California’s ban on public schools using the term “Redskins” as a team mascot, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law on Sunday, is a rare statewide win for a movement trying to get Native American imagery removed from team names around the U.S.
California is the first state in the nation to pass legislation prohibiting its schools’ teams from using the term, though at least a dozen schools around the nation have chosen to drop the name since 2013.
The law, set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2017, will only affect the four California schools that currently use the name. But it’s an important step for those who say the nickname is a racial slur against American Indians. Meanwhile, Dan Snyder, owner of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins, refuses to change the name of his team—even after a federal judge ruled that it disparages American Indians and cancelled its trademark in July. (Snyder is fighting the ruling.)
“This landmark legislation eliminating the R-word in California schools clearly demonstrates that this issue is not going away, and that opposition to the Washington team on this issue is only intensifying,” Change the Mascot leaders Ray Halbritter, representative of the Oneida Indian Nation, and Jackie Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, said in a joint statement. “The NFL should act immediately to press the team to change the name.”
Here’s the nauseating origin of the word “redskin,” according to Native American GQ writer Baxter Holmes:
The story in my family goes that the term dates back to the institutionalized genocide of Native Americans, most notably when the Massachusetts colonial government placed a bounty on their heads. …
Spencer Phips, a British politician and then Lieutenant Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Province, issued the call, ordering on behalf of British King George II for, “His Majesty’s subjects to Embrace all opportunities of pursuing, captivating, killing and Destroying all and every of the aforesaid Indians.” They paid well—50 pounds for adult male scalps; 25 for adult female scalps; and 20 for scalps of boys and girls under age 12.
These bloody scalps were known as “redskins.”