California has officially become the first state to ban the use of the word "Redskins" by public schools for team names, mascots or nicknames.
The California Racial Mascots Act was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. The law makes the schools' use of the word, which many consider to be a racial slur, illegal as of January 1, 2017. Schools that currently use the term will be allowed by phase out the use in order to alleviate the burden of associated costs.
AB30 author Assemblyman Luis Alejo said the word comes from a time when bounty hunters were offered rewards for the murder of Native Americans, and it should not be used in connection to schools in the state.
The move has been applauded by Native American activists in the state and nationwide. Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter and National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata, who lead the advocacy group Change the Mascot, released a joint statement praising the decision.
"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," they wrote.
"The most populous state in the country has now taken a stand against the use of this insidious slur in its schools, and Change the Mascot expects more states to follow."
Halbritter and Pata are using the passage of the bill to increase the pressure they continue to place on Washington D.C., encouraging them to change the name of their NFL team from "Redskins."
"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. The NFL should act immediately to press the team to change the name," Halbritter and Pata said in a statement Sunday.
Four California schools currently use the name for their sports teams, located in Merced, Calaveras, Tulare and Madera counties. In response to the passing of the bill, superintendents for two of those schools expressed their disappointment, but acknowledged that they would adhere to the law, writes Lydia O'Connor for The Huffington Post.
According to a FiveThirtyEight study released last year, high schools are the most likely to use Native American names as team names. Across the country, 2,128 high schools, colleges, semi-pro and amateur teams use such names. Of those, 92% are high schools.