Why were they called Red Indians?

Christopher Columbus arrived on the American continent in the 15th century. He had traveled west from Europe and hoped to reach India by a new route.

He hardly expected that instead of reaching India, he was going to reach an entirely new continent where he would meet new people. Before his discovery, the Europeans had no idea that a continent existed in the west.

Native Americans or Indians

When Christopher Columbus reached the American continent in 1492, he thought he had reached India. When he saw the natives of the region and met with them, he thought he was meeting with people of India, who were called Indians.

So he decided to call the Native Americans as Indians. He soon realized his mistake and found out that he wasn’t in India but on a new continent. However, the name ‘Indians’ stuck and it has been used to refer to the Native Americans to this day.

Red Indians

When Europeans discovered the American continent in the 15th century, European colonialism was at its peak. European nations often considered other races as inferior to them.

They created names based on the skin color or appearances of other races. For the Native Americans, they used the term ‘Red Indians’. This was a term used to distinguish them from the Indians who lived in the Indian subcontinent.

Origin of the name ‘Red Indians’

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Europeans established settlements on Newfoundland.

At the time, the Native American tribe of Beothuk lived there. The Beothuk had a unique cultural practice. They would paint their bodies with red ochre as a part of spring celebration every year.

They also used red ochre to paint weapons, canoes, houses and various items of everyday usage. Red ochre had strong cultural significance for the tribe and served as tribal identity as well.

When the Europeans came into contact with the Beothuk, they named them ‘Red Indians’ for their use of red ochre. This name eventually became a common term used to refer to all Native American tribes.

Red Indians and Redskins

Red Indians and Redskins are often used interchangeably. Red Indians, as stated above, originated when Europeans saw the Beothuk.

Some researchers believe that this is also the origin of the term ‘Redskins’. However, many Native American chiefs and tribes used the term ‘redskins’ to distinguish themselves from the ‘white skins’ or the Europeans.

During the 19th century, a number of Native American tribal leaders used the term ‘redskin’ in their speeches, letters and other forms of correspondence.


Why not use the term?

Native Americans do not like the terms ‘Red Indians’ or ‘Redskins’. They consider these terms as derogatory and racist. This is especially because they believe these terms were coined by the Europeans during the colonization of the Native American tribes.

Although ‘Redskin’ may have originated with the Native American tribes, it was used as a racist term. This is why the Native Americans do not like to be referred to by these terms.