California First State to Ban “Redskins” as School Team Name or Mascot

Thursday, October 15, 2015
(graphic: Steve Straehley, AllGov)

California is the first state to outlaw “Redskins” as a mascot or team name in public schools.

Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 30, which requires any school using the controversial name—there are four in the state—to change it by January 2017. The law also prohibits any school from switching to that the name, which denigrates Native Americans and is considered offensive by many.

The four high schools in the state that use “Redskins” are: Gustine High School (Merced County), Calaveras High School (Calaveras County), Chowchilla Union High School (Madera County) and Tulare Union High School (Tulare County). More than 38,500 students that identified themselves as American Indian enrolled in California's public schools in 2013-14.

State legislation to ditch the nickname was first proposed in 2004. Lawmakers passed it, but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it. He vetoed a broader ban on offensive Indian names the year before. The governor said it was a local matter and the bill “takes more focus away from getting kids to learn at the highest levels.”   

That bill’s author, then-Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), responded to the governor’s veto message by saying, “Well, if local control was the issue in civil rights, we'd still have slavery in the South, wouldn't we? . . . It's a matter of record that the word is listed in most dictionaries as a derogatory reference to Native Americans.”

The issue received national attention when Dan Snyder, the owner of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, resisted calls to change the name of his team, even paying some Native Americans to say the name is OK with them.

AB 30’s sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo, said it was important for his state to outlaw the name. “California has the largest number of Native Americans in the country,” he said in May, when the bill was passed by the Legislature. “It’s time we as a state take a stand against racial slurs used by our public schools. This is part of a national movement and now is the time for us here in California to end the use of this derogatory term in our public schools.”

A legislative analysis of the bill by Assembly staff members described the history of the term “Redskins” to illustrate its racist roots. “One of the origins of the term is based in the 1700’s when early settlers offered a bounty for the killings of Native American people. “Redskin” was used to describe the bloody scalp that was provided as proof of a killing.

The Los Angeles Unified School District banned the use of American Indian mascot names in 1997 and it was upheld by a federal judge the next year. That put an end to the Apaches, Mohicans, Warriors, Braves and others like them.

The United States Commission on Civil Rights called for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native schools in 2001. 

–Noel Brinkerhoff and Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Just Took a Big Stand Against the Team Name “Redskins” (by Carimah Townes, ThinkProgress)

California Makes Civil Rights History by Banning R-Word Mascots Statewide in Public Schools (Change the Mascot)

4 Schools to Change Mascots after California Governor Bans Name Offensive to Native Americans (by Christopher Weber, Associated Press)

Federal Judge Affirms Cancellation of Washington Redskins Trademark as Offensive (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

U.S. Patent Office Cancels Redskins Trademark as Disparaging, Fueling Opposition to Team Name (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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