Rabb highlights Native-centered legislation for Native American Heritage Month

PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 22 – State Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Phila., announced today he is introducing wide-ranging legislation to honor and protect Native American culture and history. 

Rabb said he is highlighting his spate of Native-centered legislation in November, which is Native American Heritage month, to bring awareness to the continuing and widespread disregard for indigenous peoples, their history and culture, and the misappropriation thereof and how Pennsylvania can substantively right these wrongs.

In 2021, Rabb authored a resolution that would have amended the rules of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to include a formal land acknowledgment at the beginning of each legislative week. In 2018, Rabb introduced a bill to formally abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day (H.B. 2110), legislation he has reintroduced twice.

“Symbolism matters -- particularly when it’s tethered to substantive action. That’s why rhetoric must be followed by redress,” Rabb said.

With the involvement and affirmation of tribal leaders, Rabb has also put forth legislation to protect Native American trademarks by preventing the use of Pennsylvania state trademarks by non-Native American groups to claim Native American patterns and tribal names as well as other cultural heritage and intellectual property.

“With the name change of the Washington NFL team to the Washington Commanders, one small step has been taken to address the use of racist logos and team names in professional sport,” Rabb said. “Yet, in our schools and shops, we still sell many clothes, coffee mugs and other keepsakes that use Native American tribal names, patterns and symbols supporting teams using Native American mascots. The profits from these sales support groups who have no Native American affiliation.

“We have a special responsibility to ensure that our state and state laws do not support cultural theft and profiteering.”

Toward this end, 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. Specifically, the bill would provide grants to schools that have a Native American mascot and voluntarily discontinue their use of the mascot. 

More than 60 schools across Pennsylvania have mascots that embrace Native American culture. Despite calls from advocacy groups like the Coalition of Natives and Allies, many schools retain their Native American names and mascots. 

“Decades of social science research have shown how derogatory mascots have a serious negative psychological and social impact on those with an indigenous heritage,” Rabb said. “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.”

In the new legislative term, Rabb said he will draft legislation to study the elements of a land back initiative toward re-establishing sovereignty — notably, the political and economic control of lands — for Indigenous peoples descended from tribes that predated settler colonization of what is now the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.