Olivia Harlow/Santa Fe New Mexican

Mateo Romero stands Monday (July 13) in his Pojoaque art studio. Romero, who said art is a tool for activism, was among a group of Native Americans who filed a petition to cancel the trademark for the Washington Redskins name and mascot in 1992. He said he was elated at Monday's news that the Redskins are changing their name and logo.

Mateo Romero woke up to news that he waited four decades to hear -- the Washington Redskins are dead.

The 53-year-old artist from the Cochiti Pueblo said he painted late into Sunday night (July 12) and was barely awake Monday morning when he was told the NFL franchise in Washington dropped the "Redskins" nickname and logo, acquiescing to growing demand to remove the racist phrase.

Romero was among seven Native American plaintiffs to petition the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to rescind the club's trademark on the mascot name in 1992, but the effort eventually was thrown out of court on a technicality more than a decade ago.

The trademark was eventually canceled in a separate lawsuit in 2014, but the battle to get the organization to change its name, which has raged for decades, didn't pick up steam until recently.

"I was painting late last night, so this is news to me," Romero said. "With that said, this is fantastic. It is wonderful."

Earlier this month, the franchise announced it was "reviewing" its mascot name as pressure to change it mounted.

Last month, the name of George Preston Marshall, the original owner of the club, was removed from inside the team's stadium. He named the team "Redskins," saying it was in honor of Native Americans' bravery.

Nike removed all Redskins attire from its website in June, and FedEx, which owns the naming rights to Washington's football stadium, sent a private letter to the club demanding a mascot name change. Without that, the company said it would remove its name from the stadium.

Romero said the protests in relation to the death of George Floyd helped create an environment that finally fostered significant movement on the issue.

"At this point in time, with Black Lives Matter and this rethinking of the policing of communities of color, you're seeing this radical shift in our society right before our eyes," Romero said. "Just think, 20 years ago, people said we were crazy to go after the Redskins on this mascot issue. Now you see, overnight, that things previously people thought were untouchable, were sacred cows, are not."

Though he acknowledged he felt some cynicism about the team's quick change of heart, with money at the root of the reexamination of the nickname, he said he will take progress where he can find it. Some businesses, he said, are showing they can embrace important social causes without prompting from the public.

He pointed to Nike signing former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to an endorsement contract in 2018 in the face of backlash from his kneeling protests against police brutality as a sign of changing times in the corporate world.

"Nike seems to get it," Romero said. "They seem to embrace this moment, and Nike has gone forward with this in a corporate context."

Romero added it has been a lifelong battle for him to raise awareness of the insensitivity schools, colleges, professional organizations and fans show when it comes to how nicknames and some of the traditions those teams created are offensive to many Native Americans.

Romero recalled seeing many of his fellow students dressing up in Native attire and wearing "war paint" in preparation for events while a student at Dartmouth College, though the school had not used the "Indians" nickname for years by the mid-1980s.

Seeing the Redskins finally take substantive action, as well as Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians exploring the use of their names, was a huge step in the right direction, Romero said.

"All I wanted was change," Romero said. "I wanted this mascotting of Native people -- and the Redskins was among the most offensive -- to stop. It's been a long trajectory, so slow. It's almost a glacial movement. Now that I see it, I'm elated."

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