By Adrian Jawort
“…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?
Ives Goddard is a senior linguist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of History. Goddard wrote the book, I am a Redskin: The Adoption of a Native American Expression (1769-1826) and notes the earliest uses of “red skin” were in recorded statements from Natives by the French who generally traded amicably with them. The French were careful to denote the “red” distinction was made by Natives themselves. By the time of the Phips Proclamation, according to Goddard, “red” to describe Natives was used “by both French and English…. Although Europeans sometimes used such expressions among themselves, however, they remained aware of the fact that this was originally and particularly a Native American usage.”
Also citing Goddard in the recent article, “Before the Redskins Were the Redskins: The Use of Native American Team Names in the Formative Era of American Sports, 1857-1944,” Professor of Law and historian J. Gordon Hylton writes about the term, “…throughout the nineteenth century, the term was essentially neutral when used by whites, reflecting neither a particularly positive or particularly negative connotation.”
Even Sitting Bull once remarked, “I am a red man. If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have made me so in the first place.”
Regardless, over the years, the scalp-equals-redskin theory has gained traction as well-meaning people took Harjo’s word on the matter as fact—including ICTMN.
1) "Red"--as in "the Indian had red skin"--isn't the same as "redskin." Most Indians don't consider "red" offensive, although it's fallen somewhat out of favor because it's inaccurate. Indians don't have red skin.
2) If "redskin" was originally neutral, it's become derogatory over the years. Its origin doesn't have anything to do with its evolution into an insult.
For more on Redskins as a sports team name, see Campaign Against Nepean Redskins and Kansas City Star Won't Use Redskins. For more on the word's origin, see The Origin of "Redskin."