Is The Redskins' "VIP" Indian Defender A Fake Indian?

Mark One Wolf was, for a time, a favored native in Dan Snyder's fight to save the "Redskins" nickname. "Native American backing team name is VIP at practice," read a Richmond Times-Dispatch headline. It was accompanied by an Associated Press photo of One Wolf in profile, as if to echo the team's logo. But that was July. Now folks on both sides of the squabble agree on one thing: One Wolf makes poor Liz Warren look like Pocahontas.

"He is the 21st-century version of William 'Lone Star' Dietz," says Toby Vanlandingham, an anti-name activist from the Yurok Reservation in California. Dietz was the former Redskins coach whose reputed Sioux heritage inspired the team's nickname, according to the save-the-name camp, even though most evidence available today suggests he was neither Indian nor the inspiration.

"Mark One Wolf is a fucking phony," says ReGina Zuni, an ardent pro-namer living on the Isleta Pueblo reservation in New Mexico. Zuni says she's so convinced that One Wolf's not really an Indian that she emailed the team to warn them to stay away from him, lest they get caught using another—yes, another—poseur.

Authentic or not, One Wolf's star shone brightest during Washington's training camp in July in Richmond. He showed up at the team's workouts wearing an urban Indian ensemble and an RGIII jersey, his long black ponytail accessorized by a red bandana, a Western-looking necklace, and a cap with turkey feathers. The name controversy was overshadowing every other story, so media flocked to the Indian-looking dude in team colors.

That's how the Times-Dispatch found him. The story discussed One Wolf's founding of Native American Redskins Fans, a group for name sympathizers, and how he'd been a special guest at RGIII's mom's birthday party because he stood out.

While in Richmond, One Wolf gave his pro-name spiel to anybody with a media credential. "It's never been an issue for me or my family," One Wolf said as a camera rolled. "The Redskins name, it's always been a term that we felt was a unifying term."

That soundbite landed him a featured role in the video titled " Redskins Is a Powerful Name," released by Redskins Facts, a new group that lobbied for support for the name. The team initially attempted to disguise Redskins Facts as a grassroots deal, but the operation was quickly unmasked as the work of PR powerhouse Burson-Marsteller.

He enjoyed that first stint in the spotlight so much he kept going for more. In late August, One Wolf used his position with the native fans group to call for all Indians to boycott the Washington Post because of the paper's coverage of the name debate. In his plea for subscribers to cancel and surfers to avoid the paper's website, he said:

I see first hand your handling of the Redskins name debate and this leads me to wonder how many other stories over the years have been skewed with bias? What other half truths have you told? Today it is about the Redskins and being that I'm part of the group of human beings that do not matter to your ratings, I have no confidence that this bias doesn't find it's way into other stories of the day. Therefore I see no further point to read your publication

The Snyder-owned fan board trumpeted One Wolf's pitch for a Post boycott.

One Wolf quite literally became the face of the save-the-name movement: One supporter was so happy to have a real live Indian on her side that she made a poster in burgundy and gold with his profile replacing the helmet logo.

"I never asked for that," the guy known as One Wolf now says when asked about the notoriety he's gained from taking the team's side in the name brouhaha. "I just showed up to camp. But it was a privilege and an honor to be in that position."

Even before he was fêted by Snyder, lots of Native Americans also involved in the name squabble were on One Wolf's trail. And this bunch has no problem believing what he said in Snyder's propaganda film, the part about how the team's name was never a big deal for him or his family.

"We can't find anything about him that's native, and we've had a lot of people look into this," says Jacqueline Keeler, an Oregon writer and anti-native mascot activist. (Keeler helped assemble the native panel that appeared in the recent name-tackling episode of The Daily Show.)

It didn't take long for those looking at One Wolf, who has been dubbed "One Puppy" by the anti-name faction, to find he has serious name issues of his own. For all his talk about not wanting the team to change its name, it turns out the guy going by One Wolf sure likes changing his.

Public records show he was born Mark E. Yancey in 1973 in Washington D.C. He calls himself Mark Suzuki on online résumés. He's passed himself off as Mark Yan here and there and used that handle in comment sections wherever the name was being debated. He had a MySpace page using Kram Yecnay. The Redskins Facts organization ID'd him as Mark One Wolf, while he often contracts the surname by one character to OneWolf. And he touted the team's name on Facebook pages, including the Redskins Facts site, as "Mark Yazzie." At least two of his Facebook pages— "Mark Yazzie" and "Mark OneWolf"— have been terminated for using pseudonyms. Of late, he has been going by Dalaa Ba'Cho.

His alleged tribal affiliations appear to be extremely malleable, too. Yancey watchers say that earlier this year One Wolf was calling himself a Cherokee while backing Snyder's naming rights on the message boards at, a clearinghouse for Native issues. "He changed that when I called him out on it," says Vanlandingham. On that same site, Yancey/One Wolf now ID's himself as DaLaa Ba'Cho and lists his affiliation as "Chiricahua Apache/Mexica." North Carolina court records from 2007 (dug up by my colleague Diana Moskovitz) list him as "Native American/Alaskan." His recent use of "Mark Yazzie" as his internet handle suggested to those familiar with native ways that he was trying to pass as Navajo. Turns out "Yazzie" is the "Smith" or "Jones" of that tribe; 18 of the approximately 300 Navajo Code Talkers recognized by Congress in 2011—including William Yazzie, a member of the original 29 Code Talkers and a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor recipient—had that surname. (The Redskins trotted out a quartet of Navajo Code Talkers in team gear during a Monday Night Football broadcast in November 2013 while the name debate was at a slower boil.)

"When he was calling himself 'Mark Yazzie,' and saying he's Apache, that showed he doesn't do his research very well," says Keeler, who adds that she is enrolled in the Navajo tribe. "If you're going to fake it, make it believable."

And "Mexica"?

"'Mexica' is not a tribe," says Ray Ramirez of the Native American Rights Fund, a Colorado group that began fighting against Indian-themed team mascots soon after its 1970 founding. "It's a word that's used to refer to mixed breeds between Spanish and Indian blood. You see that word used when people don't have a tribe." (Ramirez's organization sent Yancey's Native American Redskins Fans a cease-and-desist letter for using the acronym they'd established and thereby causing confusion in the marketplace. Yancey had to watch another Facebook page go away. His clique returned to Facebook as Native American Redskins Nation.)

Is The Redskins' "VIP" Indian Defender A Fake Indian?

Eugene Herrod of the Southern California Indian Center (SCIC), who admits he has been monitoring Yancey's pro-name campaigning since last year, says there are two criteria generally used to identify natives: enrollment in a federally recognized tribe or "some sort of cultural relevance, such as being brought up in a native environment such as a reservation."

So his claim of being Chiricahua Apache wouldn't fly with the SCIC, either. The greatest and most mythologized Indian warrior of them all, Geronimo, also identified himself as a Chiricahua Apache. But the U.S. government, which captured Geronimo in the late 19th century on the way to committing genocide against his people, no longer recognizes such a tribe. There is now only a website at for a 501(c)(3) organization that offers membership to folks who fill out a form and pay $5 membership fee.

Herrod says that he's traced the Yancey family back a few generations and finds lots of African-American blood and some Asian, but no native blood and no branch on the family tree that ever got anywhere near any Indian reservation. Yancey's parents are both listed as alumni of Spingarn High School in Washington D.C., located right across Benning Road NE from the local NFL team's former home, RFK Stadium.

"For all that he says he is, there is not one single tribe that claims him," Herrod says. "Nobody knows who he is. Everything we've found about him and his parents indicates that they identify as African American. As far as I can tell, I think he's read a lot about Indians, but that doesn't make him an Indian."

Zuni is among those who find Yancey's sidling up to the Chiricahua Apache very suspect.

"So now he's claiming to belong not to a tribe, but a 503(c) corporation?" Zuni says. "He's claiming a fucking non-profit? He's making a mockery of us all. How dare he? How fucking dare he?"

If Yancey is, as alleged, indeed a fraud, he wouldn't be the first non-native to get propped up by the team in the mascot fight.

"There's always another one," says Keeler, adding that her parents both protested against Chief Wahoo, the anachronistic and overwhelmingly reviled native caricature somehow still employed by the Cleveland Indians.

In the early days of the name squabble, Washington's former owner, Jack Kent Cooke, would invite the performer known as Princess Pale Moon to sing the national anthem on nationally televised broadcasts.

She variously claimed Choctaw, Ojibwa, Blackfoot, and Cherokee affiliations. Her tribal ties were always suspect. But she was head of a Falls Church, Va.-based group called the American Indian Heritage Foundation. That 501(c)(3) group gets credit for lobbying the White House in 1990 to initiate American Indian Heritage Month each November. Her façade was ripped away when she was booted out of the U.S. exhibit at the 1992 World's Fair in Barcelona because her Indian heritage had been declared bogus. The Associated Press account reported that she wasn't registered with any tribe recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the story had the head of the National Congress of American Indians railing that the Princess couldn't "verify that she's descended from any tribe she claims." He continued, "She could just as well claim to be Queen of England."

One of the best and funniest phonies was Chief Stephen Dodson, who appeared on a Snyder-funded infomercial called Redskins Nation back in May 2013 to vouch for all the love the name "Redskins" gets from those on the reservation. At the time, Snyder's main line of offense was promoting the crap out of every high school with a measurable native population that used the same nickname as his team. Dodson was identified on the program as "a full-blooded American Inuit chief originally from the Aleutian Tribes of Alaska." Turns out he wasn't full-blooded anything and had no traceable amount of Inuit or Aleutian in his background. Besides, the Inuit and Aleut don't have reservations in Alaska.

So Dodson was just making stuff up. But by playing the role and saying what the team wanted to hear, Dodson did get free cable TV time to advertise his business, Charley's Crane Service, a towing outfit headquartered right next to Snyder's FedExField.

As for his alleged tribal title: Dodson was as much a tinker and a tailor as he was an Indian chief. His sister told Deadspin that "Chief" was just his nickname. She wasn't surprised the team didn't vet him. "They didn't check it because it was helping them," she said.

And there's the franchise's original Indian poseur, Lone Star Dietz. Throughout the current name debate, Snyder has clung to the legend that founder George Preston Marshall gave the team its Indian handle to honor Dietz in 1933, who was then the head coach. But according to a recently unearthed wire story from that same year, Marshall denied that the name had anything to do with Dietz. And in any case, the more that's learned about Dietz, the less likely it appears he had any Indian roots. He was, after all, indicted by the federal government in 1919 on a charge of faking membership in the Sioux tribe in the hopes of sidestepping military service for what we now know as World War I. A jury refused to convict Dietz on the charge.

Mark Yancey says he can explain everything.

Mark Yan? "That's just half my last name," he says.

Mark Suzuki? That's just a name he's used professionally for the last few years, starting when he got out of the military and opened his own photography business. "My grandmother's maiden name was Suzuki," he says. "She died before I was born, and I wanted to pay tribute to her." (Yancey's paternal grandfather was named James E. Yancey. The lineage website does have a 1947 wedding certificate from Yokohama, Japan, for a James E. Yancey and a Yoshimi Suzuki.)

Kram Yecnay? That's Mark Yancey backward.

Mark Yazzie? "Facebook shut down my page as 'Mark OneWolf'.' So I borrowed that from a friend with that name who had a [Facebook] page," he says.

Mark One Wolf? "My mother used to call me 'One Wolf' and 'Lone Wolf,'" he says. "The Apache are a matriarchal society, and she gave that name to me."

Dalaa Ba'Cho? "That's Apache for 'One Wolf' or 'Lone Wolf,'" he says.

He denies trading tribes. "I've always said Chiricahua Apache," he says. "That's what I always heard in my family."

His parents taught him to appreciate native culture by taking him to powwows in the D.C. area as he grew up.

Even if nobody outside of Ashburn is buying his act, Yancey feels secure in the knowledge that "the team is satisfied with my credentials." He knows that Native American groups have looked into his past, and he says it's the "changers," as he calls those wanting to do away with the football team's name, who are behind all the cancellations of his Facebook pages.

"If I would have just said they should do away with the team name, I could have claimed I was Geronimo's grandson and nobody would ask me anything," he says.

And for that reason, Yancey says, he is not concerned with anybody's failure to verify his tribal affiliation. While a DNA or blood test could quickly determine his lineage, Yancey says he has not taken one nor will he ever take one.

"If an Asian person says I'm Japanese, nobody asks him to prove it," Yancey says. "If I said I was Puerto Rican nobody would say: 'Oh, really? Then where did you grow up?' If you say you're white, people won't ask for your white man's card. The only ethnicity that's required to have an identification card is Native American. I never confirm or deny any tribal membership because it is not relevant. I don't get into blood quantum, either, because that's a colonial mindset. I've never looked into my blood quantum, so I don't know what it [would tell]. I have always been a Chiricahua Apache, and the only reason I know that is because that's what my family told me. Your grandmother tells you something, you're going to believe it."

Keeler says that she now thinks of Henry Louis Gates Jr. whenever Yancey's football endeavors come up. In April, Gates published a long essay on The Root called, "100 Amazing Facts About the Negro: Why most black people aren't 'part Indian,' despite family lore."

Gates described having grown up being told by his elders that he and pretty much every African American he knew, as well as all those he didn't know, were related by blood to Indians. And for most of his life he believed what he'd heard "even if no one was certain when or how these American Indians had entered our family tree, where they had mated with our black ancestors or from what tribe they hailed."

Whenever he looked into the matter as a youngster, he could find chronological or geographical holes in the kinfolk's tales. Yet as soon as he pointed out these discrepancies to relatives, Gates wrote, the family's tribal affiliations would be changed—alleged Cherokee lineage would become alleged Iroquois lineage, for example—just enough so that his new information wouldn't spoil the story that the "high cheekbones" and straight hair he saw at holiday reunions were the result of race mixing with Indians, not white people.

But then he grew up, and DNA technology allowed him to find out exactly whom he came from. And sure enough, his family's non-black physical features came from whitey. Other tests performed on other black families generally yielded the same results: "The average African American is 73 percent sub-Saharan, 24 percent European and only 0.7 percent Native American." None of his relatives would have it. "That test is one big fat lie," they all told him. "After all, Big Mom herself had told us all about her Indian ancestry, and how could 'science' be more authoritative than Big Mom, your own grandmother."

But Keeler says only a non-native could be amused by Yancey's jumping between various native names and tribal affiliations.

"We see this all the time," she says. "We're convinced he's just playing out this weird fantasy. But claiming you're native in this country isn't like claiming you're French or German. What Mark Yancey has done is basically taken on the identity of native people, and he's used that identity to try to obscure actual native people."

The harshest critic of Yancey's role in the save-the-name fight is somebody on the same side. ReGina Zuni, who is currently running for the tribal council on her Isleta Pueblo reservation, says she became internet friendly with Yancey last year over a shared love of the squad and a desire to keep the name.

Zuni says her grandfather, a former tribal official, got her to love the NFL team with the Indian mascot as a kid, and that love deepened during some years she spent living in the D.C. area. She grew suspicious of One Wolf as she watched him take on new names and tribes as if he were trying on shoes—on top of all the aforementioned affiliations, Yancey also claimed in a Facebook message to Zuni that his "father has some Shinnecock" in him. Plus, he looked like a totally different guy from one online photo posting to the next. They had a falling out when she confronted him.

"All the names and places he was from and the different stories, and his appearance, I swear it was like the guy was Taliban," Zuni says. "So during one long conversation on the phone, I told him he was going to hurt our credibility if he was lying about his identity. I said, 'Mark, you're a helluva Redskins advocate, but just come clean!' And he confessed to me he had no native blood."

When Yancey wouldn't drop the One Wolf character, she says, she alerted the Redskins that they were using a faux Indian as a spokesmodel in the name battle. "But they wouldn't listen to me," she says. "I can understand cultural appreciation, but I'm going to call out cultural misappropriation! I take what goes on in Indian Country very seriously. He's just a guy who grew his hair long and pressed it like Al Sharpton and threw on some beads and, voila!, a new identity. Who's going to challenge him? He's got dark skin, long hair, and he's wearing turquoise. And fucking Dan Snyder is like: 'Oh, look, we have an Indian!'"

Yancey says he never confessed to being a non-Indian to Zuni.

"Never," he says. "I categorically deny that. I have never admitted to anyone directly or indirectly."

Yancey, too, says that he and Zuni were once close and that he once believed that she was a real fan of the team. Their relationship soured, the way Yancey sees it, because she became jealous of his more prominent role in the effort to save the name.

Things hit bottom between the pair when Snyder formed the Original Americans Foundation (OAF), a charity that would deliver needed goods to Indian reservations—so long as those needed goods came in team colors and were adorned with team logos—and nobody gave her a role in it. Zuni "turned on a dime," Yancey says.

"She started saying things like, 'Oh, you're not a real Indian! Be honest with yourself! You're from an extinct tribe!'" he says. "Now she just feeds information to the enemy. I don't know how she can still claim to be a fan of the team."

Zuni admits to being peeved by the formation of OAF. She says one need look no further than the group's name to see the sort of problems that arise out of a lack of real native input.

"That's so fucking stupid," Zuni says. "'Original Americans'? Well, Indians weren't even citizens of this country 'til 1924, so I told them they must mean the British. We weren't original Americans! If you're going to start a group, at least do your fucking homework, you fucking dickweeds! I promise you there are people in Indian country, full bloods, who speak the language, who loved the Redskins and want to help. Yet they choose to ignore us in [favor] of that fucking phony piece of shit?"

Yancey has done opposition research on Zuni, too. "I've looked into her a bit because of the comments she's made about me," he says. "Look up her restraining orders. It's out there."

Indeedy: In 2012, the council on her own reservation tossed Zuni out of her elected office on charges including "disrespect for tribal council protocol and custom and tradition," and had a restraining order put in place to prevent her from showing up to meetings. She's hoping citizens of the tribe vote her back on the board this fall.

Yancey says he's well versed in Lone Star Dietz's history. "He went to the same school as Jim Thorpe, a school for Indians," he says, referring to the Carlisle Indian and Industrial School, which was a key outpost in the national project of Christianizing and otherwise "civilizing" the Indians. (Students there were rewarded for not speaking their own language.) And he has read up on coach's federal criminal trial. The defendant, born William Henry Dietz into a Wisconsin family with obvious German roots, was indicted after being accused of fabricating his native identity and stealing the Lone Star persona from an actual Oglala Indian from the Carlisle school named James One Star.

Dietz passionately testified that he had learned he was an Indian from his mother, and his trial ended in a hung jury. He pleaded no contest to avoid a retrial.

Yancey knows that Indian activists who want the name to go are now comparing him and Dietz. Being linked to the original coach doesn't bother him.

"I'm not going to be the one to say yea or nay on whether [Dietz] was or wasn't" a faux Indian, Yancey says. "You don't judge people—that's a Native American principal. But have you seen the pictures? Those features? He doesn't look like just a typical white guy."

Just as Dietz's alleged pilfering of One Moon's native status got him out of military service, Yancey admits that he's gotten a few perks via One Wolf's very public defense of the team's name. He says he got an invite to Ashburn to meet with the team president's, Bruce Allen. Yancey posted a selfie he took inside Redskins Park online.

While at headquarters, he says, he talked with Allen about a children's book Yancey is now hawking. It's called How the Redskins Got Their Name. The 38-page book is available on Blurb, an online clearinghouse for self-published works, for $39.49 plus postage.

According to promotional materials, the book aims to teach kids how the team was named "during a rare Native American renaissance, a period of heightened public recognition and improved independence—not seen before nor since." The other big intended takeaway for youngsters will be "the importance in treating the name today as an historic treasure." That lesson is imparted by a character named "Mark Yellowhorse," described as "a Native American of Navajo descent." Blurb has lumped How the Redskins Got Their Name in the "Sports and Adventure" category, but it's a work of fiction.

Top photo via AP