Opinion

Adrian Jawort: 'Redskins' and 'scalps' in Indian mascot debate





"With the state of Washington recently voting to ban the usage of all Native American-related mascots in public schools, it brings momentum and hope to those that aim to see national mascots like the Cleveland Indians or Washington Redskins caricatures retired. However, while I read the lines of debate in blogs or Facebook posts or comment sections, I can’t help but notice one glaring statement that’s always inserted into the debates: “redskins” equals “scalp.”

This conclusion originates from American Indian activist Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne and Muscogee) and a National Congress of American Indians’ brief. In the Pro Football vs. Harjo trademark case in a bid to force the Washington Redskins to change their name, Harjo and six others made it to the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. before the Supreme Court eventually rejected their longstanding case in the 2009. And while that fight still goes on via Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., Harjo’s team had previously claimed “redskin” derived from referring to bloody Indian scalps during the onset of the French and Indian War. Particularly cited is England’s 1755 Phips Proclamation, a declaration of war against the non-British allied Penobscot Nation stating:

“…For every Scalp of such Female Indian or Male Indian under the Age of twelve years that Shall be killed and brought in as Evidence of their being killed as aforesaid, Twenty pounds.”

As appalling and emotionally appealing as it is, the Phips Proclamation doesn’t include the words “red skins” in it. Claiming “scalps” automatically means “red skins” is revisionist history, to be blunt. It was the Native Americans who first used the term “red” in order to differentiate between indigenous, white, and black people. When not referring to their individual and other tribes collectively, why would they use Indian, Native, or other adjectives to describe their obvious skin differences back then?"

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Adrian Jawort: Redskins Not So Black and White (Indian Country Today 11/13)