White House official got into fight at powwow over offensive jersey

William Mendoza, right, serves as executive director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education. Photo by House Education and the Workforce Committee

William Mendoza, the executive director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, is facing a lawsuit after he got into a fight at a powwow in the Washington, D.C., area last year.

Mendoza, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, scuffled with Barrett Dahl at the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science event on October 30, 2015, The Durango Herald reported. The two came to blows over Dahl's choice of attire -- a Washington NFL jersey with some unusual words written on the back.

"I said, ‘Are you aware that, that name and image is offensive and harmful?’" Mendoza told Dahl at the powwow, which took place at the National Harbor just outside of D.C., The Herald reported.

What Mendoza didn't know was that Dahl, 28, is considered a disabled dependent person by the state of Oklahoma, where he lives with his parents. He also wasn't aware that Dahl is a member of the Sac and Fox Nation.

“There was nothing that I had in my mind that said this could be a special-needs adult learner of any kind or anybody with a disability,” Mendoza told the paper. “He looked like a man who was being very overt in his attire, and the choice of what he decided to print on the back of his shirt also added a layer.”

According to Mendoza, Dahl's jersey had "Injun Pimp" written on the back. Dahl's father contends it said "Redskin Playa" but wouldn't offer evidence because the family plans to file a lawsuit against Mendoza.

“He attacked someone with a disability who has a different belief than him, all because of what he had on,” Mike Dahl told The Herald. “It’s not my family’s job to make sure this stranger is not offended."

Mendoza told the paper he regretted how the situation unfolded. He said he had tried to apologize to Dahl before the two exchanged punches. Both suffered injuries as a result.

Dahl is a former student at Fort Lewis College in Colorado. Mendoza graduated from the university.

Mendoza told The Herald that he attended the powwow on his own and not as a representative of the White House or the Obama administration.

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Punches fly over Redskins jersey (The Durango Herald 8/10)

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