But of course, it goes back much further than that. In popular fiction and film, the term "Redskin" was used to denote savagery, paganism, immorality and ungodliness. And in creating the stereotype, the guilt was lessened in light of the genocidal history of Euro-Americans.
The first known English use of the term was in 1813 in a expedition letter to Gen. Benjamin Howard to "route the savages from the Illinois and Mississippi territories. The expedition will be 40 days out, and there is no doubt but we shall have to contend with powerful hordes of red skins, as our frontiers have been lined with them last summer, and have had frequent skirmishes with our regulars and rangers." In the context of that letter, Natives were not viewed as peace loving tribes, but rather as savage hordes of redskins intent on murdering white people.
Obviously the literary imagery of Native Americans as a hostile, savage race - of redskins - would form the later imagery of Hollywood westerns. But the stereotype was formed much earlier in literary and art form.
On November 23, 1492, Christopher Columbus created the first stereotype regarding the supposed savagery of Indian America. He wrote:
"The Indians aboard call this Bohio and say it is very large and has people there with one eye in the forehead, as well as others they call cannibals, of whom they show great fear. When they saw I was taking that course, they were too afraid to talk. They say that the cannibals eat people and are well armed"
However, in creating the stereotype, Columbus had an agenda:
"But as amongst all these islands, those inhabited by the cannibals are the largest and the most populous, I have thought it expedient to send to Spain men and women from the islands which they inhabit, in the hope that they may one day be led to abandon their barbarous custom of eating their fellow-creatures"
In other words, the Natives were to be subjugated and converted to Christianity.
Yet the stereotype wasn't confined to the writings of Columbus. Less than a hundred years later, the stereotype was expressed in art. Theodore De Bry's work in the mid-1500s, was based on the work by John White and Jacques Le Moyne, and on early accounts of the invasion of North America.
De Bry depicted the everyday life of Natives in Florida and the Virginia coast. Yet, leaning on the work of Le Moyne, De Bry also included scenes of cannibalism. However, De Bry went beyond the few cannibal scenes depicted by Le Moyne. He chose to take artistic license and created scenes not found in Le Moyne's work. Indeed, Le Moyne's influence is questionable since Le Moyne's art focused on botanical studies. The other problematic area of De Bry's work is the depiction of Natives. His depiction is a mixture of classical and European physical forms. In other words, his physiognomy does not conform to Native American physiognomy.
The fact that De Bry never visited Native America obviously underlines the stereotypic physical and cultural representations that formed his art. De Bry's work was widely published in Europe. And it is his stereotypes that influenced the European perception of Native America and its inhabitants.
Even if redskin was used by certain Natives to differentiate themselves from Euro-Americans, it was not a widely accepted term. Therefore, redskin is not a homogeneous term that honors Native Americans as Dan Snyder has implied. Indeed, the area where his Washington team resides was once inhabited by Anishinaabe speaking peoples.
Further undermining Snyder's defense of honor is the fact that dictionaries do not define redskin as an honorable term that denotes Native Americans. Rather, dictionaries define it as an offensive and/or derogatory term.
Beyond the debate of where the name began and who first used it, one fact remains - the term redskin is deeply embedded and associated with the derogatory imagery that began in 1492. Heathens, idolaters, savages, vermin - and redskin - are all part of a racist mindset that permeates institutional racism.
To go back to the question that opened this essay - why now? Why not now? Isn't 522 years enough of the derogatory imagery - through word and art - that diminishes the dignity and equality of Native peoples? Because the efforts to change the name is about fundamental civil rights - the right to receive equal treatment and to be free from unfair treatment or discrimination. And, in our case, free from the discrimination that emanates from derogatory stereotypes. Nothing more, nothing less. This is what we seek to change - for ourselves, and for the Seventh Generation.