A Brief History of The Word ‘Redskin’ And How It Became a Source of Controversy

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tags: racism, mascots, Native American history, football, NFL

This story originally published May 19, 2016. It has been updated to reflect new information.

The Washington Redskins are beginning a review of the controversial name, after a number of the team’s largest corporate sponsors called for a change.

Two people familiar with discussions between the team and NFL league officials said the review is expected to result in a new team name and mascot.

The origin of the word “redskin” has long been disputed by linguists, Native American activists who consider it a slur, and those who insist that the name of Washington’s football team honors Indians rather than disparages them. The word’s roots extend back to at least the mid-18th century, as colonists and Native Americans began clashing. Here’s a timeline:

1769: The first unchallenged use of the word “redskin” occurs when a British lieutenant colonel translates a letter from an Indian chief promising safe passage if the officer visited his tribe in the Upper Mississippi Valley.

“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,” Chief Mosquito said in his letter, according to a 2005 study by Ives Goddard, the Smithsonian’s senior linguist emeritus.

Aug. 22, 1812: At a Washington reception for several Native Americans, President James Madison refers to Indians as “red people” or “my red children,” prompting Little Osage Chief Sans Oreilles (No Ears) to voice his support for the administration: “I know the manners of the whites and the red skins.” Then, Sioux Chief French Crow also pledged loyalty: “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.”

July 20, 1815: After tangling with famed explorer-turned-Missouri Territory Gov. William Clark, Meskwaki Chief Black Thunder gives a speech that was printed in the Western Journal in St. Louis. “I turn to all,” the chief is reported as saying, “red skins and white skins, and challenge an accusation against me.”

Read entire article at Washington Post

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