‘Usually Offensive’

red·skin \ˈred-ˌskin\
(noun) usually offensive : American Indian

Note the “usually offensive” — a warning from one of the more neutral arbitrators of American English, Merriam-Webster. “Redskin” is a pejorative term, and should be used with caution, if at all.

And yet that term, and all of its sordid history, comes to play each and every football season as Washington’s team takes to the field. And this week, the Supreme Court refused to involve itself in a 17-year legal battle between the NFL franchise and a group of indigenous Americans who find the use of that mascot, well, offensive.

Unfortunately, Native mascots aren’t limited to the professional leagues. Gross stereotypes — “redskins” and “savages” and “squaws” — persist in K-12 environments, too.

More than 10 years ago, in the pages of Teaching Tolerance magazine, Barbara Munson, a member of the Oneida Nation, called on schools across the nation to abandon "Indian" team names, mascots and logos in their athletic programs.

“We experience it as no less than a mockery of our cultures,” Munson wrote then. “We see objects sacred to us — such as the drum, eagle feathers, face painting and traditional dress — being used not in sacred ceremony, or in any cultural setting, but in another culture's game.”

Since then, some progress has been made. Schools, districts and even state boards of education have voluntarily retired caricatures of Native peoples and traditions from their sports fields. Still, hundreds of schools — more than 70 in Virginia alone — continue to hold onto these mascots, choosing to teach children that stereotyping, and cultural appropriation, is a-okay.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to involve itself in the NFL dispute may signal to some that the use of Native mascots is perfectly legal. Even if that’s the case, it does not mean the practice is acceptable.

This month — American Indian Heritage Month — is a particularly good time to get honest about what’s in a mascot and to recommit ourselves to the abolition of Native mascots both on school campuses and in the professional leagues.


I agree with the Native

Submitted by Cath on 3 February 2010 - 5:56pm.

I agree with the Native Americans that these Native mascots are offensive. I can think of some sports teams that use Native American culture in a stereotypical way-including some of the sports teams of my own hometown! The team mascot is a Native American man shown in a dtereotypical way. There is a picture of the mascot at our school and every time I see it, I think "Why is our school accepting this stereotype? Isn't it the job of adults to teach kids history as accuratly as possible and not to promote stereotypes?"

I have spent several years

Submitted by Anonymous on 8 December 2009 - 1:07pm.

I have spent several years playing in a predominantly Native lacrosse league. They refer to themselves as "Indians", "redskins", and "skins" for short. They name their own teams "Indians," "Rez Runners," and "Warriors." They are masters of dry humor, tell great jokes about white people, are intensely patriotic, and are well aware of team mascots, TV westerns, and stereotypes. Most do not seem to care much about team mascots with Indian themes as long as they're tasteful and accurate. (Ex. no Eastern tribes wearing war bonnets, etc.) I see many Washington Redskin sweatshirts at games and powwows. Before we get too excited about all this political correctness, we might want to get a more accurate and representative Native perspective. PC seems to be a white man's issue, not theirs.

Sadly, our children are

Submitted by Parent in the Midwest on 24 November 2009 - 6:28pm.

Sadly, our children are growing up in a School District with an “Indians” mascot. I have spent years working to change the mascot, in a good way -- so far, without success. It can be a lonely, sometimes frightening and depressing experience. This mascot, as with many other communities is a bitterly debated issue.

I have decided that another way to approach this is to focus on the USE of the Indians mascot, and compliance (or not) with the School District’s non-discrimination policy. I would appreciate comments and suggestions regarding this path.

I have started documenting each team t-shirt, school sign and text in daily school announcements that uses the Indians mascot in ways that I believe are out of compliance with the non-discrimination policy. One of my recent examples is a high school cross county team t-shirt that states: “Nothing Runs Like a DEERE -- Indian.”

As I document, I am also bringing the items to the attention of school administrators. Not much success so far with this either, but I have more hope.

Over time, if the use of an Indians mascot can be shown to be out of compliance with a non-discrimination policy, is there a better chance for change? Or is it simply my opinion verses their opinion? What can I use to measure?

I applaud your efforts. If

Submitted by Jennifer Holladay on 4 December 2009 - 10:54am.

I applaud your efforts. If your state has a civil rights or human rights commission, it may be worth contacting them. Don't give up!

I greatly empathize with the

Submitted by Carolyn West on 24 November 2009 - 5:15pm.

I greatly empathize with the issues Native Americans face. What could be more sacred than a person’s culture, ceremonies or family name?

We see our family name being used not to carry on the legacy of our ancestors but to declare sexual preferences. What happened to the use of words like homosexual, lesbian and bisexual? In my household, Gay gives us enormous pride. It was the name given to my grandfather over one hundred years ago. So when we’re having a “Gay Reunion”, we don’t want to feel the need to explain…it’s our family name.

I really dont mind most

Submitted by Danial on 23 November 2009 - 10:54pm.

I really dont mind most nicknames for teams. Most of time I feel like they can be a source of pride that is sorely lacking for a lot of our youth. But this nickname is absolutely reprehensible.

Yes, this term is already

Submitted by Anonymous on 19 November 2009 - 1:59pm.

Yes, this term is already translated into other cultures to remain there until it is unacceptable in its true capacity here. At the present time, "Kizil Derili" or "Red Skinned" is still the name the Turks use for all Native American Indians.
I notice many not able to claim their heritage by a Fed. Rec. Tribe use this term to boost a false identity, without considering the consequences.

What an unfortunate title.

Submitted by Anonymous on 19 November 2009 - 11:30am.

What an unfortunate title. *Usually Offensive* Really, how about ALWAYS offensive! I understand this is the point the author is trying to make, but she never says that until well down at the bottom. On an important issue like this, Teaching Tolerance can do better.

Isn't being offended itself

Submitted by Anonymous on 24 November 2009 - 5:53pm.

Isn't being offended itself intolerant?

Note that the title is in

Submitted by Anonymous on 19 November 2009 - 7:31pm.

Note that the title is in quotes. It's a quote from the dictionary entry. Yes, the dictionary entry is an understatement. That's the point.

The title is taking issue

Submitted by Anonymous on 19 November 2009 - 4:31pm.

The title is taking issue with a prevailing attitude, and is appropriate to call attention to the issue.