey's way got ripped off. After a four-hour meeting, Kane says, he walked away confident that school will soon accept that it should search for a new mascot.
"The message we sent the board, and the prevailing mood at that meeting, was: It needs to change," Kane says.
Yancey wasn't the only out-of-towner lobbying for Lancaster High to keep its mascot. A report in the Buffalo News on Monday said a man named Dennis Yellowhorse Jones "issued a statement to the Lancaster School District supporting the Redskins moniker as a tribute to Native Americans."
Jones, who lives in the Phoenix area, is new to the Lancaster debate, but he's been lobbying against a name change for the NFL team for a while. He produces and hosts an online radio show, the sole purpose of which seems to be to attack anybody offended by "Redskins." His Facebook page shows he's affiliated with the Native American Redskins Nation, the group Yancey is credited with founding. In 2013, Jones wrote a post to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker praising the Wisconsin chief executive for signing a bill that made it more difficult for opponents of native mascots to force individual schools to change their name.
"Thank you Governor Scott!" Jones said. "We have schools at Navajo that have the name the Redskins, Chiefs, Warriors, Braves and Scouts. The small group who want to change the name of the Redskins are not Native Americans. If they do not like the names of our schools then they should take a seat and shut up!"
Jones's Twitter bio identifies him as "President and Founder of U-Mate International, a Native American owned company" that, according to a 2013 press release, is developing a line of fertilizers "formulated specifically for the cannabis industry." The firm's promotional materials also claim that it as "a Native American company." He is listed in corporate papers as the only principal of a corporation called Yellowhorse Industries. On the web page listing services offered by the corporation, Jones says, "Yellowhorse is a certified 100-percent-Native American owned and operated business." Under the Yellowhorse Industries umbrella, Jones also runs a company called First American International LLC, identified in this online trade publication as "a Navajo Nation company." Jones occasionally drops his given surname to go by simply Dennis Yellowhorse.
"Yellowhorse" is a traditional Navajo name, and seems to indicate Jones' Indian bona fides and give him the right DNA for a spokesman for native peoples.
"We looked and could not find any 'Dennis Yellowhorse Jones' enrolled with the Navajo tribe," says Eugene Herrod of the Southern California Indian Center, a group that has been monitoring Dan Snyder's name campaigns for fake Indians.
I reached Jones by phone and asked if he was indeed Native American.
"No," he says.
Jones then quickly referred all other questions to U-Mate spokesman Dan Quigley.
"He has never purported to be Native American," Quigley tells me.
Quigley says Jones was given the name "Yellowhorse" by his wife. The language in U-Mate's advertisements, Quigley says, is "not misleading," since "all the work he does is on Navajo lands."
"All of his best friends are Native Americans," Quigley says.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. Disclosure: Dan Snyder once sued the author for writing mean things about him. Top photo via Facebook