California just became the first state in America to ban the word "Redskins" from use as a mascot or team name in public schools. On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Racial Mascots Act, which will enforce the ban as of Jan. 1, 2017.
The act passed in May after a majority vote in the California State Assembly, supporting the eradication of the racial epithet. In Merced, Calaveras, Tulare and Madera counties, officials at four schools that already use the term will have time to phase out materials bearing the mascot or name.
"[California is] standing on the right side of history by bringing an end to the use of the demeaning and damaging R-word slur in the state's schools," the National Congress of American Indians said in a joint statement with Change the Mascot, NBC News reports. "They have set a shining example for other states across the country, and for the next generation, by demonstrating a commitment to the American ideals of inclusion and mutual respect."
The term in question finds its roots in a savage and colonialist history — it was used to refer to the bloodied scalps of Native Americans, skinned and sold by British colonizers, Cherokee and Choctaw writer Baxter Holmes reported in Esquire. Holmes quoted in that exploration of the word's cultural significance a 1775 document by Spencer Phips, British lieutenant governor of the Massachusetts Bay Province, ordering "'His Majesty's [King George II] subjects to Embrace all opportunities of pursuing, captivating, killing and Destroying all and every of the aforesaid Indians.'"
"They paid well — 50 pounds for adult male scalps; 25 for adult female scalps; and 20 for scalps of boys and girls under age 12," Holmes noted.
Advocates fighting to end the official use of the word are hailing California's law as an example for other states and organizations. Native Americans involved in such policy advocacy hope the California Racial Mascots Act will inform the NFL's decision as to whether or not the Washington football team should retain its name.
"This landmark legislation eliminating the R-word in California schools clearly demonstrates that this issue is not going away, and that opposition to the Washington team on this issue is only intensifying," Ray Halbritter and Jackie Pata, from the Oneida and Tlinga Raven tribes respectively and who spearhead Change the Mascot, said in a statement on Sunday. "The NFL should act immediately to press the team to change the name."