"Redskin" is a term for Native Americans. The term is defined in current dictionaries of American English as "usually offensive", "disparaging", "insulting", and "taboo". Because the term is generally considered a slur by the Native American population, it has almost disappeared from common usage since the 1960s, except as a name for sports teams, although the number of teams using the name has also been in steady decline.
The origin of the term is debated, some stating that it derives from the use of "red" color metaphor for race following European colonization of the Western Hemisphere, others state that it was originally applied only to certain tribes that used red pigments to paint their skin. A study by Ives Goddard of the Smithsonian Institution found "the actual origin of the word is entirely benign and reflects more positive aspects of relations between Indians and whites." Goddard's study concluded that Redskin did not emerge first in English or any European language, but derived from Native American phrases involving the color red, which were part of a racial vocabulary that Indians often used to distinguish themselves from others, whom they called black, white, and so on.
It is argued by sociologist Irving Lewis Allen that slang identifiers for ethnic groups based upon physical characteristics are by nature derogatory, emphasizing the difference between the speaker and the target. However, Professor Luvell Anderson of the University of Memphis, in his paper "Slurring Words", argues that for a word to be a slur, the word must communicate ideas beyond identifying a target group, and that, slurs are offensive because the additional data contained in those words differentiates those individuals from otherwise accepted groups. An example of the negative context of the term in popular culture according to Amanda Blackhorse's lead attorney Jesse Witten, is in "Western" movies of the 1940s to the 1960s, in which "Redskins" were often portrayed as savage enemies.
The origin of the term "redskin" in English is debated. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites its earliest use in a 1699 letter from an English colonialist, Samuel Smith, living in Hadley, Massachusetts, which supposedly contains the following passage: "Ye firste Meetinge House was solid mayde to withstande ye wicked onsaults of ye Red Skins." Perhaps based on this source, the OED suggests the term was specifically applied to the Delaware Indians, and "referred not to the natural skin color of the Delaware, but to their use of vermilion face paint and body paint." However, there is strong evidence that this 1699 letter (which has never been found and is only known from a 1900 publication) was actually a fabrication by a late 19th century writer. Smithsonian linguist scholar Ives Goddard concluded the letter was a "work of fiction", saying that the "language was Hollywood...It didn't look like the way people really wrote." One of the many linguistic discrepancies in this source is the use of "red" to characterize the Indians: although initial explorers and later Anglo-Americans termed Native Americans light-skinned, brown, tawny, or russet, according to historian Alden T. Vaughan, "Not until the middle of the eighteenth century did most Anglo-Americans view Indians as significantly different in color from themselves, and not until the nineteenth century did red become the universally accepted color label for American Indians." Goddard discovered that a probable source for Samuel Smith's quotation cited a different date and the word Indian had been modified to "redskin" by author Helen Evertson Smith in 1900. The OED agreed with Goddard's findings, stating that the quotation was "subsequently found to be misattributed; the actual text was written in 1900 by an author claiming, for purposes of historical fiction, to be quoting an earlier letter."
The linguist Ives Goddard proposes as an alternative the emergence of the term from the speech of Native Americans themselves. Goddard suggests that "redskin" emerged from French translations of Native American speech in Illinois and Missouri territories in the 18th and 19th centuries. He cites as the earliest example a 1769 set of "talks" or letters from three chiefs of the Piankeshaw to an English officer at Fort de Chartres. The letter from Chief "Mosquito" (French: Maringouin) had the following passage in French: “I shall be pleased to have you come to speak to me yourself if you pity our women and our children; and, if any redskins do you harm, I shall be able to look out for you even at the peril of my life.” Another letter in the set, this from a "Chief Hannanas," contained the following passage: “… You think that I am an orphan; but all the people of these rivers and all the redskins will learn of my death.”
The term appeared again in an August 22, 1812, meeting between President Madison and a delegation of chiefs from western tribes. There, the response of Osage chief "No Ears" (Osage: Tetobasi) to Madison's speech included the statement "I know the manners of the whites and the red skins," while the principal chief of the Wahpekute band of Santee Sioux—French Crow—is recorded to have said "I am a red-skin, but what I say is the truth, and notwithstanding I came a long way I am content, but wish to return from here." The earliest known appearance of the term in print occurred on October 9, 1813 in an article quoting a letter dated August 27, 1813 from a "gentleman at St. Louis" concerning an expedition being formed and to be led by Gen. Benjamin Howard to "route the savages from the Illinois and Mississippi territories[.]" "The expedition will be 40 days out, and there is no doubt but we shall have to contend with powerful hordes of red skins, as our frontiers have been lined with them last summer, and have had frequent skirmishes with our regulars and rangers."
However, while these usages may have been earlier, they may not have been disseminated widely. (For instance, while the 1812 meeting with President Madison was contemporaneously recorded, it was not published until 2004.) Goddard suggests that a key usage was in a 20 July 1815 speech by Meskwaki chief Black Thunder at the treaty council at Portage des Sioux, in which he is recorded as stating, "My Father—Restrain your feelings, and hear ca[l]mly what I shall say. I shall tell it to you plainly, I shall not speak with fear and trembling. I feel no fear. I have no cause to fear. I have never injured you, and innocence can feel no fear. I turn to all, red skins and white skins, and challenge an accusation against me." This speech was published widely, and Goddard speculates that it reached James Fenimore Cooper. In Cooper's novels The Pioneers (published in 1823) and Last of the Mohicans (1826) both Native American and white characters use the term. These novels were widely distributed, and can be credited with bringing the term to "universal notice."
A third controversial etymological claim, which has been called "revisionist history," is that the term emerged from the practice of paying a bounty for Indians, and that "redskin" refers to the bloody, red scalp of a Native American. During the entire history of America until the turn of the twentieth century, Indigenous Americans were hunted, killed, and forcibly removed from their lands by European settlers. This includes the paying of bounties beginning in the colonial period with, for example, a proclamation against the Penobscot Indians in 1755 issued by King George II of Great Britain, known commonly as the Phips Proclamation. The proclamation orders, “His Majesty’s subjects to Embrace all opportunities of pursuing, captivating, killing and Destroying all and every of the aforesaid Indians.” The colonial government paid 50 pounds for scalps of males over 12 years, 25 pounds for scalps of women over 12, and 20 pounds for scalps of boys and girls under 12. Twenty-five British pounds sterling in 1755, worth around $9,000 today —a small fortune in those days when an English teacher earned 60 pounds a year. Though the proclamation itself does not use the word, at least one historical association between the use of "redskin" and the paying of bounties can be made. In 1863, a Winona, MN newspaper, the Daily Republican, printed among other announcements: "The state reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory. This sum is more than the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth."  In An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, 'redskin' is said not to refer to scalps, but the the bloody bodies left behind by scalp-hunters. This association can evoke strongly negative sentiments. In a 2014 interview after the Trademark decision, Amanda Blackhorse the lead petitioner expressed her opinion: "The name itself actually dates back [to] the time when the Native American population was being exterminated, and bounty hunters were hired to kill Native American people... So, in order to show that they made their kill, they had to bring back a scalp or their skin."
"Redskin" was used throughout the English-speaking world (and in equivalent transliterations in Europe) throughout the mid-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a common term of reference for indigenous Americans. However, the more commonly used term from early colonization through the twentieth century was "Indian", perpetuating Columbus' belief that he had found the Indies.
While Ives Goddard has stated, "[w]hen it first appeared as an English expression in the early 1800s, it came in the most respectful context and at the highest level . . . These are white people and Indians talking together, with the white people trying to ingratiate themselves," the word later underwent a process of pejoration, by which it gained a negative connotation. A linguistic analysis of 42 books published between 1875 and 1930 shows that negative contexts in the use of redskin were significantly more frequent than positive usage. (However, the use of the word Indian in a similarly selected set of books was nearly the same with more frequent negative than positive contexts.)
The term was in common use in movies during the most popular period for Hollywood westerns (approximately 1920–1970), with "redskins" usually being used to refer to Native Americans when war was imminent or in progress. In the Washington Redskins trademark litigation, the main issue was the meaning of the term during the period when the trademark registrations were issued, 1967-1990. The linguistic expert for the petitioner, Dr. Geoffrey Nunberg, successfully argued that whatever its origins, "redskins" was a slur at that time based upon the passages from books and newspapers and the movie clips in which the word is inevitably associated with contempt, derision, condescension, or sentimental paeans to the noble savage.
In the United States, "redskin" is regarded as a racial epithet by some, neutral by some people, including some Native Americans. Three predominately Native American schools use the name for their athletic teams, most notably the 98% Native American enrollment of the Red Mesa High School in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona.
The American Heritage style guide advises that "the term redskin evokes an even more objectionable stereotype" than the use of red as a racial adjective by outsiders, while others urge writers to use the term only in a historical context. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) rejected an application to register "Redskins Hog Rinds" because it "consists of or includes matter which may disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols". A decision by the USPTO to cancel the registration of some trademarks of the Washington NFL team for the same reason was handed down on June 18, 2014.
Numerous civil rights, educational, athletic, and academic organizations consider any use of native names/symbols by non-native sports teams to be a harmful form of ethnic stereotyping which should be eliminated. Several college teams that formerly used the name have changed voluntarily:
- The University of Utah Redskins became Utah Utes in 1972.
- The Miami University (of Ohio) Redskins became the RedHawks in 1997.
- The Southern Nazarene University Redskins became the Crimson Storm in 1998.
In California, a bill presented in 2005 by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg to ban the use of the name Redskins as a public school mascot was vetoed more than once. There were many opponents of the bill, including students from schools with the Redskin mascot – most prominently Tulare Union High School in Tulare, and Chowchilla Union High School in Chowchilla.
At the high school level, 28 teams in 18 states have dropped the "Redskins" name during the past 25 years as a result of a combination of state legal action, protests from Native American groups, or voluntarily. However, there remain 62 high schools in the United States that continue to use the redskins name. Three of these have a majority of Native American students: Red Mesa High School (Arizona), Wellpinit High School Wellpinit, Washington and Kingston High School Kingston, Oklahoma. In 2000 James S. Rickards High School changed its name from the Rickards Redskins to Rickards Raiders due to perceived racial implications of the word. The following year, under threats of litigation from the Native American Bar Association, Consolidated School District 158 in Huntley, Illinois changed the team name "Huntley Redskins" to "Huntley Red Raiders." Edmondson-Westside High School in Baltimore, Maryland, changed from the Redskins to the Redstorm in 2002.
In 2011 the Red Lodge High School in Montana changed to the Rams after 50 years of being the Redskins. In June 2013, administrators of a high school in Driggs, Idaho, announced that it will drop its longtime "Redskins" nickname, logo and mascot to show respect for Native Americans. In July, Members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes met with Teton School District to express their support for this decision. However a similar decision by the Canisteo-Greenwood School Board in New York prompted public protest resulting in a statement that the issue would be studied further. Other High Schools in the process of making a name change include Lancaster, New York, and Port Townsend, Washington. However some highly visible schools such as Union HS in Tulsa retain the name in spite of opposition by Native Americans.
In December 2013, the Houston Independent School District (HISD), in a preliminary vote, approved a new policy against any ethnic mascots which would require a change for several schools including the Lamar High School Redskins. In April 2014 Lamar High School announced the new name for its sports teams was the Texans. "The moral cost to our reputation as a diverse district -- where we care about the sensitivities of every single individual -- would be incalculable if we were not to do this," HISD superintendent Terry Grier said.
The term is most prominent in the name of the Washington Redskins, a National Football League football team. The team was founded in 1932 and was originally known as the Boston Braves, for their landlords, the baseball team called the Boston Braves. In 1933 the name was changed to the synonymous Boston Redskins when the team left Braves Field for Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox. Some accounts state that the name "Redskins" was chosen to honor William "Lone Star" Dietz, who began coaching in 1933, because his mother was Sioux. Dietz's true heritage has been questioned by some scholars, citing a birth certificate and census records that his parents were white. There were four Native Americans on the original Redskins team of 1933. In 1937 the team moved and joining Capitol Hill as the second football team of Washington, D.C., became the Washington Redskins.
Public protest of the name began in 1968, with a resolution by the National Congress of American Indians. Native American groups and their supporters argue that since they view the word "redskin" as offensive, that it is inappropriate for an NFL team to continue to use it, regardless of whether any offense is intended. In contrast to amateur teams governed by the NCAA or other organizations, which can level sanctions against member schools, the professional Washington Redskins franchise and nickname are subject only to the other clubs in the NFL and, presumably, approval or disapproval as expressed through ticket and merchandise receipts, or lack thereof, from the public. As there has apparently been no adverse market reaction, there has been little or no incentive to change the name.
In 2004, a poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that 91% of the American Indians surveyed in the 48 states on the mainland USA found the name acceptable and setting out in detail the exact wording of the questions.
The flaw in random and anonymous polls of Native Americans' opinion is that they must rely upon self-identification to select the target group. In an editorial in the Bloomington Herald Times, Steve Russell (an enrolled Cherokee citizen and associate professor of criminal justice at Indiana University), states that both the Sports Illustrated and Annenberg's samples of "self-identified Native Americans... includes plenty of people who have nothing to do with Indians". The problem of individuals claiming to be Native American when they are not is well known in academic research, and is a particular problem when non-natives claim Indian identity specifically to gain authority in the debate over sports mascots. In the Annenberg Poll, respondents were asked their race however, before being questioned about the teams' name.
A small number of media outlets have independently taken the position that they will not use the name Redskins, but instead refer to the team as "Washington", with the exception of the Washington City Paper, which refers to the team as the "Pigskins". David Plotz of Slate in an article announcing the decision to stop using the name stated, "Changing the way we talk is not political correctness run amok. It reflects an admirable willingness to acknowledge others who once were barely visible to the dominant culture, and to recognize that something that may seem innocent to you may be painful to others. In public discourse, we no longer talk about groups based on their physical traits: No one would ever refer to Asians as yellow-skinned. This is why the majority of teams with Indian nicknames have dropped them over the past 40 years." One day later, Mother Jones and The New Republic concurred, making the same decision. Sports writer Peter King has also decided that he will no longer use the name in his reporting, but will substitute "Washington" when referring to the team. "I can just tell you how I feel: I’ve been increasingly bothered by using the word, and I don’t want to be a part of using a name that a cross-section of our society feels is insulting." 
On January 2, 2014, Public Policy Polling released a nationwide poll of registered voters regarding their feelings on NFL team and player popularity that included the following question: "Do you think the Washington Redskins should change their nickname, or not?"; Do 18%, Do not 71%, Not Sure 11%. An Associated Press poll from May 2013 found that 79 percent of those sampled support the team keeping its name. A January 2014 AP survey found that 83% of U.S. adults would not change the name.
At the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University, San Bernardino a survey was conducted of 400 individuals whose identity as Native American was verified, finding that 67% agreed with the statement that "Redskins" is offensive and racist. The response from non-natives was almost the opposite, with 68% responding that the name is not offensive.
On June 18, 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) cancelled the six trademarks held by the team in a two to one decision that held that the term "redskins" is disparaging to a "substantial composite of Native Americans", and this is demonstrated "by the near complete drop-off in usage of 'redskins' as a reference to Native Americans beginning in the 1960s."  In a press release the trademark attorney for the team stated that they were confident that they would once again prevail on appeal, and that the decision will make no difference in the continued use of the Redskins name.
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|Look up redskin in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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