Suzan Shown Harjo remembers when she walked into a store with her grandfather in El Reno, Oklahoma. She wanted to get something cool to drink on a summer day. It was the early 1950s and the storekeepers told the 6-year-old she had to leave.
"No black redskins in here," they said.
At that moment, Harjo felt small, unsafe, afraid. Because she was a dark-skinned Native American -- Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee -- she was being identified by just her coloring. She wasn't even a whole human being. Not even her grandpa, whom she saw as all-powerful, could do anything to protect her.
Later in her life, that incident made her angry. Angry enough for Harjo to launch a lifelong mission to protect her people.
Part of her work took aim at sporting teams that use Native Americans as mascots. With the start of the baseball season this week, some of those teams have been front and center. The Cleveland Indians, for instance, feature a smiling Indian dubbed Chief Wahoo, criticized by Native Americans as a racist caricature.
The most offensive example of a mascot, says Harjo, is the one used by Washington's football team. She has been fighting for years to get the Redskins to change their name.
The R-word -- she can't even bring herself to say it -- is the same as the N-word, says Harjo, president of Morning Star Institute, a national Native American rights organization.
She finds it unbelievable that more than half a century after she was told to get out of that El Reno store, after decades of civil rights struggles and progress on race relations, Americans have no problem with rooting for a team called the Redskins.
Fans say the name is an honorific. But the Merriam-Webster dictionary says this: "The word redskin is very offensive and should be avoided." And to many Native Americans, nothing could be more derogatory than the use of that word.
"The Washington team -- it's the king of the mountain," Harjo says. "When this one goes, others will."
The controversy over Native American names in sports is longstanding and surfaces in headlines now and then, as it did in December when the Atlanta Braves baseball team was reportedly considering bringing back a dated "screaming Indian" logo for batting practice caps.
Or when Amanda Blackhorse, a 31-year-old Navajo social worker, went to Washington last month to attend a hearing of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. She has petitioned to cancel the Redskins trademark on grounds that the name is racist. Harjo filed a similar petition in 1992 and won, but she later lost in the appeals process.
Harjo was defeated in the courts, but public opinion has been shifting steadily on the matter.
In March, several lawmakers introduced a bill in Congress that would amend the Trademark Act of 1946 to ban the term "redskin" in a mark because it is disparaging of native people. Among the sponsors of the bill is civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia.
Harjo says she hopes the legislation will accomplish what litigation has failed to do so far.
If passed, the bill would force the Washington football team to discard its trademarked name and ban the use of any offensive term in any future trademarks.
Proponents believe that Native American mascots pay homage to the people and help promote a better understanding of those who dominated America before Europeans landed.
But opponents say the mascots perpetuate stereotypes that are void of context and history. They argue that even if the mascots themselves are not racially insensitive, they portray native people as one-dimensional.
"A good many Americans don't know any Indians," says Kevin Gover, who heads the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian.
"The Indian you see most often in Washington, D.C., is at a football game -- at the expense of real Indians, real history, real culture. The petty stereotype has become expected."
In February, the Smithsonian museum hosted a symposium on racist stereotypes and cultural appropriation in American sports. The idea was to make people think about how these stereotypes can be damaging to Indians.
"Kids grow up and think it's OK," Gover says. "It's not OK."
There used to be more than 3,000 teams with Native American names and mascots. That's down to about 900 now -- but that's still 900 too many for Gover.
He grew up, also in Oklahoma, and recalled how the University of Oklahoma became the first collegiate team to drop its unofficial mascot, Little Red, a student who dressed as an Indian chief and danced on the sidelines during football games.
Protests on campus forced the demise of Little Red. In 2005, Oklahoma adopted two costumed horses, Boomer and Sooner, as mascots who represented the real horses that pulled the Sooner Schooner. But many students didn't take to them.