Cherokee Nation Triples in One Week, & Don’t Call Me a Redskin

We should be impressed with how many people are well versed in Native American culture and history.  It’s been amazing and enlightening to see all kinds of average citizens report and comment so expertly on First Nations and Aboriginal issues lately.  Of course, this post isn’t really about how much is known about Native Americans as much as how deplorably inadequate our education about the culture(s) still is.

The story that has caused all the questionable commentary was the news the U.S. Patent Office revoked the name trademark for football team, the Washington Redskins.  The public response has revealed that a number of people feel immersed enough in Native American culture that they can speak for how Native Americans should or do feel about all kinds of issues.  This includes how to react to the use of a term historically known as racist for the sake of sports team logos and names.

I keep reading things like, as a Native, I’m one of the people who doesn’t really care about this, and so why should anyone else.  I most definitely have feelings about this – I feel hurt, angry, and sometimes surges of the humiliation burn I endured at times throughout my life because I am a Native person. The sting of being called a dirty redskin when I was a child is as piercing now as it was then.

peace is our promiseI’ve read over and over that even if I do care, what I feel is beside the point because there are far more people out there who really matter.  I happen to think it’s the ones who stand against racism and discrimination of any form that matter.  I believe in the ones who say let’s make the world a better place without the cost of that being another human.  I seek those who speak beyond the words that filled so many, too many, of the commentaries like this:

BUT – 90% of the Universe Likes the Name!

“90% of Indians don’t mind the name Redskins.” or sometimes it’s stated as, “90% of Americans like the name”.  These statements refer to the often cited, but academically questioned, National Annenberg Election Survey from 2004. They proudly quote that 90% figure, but that’s 90% of the 768 respondents – 691 people who claimed Native American ancestry, not 90% of all Native Americans. That’s part of why people take exception to this poll.  It also took almost a year to find those 768 respondents, which begs the question, which neighbourhoods were they looking in?

If you want to get technical, according to U.S. Census records for 2004, there were approximately 3,000,000 Native Americans in the U.S. then.  The number needed to statistically represent 90% of Natives (with a 3% +/- error margin) would’ve had to have been at least 1,100 people  – preferably Native Americans who live within the culture, or are well-versed in it.

There is a constantly ignored October 2013 SurveyUSA poll that showed 59% of 500 non-Native American Washington DC residents thought the name was offensive.  79% of them didn’t think changing the name would make them think less of the team.

There was something else I noticed in the comments and that was how many Native American relatives we all have. If the number of self-identified part-Native Americans claiming not to have a problem with the name is true, then Native Americans must really represent close to a third of the overall U.S. population. For sure the Cherokee nation’s population has got to have tripled in the last week.

There is tremendous debate as to the truth of the word’s offensiveness.  This is where the vast in-depth knowledge of Native American history appears most in the comments.  The origin of the word is debated to the nth degree with disagreement about the word being born of racism.  Therefore, no racist beginning, no problem.

Origin is not the point

 noun: etymology

  1. the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.   The origin of a word and the historical development of its meaning.

plural noun: etymologies

A paper by Ives Goddard is often cited as incontrovertible proof that the word did not begin as a slur because he cites English and French notes from 17th-19th century journals where they note a chief and some tribal members called themselves red people. First Nations are hundreds of cultures. Some people take exception to those notes because Native historians  – as in the Native peoples themselves – did not record their history in the same way, and most do not historically refer to themselves as red people, let alone redskins.  In any case, the paper does acknowledge the term evolved into a slur, or “obloquy”.

Next, victoriously trotted out are exceptions to the view that most Native Americans are offended and why they shouldn’t be:

  • The first Redskins coach was Native – Disputed as someone who took on a Sioux identity to escape the draft. He also did not name the team.
  • The team was honoring that coach and four Indian players – disputed by redskins owner in a 1933 interview with the Hartford Courant.
  • The Natives have always been proud of these honors – it was Natives who started the trademark revocation in 1992, but overall objections to the name began in the 1950s.
  • Many school teams, even Native ones, call themselves redskins and are damned proud of it.  Most are forgetting when those schools were originally named and by whom, but even so, self identification to claim the name is not the same thing.
  • Oklahoma is Native named and is Choctow for ‘Red People’.  Actually, ˆ“Ogla-ut-homma”, has a different etymology. In the Choctaw language “Homma,” can mean rust, brown, tan, or red. Oklahoma could easily be translated as ‘tan people.’

This may be interesting debate so far, but what isn’t disputed is that the name evolved into a term that evokes centuries of derision, hatefulness, discrimination, and attempted genocide. The term is recorded in historical accounts repeatedly calling for the scalps and genitalia of our ancestors. It’s this part of history that most resonates with the people who are offended by the images and names that dehumanize them to a cartooned existence, i.e. redskins.

Despite that, the reasons given to keep the name run the gamut from derision to the absurd; Natives and white liberals are just whiners and choosing to be victimized. There is simple ignorance of the issue to blaming Obama, who apparently is in need of another distraction.  Some people are very concerned about the expenses this could cost teams if they have to re-tool names or images.  Some people want to cling to tradition, eagerly willing to overlook the horrific and bloody history associated with the term.

Coming to terms with the idea of change can be hard, and for some people, very hard.  Changing something that is eight decades along is even seen as dishonoring “tradition”.  However, if a tradition is based in the highly questionable honor of documentable racism, the time for change is long overdue.

Banning racist slurs may not change everything, but words do have power and standing against words that caused so much damage is the beginning of the end of discriminations, and it says, yes, we do matter.

Besides, there are already cases to show that it can be done without irreparable loss.

  • 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.
  • To date, there were more than 3,000 American Indian mascots and names used in school K-12 athletic programs; more than two-thirds of those have been changed.

Still don’t think any racism underlies the word?  Then why do you suppose that in every single one of those comments – all those stridently opposed to change and steadfastly insistent that the term redskins is really an honor – why did none of them refer to Native Americans as redskins? Not a single one.


Some may have noticed I didn’t capitalize the term in some areas. I did that in order to reflect how that term changes tone even with a simple adjustment of a letter.  I doubt the irony of that was missed by even the most ardent slur defender.

Updated July 7, 2014 Washington Redskins PR Hire is a good idea for Native Americans:   2006 Ben Tribbett Proves Washington Team Name Is Slur, 2014 Ben Tribbett Paid To Defend It

Updated June 29, 2014 to include the Oklahoma reference increasingly cited as self-description for entire Native American nations. With thanks for the information provided by Paula Starr,  Executive Director at Southern California Indian Center.

36 thoughts on “Cherokee Nation Triples in One Week, & Don’t Call Me a Redskin

    • Hello Jill! I have to admit, I lost my breath at some of the comments I refer to in support of those team names. The depth of disdain was so deep and palpable, but I rely on the basic goodness of the majority of people to do the right thing in the end.


  1. This is a really interesting discussion BW. Again, I would suggest that names, places, terminology and cultural patterns, beliefs, behaviours and items (as we spoke about headdresses) should be protected by law and only used with permission by the “owners” – and revenue linked, like team names and logos. I know you would prefer a less official acceptance, but honestly, these items and words are used by organizations and corporations to generate revenue – and they should be made to pay for their use. I think this is yet another example of the same problem – ownership. That’s not as directing a concept in the Native culture (as i have been told – common usage and common stewardship) but your culture is now operating in a larger framework that does operate that way. And any interface between the two cultures will have to be controlled by terms that are clearly delineated and understood by both. And that means rules and laws – not just understanding. On a very basic level, items associated with the Native culture are being used to make money for others often to the detriment of the native population (be it descrimination, reduction in value or honor, or in complete opposition to the culture of origin, etc.) Educaton and communication are key to undersatnding but to be effective, there have to be laws and limits and punishment to back it up. The iron fist in the velvet glove.

    Yes, the name Redskins should be removed from commercial use. Simply because it is wished so by those to whom it refers. There is freedom of speech but if I started calling you Peckerhead instead of Blog Woman!!!, I could be charged, as an individual, for defamation of character. The same rules should apply to cultures – defamation should be illegal. And what constitutes defamation? Here’s the fun part – it should be exactly the same as what constitutes harrassment : determined only by the interpretation of the harrassed. In other words, if the Native population determines it to be abuse, it is legally considered abuse. No questions asked.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents worth. Great post as usual Blog Woman!!!


    • As usual Paul, your comments are so thoughtful and appreciated. I know education and awareness is key, and that is for the First Nations people too. There is so much to be learned for everyone. It’s an engrossing history that could be used so positively for understanding and growth.

      And, I had a big laugh when i read that Peckerhead line. You have no idea of this, but last night I started another post that begins with the line: “Its easy to be a pecker, isn’t it”? LOL. I don’t know when, or if, I’ll publish that one, but just thanks for your 2 cents worth.


    • Oh, you bring a salient point, but some days I think (hope) any small victory of regard for each other is maybe one more step to not killing each other. We’ll likely never get to Utopia, but I wouldn’t mind making it to a few doors down. Cheers!


  2. BW, thank you for this thoughtful post. I guess I live in a bubble, surrounded by folks who find the term “Redskins” offensive. From my perspective, the fact that the term is offensive NOW should be enough to warrant a name change. It is a simple matter of respect. Sadly, in North America at the moment respect is a rare thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Michael. I had to admit, I’m also surrounded by people who get my point, but I am always shocked by how many say things in comments to these kinds of stories that I never hear in my day to day. It’s a jarring eye-opener to me in this day and age.
      It’s a long road still, but education about each other is the only thing that ever reduces so much unkindness toward one other.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post. I live in VA, just outside of DC so this is always a hot topic here. I am shocked that the name hasn’t been changed; it just dumbfounds me. My middle school students are big Redskin fans and they are adamant about the name staying the same. When we debated this in class, I was surprised by their lack of understanding and empathy towards the Native American population. Generally, they are all about being outspoken and standing up for people, but I guess that isn’t true if it involves one of their sports teams! My students wrote an article about this in our school newspaper, detailing the history of the name and the fight to change it. I loved your post! 🙂


    • Thanks so much for this comment. I love that this is being discussed in schools, even if it doesn’t resolve in the way I’d like to see it – yet. I am very curious about the response to your student’s article. Was it part of the class discussion or did he/she receive feedback directly?


      • This student chose to write the article because during football season it always comes up and is debated. Once the paper goes out, I don’t really hear much response from the student body. However, he did poll over 200 students on whether or not the Redskins should change their name and the response was overwhelmingly NO. We had many, many debates about this around my desk with them asking “What’s the big deal?” and me trying to explain. We compared the name Redskins to the Braves and the Chiefs as a way of pointing out how different traits were being emphasized. My student’s article was very one sided at first, but I made him do a rewrite and he did a great job. I think he came away from the process with a greater understanding of the entire situation. My students strongly support gay marriage, stand up against racism when they see it…yet they have a hard time understanding why the name Redskins is offensive. The seed was planted, so perhaps with time things will change.


        • Very interesting – thanks so much for this. I noticed the vast majority of comments at the NBC Sports site were very one-sided – in favor of name, while they were more evenly split and or more anti-name at other sites of general news, TV shows and Native Amer. based sites.


  4. I woke up early for some reason, decided to check email, found this blog was the only interesting thing in it. Crescendo of thoughts, not awake enough to filter.

    First one off the top: a vague recollection from my study of Chinook Jargon that NW tribes, confronted with European visages perhaps as early as Lewis and Clark and certainly by the time King Chautch Men and Boston Ilahee men entered the Jargon (never mind what they called the French!) called the strangers red skins. Not paleface. No idea where paleface came from, though Hollywood is suspect. Personal observation: redskin more accurate describes European than Tribal facial topography.
    Second thought: I read a truly stomach turning story that alleged “red skin” had its genesis as slang for the bloody side of a scalp as delivered for bounty. (Not sure how a clutch of scalps could be described as “pesky redskins” (per Hollywood B Westerns) so I’m not sure I buy this one. Beaver plews and human scalps would all be bloody red on the reverse side.

    Third thought: legally the Patent Office decision merely means the Washington Redskins no longer are protected in their use of the name. Can’t sue for patent infringement. Does not mean they can’t keep right on using the name. (The specific images associated with the name are the work of artists who presumably were compensated by the organization and thus protected by intellectual property copyrights. A different thing than patents. I anticipate a flood of off-shore “redskin” apparel now the patent protection is gone–and lawsuits about copyright infringement if the coprorate logos and images are used.)

    Fourth: some wags have suggested the “Washington” is the most offensive part of the football team’s name. I’m sure Beltway denizens don’t get it. I’m pretty sure everybody else does; Washington is like the capital of some third world nation with its vast gap between haves and have-nots….

    Comment edited for space. Full comment view can be requested by email to

    I maintain,all questions of DNA testing for lineage aside, that there were natives on all sides of the negotiating table. Native Americans all, proving that even political tangles can be resolved when you bring integrity to the table, Integrity and honor are of the spirit, not the blood. Petty squabbles over a football team’s name are just that, petty. There is real work to be done.


    • Hello William – thank you for your comment. Work to change any dehumanizing behaviours begins with the small arguments and can be done even while tackling larger ordeals. We are capable of achieving far more than we are. I would argue that the sports arena is one of the biggest stages to bring education to the masses

      The idea that the logo is more sacred than the people it represents is the point of contention. That is where the real work begins.


  5. I have to admit, I’m not a sports person by any means, so I don’t really stay on top of things like this (or anything sports related). But I hate haters. (Does that make me a hypocrite?) I think an interesting study would be to determine if the main reason for bigotry is hate, or is it ignorance? I’d be willing to bet ignorance is at least a third of the reason. But with such blogs as yours that educate people will definitely help to end the problem. Just another reason that you are so amazing and why I love you so much! ❤ EXCELLENT post!


  6. I have lived in England all my life, so I have absolutely no cultural reference points on this issue. I do know this though. Any arguments about etymology and cultural antecendence are irrelevant. As Michaelwatsonvt has already stated, it is whether the term “Redskins” is offensive now that matters.
    A few years ago, a teacher in England was prosecuted under the Race Relations Act. He had seen one of his white students talking in the corner of the classroom to a couple of his black friends, and told the boy to “get out of the nig-nog corner”. He cited as his defence that he was using the term “nig-nog” in its meaning of “idiot”, a usage that hasn’t been current since the 19th Century. Thankfully,the judge didn’t buy it and he was prosecuted successfully.
    What things used to mean shouldn’t enter into it, surely? At the risk of invoking Godwins’s Law, the swastika had been a Hindu symbol for “good things to come” for two thousand years before it was cynically subverted by the Nazis, In fact, it still does mean that to most Indians, as the huge success of the 2006 opening of the Mumbai, Hitler themed restaurant “Hitler’s Cross” demonstrated. (The restaurant has since changed its name after drop-jawed outrage from India’s tiny Jewish community, which just goes to show how right can prevail, no matter how few of you there are demanding it.)
    But in Europe and America, the swastika is the ultimate symbol of intolerance. It is offensive now and no amount of peaceful history behind it could excuse someone wearing it on an armband. Percentages also should be discounted. So what if 90% if people don’t find “Redskins” offensive? That still means that 10% do. Should “Hitler’s Cross” have been allowed to continue trading under that name simply because only a few thousand people in a country of over a billion considered it beyond the pale? Of course not.
    The name Redskins is offensive. Americans are really good at thinking up cool names. So please, for pity’s sake, think up another one now.



    • Hello Mike – I am so impressed with your comment. You point out really great examples for thought and debate – which I intend to re-use, by the way.

      My head still spins from the comments at the end of the articles on the sports sites for NBC, CBS, & Fox, but the most insidious to outright proudly racist comments I’ve read so far are in the Washington Times newspaper. It is hard to believe what year and century we are in sometimes.

      Thanks so much for your visit!



    • Thank you Dawn. I really wanted to see something written by people who are fans, but open to the idea that change isn’t always a bad idea, especially where it is for the betterment or in respect of someone else. Your words were that openness, and as I mentioned, full of compassion. You have no idea how much that meant to me after my reading about a dozen other views prior to finding yours.


      • I totally get that. A lot of people seem really up in arms about holding on to this name. I saw one “site” proclaim it as a way for democrats to repeal the first amendment; I kid you not.

        What is sad is that so many people fall for that kind of rhetoric.

        I have no idea if Jack Kent Cooke would actually be the leader I made him out to be but his legacy suggests perhaps.

        Thanks for sharing your views.
        ~ Dawn


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    • Whaaaaa??…. you forget my brilliance? Forgiveness?? I have to think about that for a bit………………………………………………………………………..OK, will make allowances for your current pain med needs, but otherwise, man… “you suck”, could come to mind. 😉


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  11. These same people telling me Redskins is offensive are the ones telling me a white man walked around the desert saving us “savages” by dying on a cross. The same ones who go home to a white spouse. Yeah fuck that.


    • So, as a white man – one of your “fuck that” crew – I’m not clear on your statement here. Are you First Nations and don’t object to being called a Redskin? that’s what I got from your comment.


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