Native American name controversy
The Native American name controversy is an ongoing discussion about the changing terminology used by indigenous peoples of the Americas to describe themselves, as well as how they prefer to be referred to by others. Preferred terms vary primarily by region and age. As Indigenous people and communities are diverse, there is no one consensus on naming, aside from the fact that most people prefer to be referred to by their specific Nation or tribe.
When discussing broader subsets of peoples, naming may be based on shared language, region, or historical relationship, such as "Algonquin-speaking peoples", "Pueblo-dwelling peoples", "Plains Indians" or "LDN peoples" (Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples).
Many English exonyms have been used to refer to the indigenous peoples of what is now known as the Americas, who were resident when European colonists arrived in the 15th and 16th centuries. Some of these names were based on French, Spanish, or other European language terminology used by earlier explorers and colonists; some resulted from the colonists' attempt to translate endonyms from the native language into their own; and some were pejorative terms arising out of prejudice and fear, during periods of conflict between the cultures involved.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, indigenous peoples in the Americas have been more vocal about the ways they wish to be referred to, pressing for the elimination of terms widely considered to be obsolete, inaccurate, or racist. During the latter half of the 20th century and the rise of the Indian rights movement, the United States government responded by proposing the use of the term "Native American," to recognize the primacy of indigenous peoples' tenure in the nation. The term has met with only partial acceptance. Other naming conventions have been proposed and used, but none are accepted by all indigenous groups. Typically, each name has a particular audience and political or cultural connotation, and regional usage varies.
- 1 Salient issues affecting the debate
- 2 United States
- 3 Canada
- 4 Latin America
- 5 International
- 6 Controversial terminology
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Salient issues affecting the debate
- Historical, traditional use of a term (example: "Indian" is a name which many elders have known all their lives, and their families may continue to use the familiar term)
- Rejection of a word perceived as quaint or pejorative (example: "Eskimo")
- Rejection of names used by outsiders and not the individual Tribe or Indian people at large (example: "Nez Perce" is a French phrase; "Native American" was coined by the US government)
- Perception that a name is inherently racist, or has over time acquired racist overtones (example: "Redskin")
- Rejection of names assigned by an occupying and oppressive colonial government or expedition
- Belief that a name is too inclusive or not inclusive enough of all indigenous people, so does not effectively represent the intended group; for instance, "Aboriginal", still used in Canada, has also become associated with Australian Aborigines given its wide use on that continent; the UN uses "Indigenous" to refer to all tribal peoples around the world (as their representatives chose to be identified); "Native American" in general use has not applied to indigenous peoples within Canada or Mexico
- Reluctance of members of individual Indian Nations to be referred to by a collective, racial name, rather than simply their traditional name for themselves
- Belief that a universal/collective name suggests, inaccurately, that the indigenous cultures referred to are homogeneous, monolithic bodies, rather than the widely varied separate nations that they actually are
- Understanding that "Indians" cannot be used to describe global indigenous cultures when it already is used for people from India
"Indian" and "American Indian" (since 1492)
Europeans at the time of Christopher Columbus's voyage often referred to all of South and East Asia as "India" or "the Indias/Indies", sometimes dividing the area into "Greater India", "Middle India", and "Lesser India". The oldest surviving terrestrial globe, by Martin Behaim in 1492 (before Columbus' voyage), labels the entire Asian subcontinent region as "India".
Columbus carried a passport in Latin from the Spanish monarchs that dispatched him ad partes Indie ("toward the regions of India") on their behalf. When he landed in the Antilles, Columbus referred to the resident peoples he encountered there as "Indians" in the mistaken belief that he had reached the Indian Ocean. Although Columbus' mistake was soon recognized, the name stuck; for centuries the native people of the Americas were collectively called "Indians". This misnomer was perpetuated in place naming; the islands of the Caribbean were named, and are still known as, the West Indies.
In the late 20th century, some American public figures suggested that the origin of the term was not from a confusion with India, but from the Spanish expression En Dios, meaning "in God", or a similar one in Italian. Proponents of this idea include the American Indian activist Russell Means; the author Peter Matthiessen, author of In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, a view of American Indian history through the life and trial of Lakota activist Leonard Peltier; and the comedian George Carlin.
In his book The Wind Is My Mother, the Muskogee writer Bear Heart (Nokus Feke Ematha Tustanaki) wrote: "When Columbus found the natives here, they were gentle people who accepted him, so Columbus wrote in his journal, 'These are people of God' ("una gente in Dios"). Later the 's' was dropped and Indio became Indian." However, as the writer David Wilton noted in his book Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends, this phrase does not appear in any of Columbus' writing. Wilton also says that since Greek and Roman times, more than a millennium before the voyages of Columbus, many European languages used variations of the term "Indian" to describe the peoples of the Indian subcontinent.
As European colonists began to move into the Americas in the 17th and 18th centuries, and have more sustained contact with the resident peoples, it became clear that the residents were not a homogeneous group sharing a unified culture and government, but discrete societies with their own distinct languages and social systems. Early historical accounts show that some colonists attempted to learn and record the autonyms of these individual groups, but the use of the general term "Indian" persisted.
In 1968, the American Indian Movement was founded. In 1977, a delegation from the International Indian Treaty Council, an arm of AIM, elected to collectively identify as "American Indian", at the United Nations Conference on Indians in the Americas at Geneva, Switzerland. Some activists and public figures of indigenous descent, such as Russell Means, say that they prefer "American Indian" to the more recently adopted "Native American".
Objections (since the 1970s)
Objections to the usage of "Indian" and "American Indian" include the fact that "Indian" arose from a historical error, and thus does not accurately reflect the derivation of the people to whom it refers; and some feel that the term has absorbed negative and demeaning connotations through its historical usage that render it objectionable in context. Additionally, "American Indian" is often understood to mean only the peoples of the mainland body of the United States, which excludes other Native Americans in the United States who are considered indigenous peoples of the Americas; including the Haida, Tlingit, Athabascan, Inuit, Yup'ik (Yuits/Alutiiq/Cup'ik), Iñupiat, Aleut (i.e., the groups whose traditional languages are Eskimo–Aleut languages), Marshallese, and Samoan; who are referred to collectively as either Alaskan Natives, First Nations, Native Hawaiians or Siberians.
Supporters of the terms "Indian" and "American Indian" argue that they have been in use for such a long period of time that many people have become accustomed to them and no longer consider them exonyms. Both terms are still widely used today. "American Indian" appears often in treaties between the United States and the indigenous peoples with whom they have been negotiating since the colonial period, and many federal, state and local laws also use it.
"Native American" (since the 1960s)
The Oxford English Dictionary cites usage of the uncapitalized term native American in several publications reaching as far back as 1737, but it is unclear whether these texts refer to indigenous peoples or simply to persons born on American soil. During the 1850s, a group of Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americans used the capitalized term Native Americans to differentiate themselves from recent Irish and German immigrants, both of whom were predominately Catholic. The group later formed the "Know-Nothings," a 19th-century political party that supported an anti-immigrant policy in the United States. The Know-Nothings also called themselves the "Native American Party" and were referred to in the press with the capitalized term. They hired the writer and orator George Copway (a member of the Ontario Ojibwa tribe) for some of their publications, implying that they intended their usage of "Native American" to include indigenous peoples.[original research?]
In 1918, leaders of the Peyote Religion in Oklahoma incorporated as the Native American Church of Oklahoma. In 1956, Aldous Huxley wrote a letter in which he thanks his correspondent for "your most interesting letter about the Native American churchmen".
The use of Native American or native American to refer to peoples indigenous to the Americas came into widespread, common use during the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s. This term was considered to more accurately represent historical fact (i.e., "Native" cultures predated European colonization), while activists also believed it was free of negative historical connotations that had come to be associated with previous terms. Fundamentally, the term native means "belonging to a particular place by birth", thus the term "Native American" can conceivably mean any individual who was born in America. Because the term Native American does not adequately convey the idea of a predating population, the terms Original American or First American may be more appropriate.
Between 1982 and 1993, most American manuals of style came to agree that "color terms" referring to ethnic groups should be capitalized as proper names, as well as Native American. Critics[who?] argue that the typographical detail of capitalizing native to differentiate between the term's use for indigenous peoples and other meanings is easily overlooked in written grammar, and ineffective in speech.
Other objections to Native American—whether capitalized or not—include a concern that it is often understood to exclude American groups outside the continental US (e.g., Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico), and indigenous groups in South America, Mexico and Canada. The word American is sometimes questioned because the peoples referred to resided in the Americas before they were so named.
As of 1995, according to the US Census Bureau, 50% of people who identified as indigenous preferred the term American Indian, 37% preferred Native American, and the remainder preferred other terms or had no preference.
The word "indigenous" comes from the Latin indigena, meaning "native," formed from indu "in" and gen- "beget." It is unrelated to the formation of "Indian."
According to The American Heritage Dictionary, "indigenous specifies that something or someone is native rather than coming or being brought in from elsewhere: an indigenous crop; the Ainu, a people indigenous to the northernmost islands of Japan."
The United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development used the term "indigenous peoples" for the first time in its official political declaration in 2002. Prior to this date, the term was considered to be "still under debate" for usage in official UN documents.
Arguments against the use of the term "Indigenous Peoples" are that it does not refer specifically to peoples affected by European colonization during the 17th and 18th centuries; that it lumps all indigenous world groups into a single "other"; and that it fails to recognize migratory groups who do not technically meet the definition of "indigenous." The term is also less favored among some Canadian Indians; the French equivalent indigène has historically been used in a derogatory sense toward them.
"Aboriginal" and "Aborigine"
The English adjective "aboriginal" and the noun "aborigine" come from a Latin phrase meaning "from the origin;" the ancient Romans used it to refer to the native peoples of central Italy who were their contemporaries. Until about 1910, these terms were used in English to refer to various indigenous peoples. Today throughout most of the English-speaking world, it is most commonly understood to refer to the Indigenous Australians, with the notable exception of Canada, where the term refers to Aboriginal Canadians (see below).
In Alaska, the term "Alaska Native" predominates, because of its legal use in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). It includes the Aleut, Inuit and Yupik peoples, and all other indigenous Alaskan peoples.
The term Eskimo was once common, but is now sometimes perceived as derogatory, especially in Canada. In Alaska, however, the term Eskimo is commonly used, because it includes both Yupik and Inupiat, while Inuit is not accepted as a collective term or even specifically used for Inupiat (who technically are Inuit). No universal term other than Eskimo, inclusive of all Inuit and Yupik people, exists for the Inuit and Yupik peoples.
The primary reason that Eskimo is considered derogatory is the questionable but widespread perception that in Algonkian languages it means "eaters of raw meat." One Cree speaker suggested the original word that became corrupted to Eskimo might indeed have been askamiciw (which means "he eats it raw"), and the Inuit are referred to in some Cree texts as askipiw (which means "eats something raw"). The majority of academic linguists do not agree. Nevertheless, it is generally held in Canada and Greenland that the term Eskimo is pejorative.
"Inuit" (since 1977)
The Inuit Circumpolar Conference meeting in Barrow, Alaska officially adopted "Inuit" as a designation for all Eskimos, regardless of their local usages, in 1977. However, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, as it is known today, uses both "Inuit" and "Eskimo" in its official documents. Inuit is a plural noun; the singular is Inuk.
"Amerind" or "Amerindian"
The term "Amerind"/"Amerindian" is a portmanteau of "American Indian," though it can also be parsed as a blend of "American" and "Indigenous." It was coined in 1902 by the American Anthropological Association. While it is found in some books from the 1970s, it is seen as dated. It is more commonly used in Latin America.
"Aboriginal peoples" (since 1900)
"First Nations" (since the 1980s)
"First Nations" came into common usage in the 1980s to replace the term "Indian band". Elder Sol Sanderson says that he coined the term in the early 1980s. Others state that the term came into common usage in the 1970s to avoid using the word “Indian,” which some people considered offensive. Apparently, no legal definition of the term exists. Some Aboriginal peoples in Canada have also adopted the term “First Nation” to replace the word “band” in the name of their community.
"First Nations" (most often used in the plural) has come into general use for the Indigenous peoples of North America located in what is now Canada, and their descendants, excluding the Inuit and Métis, who have distinct identities. The singular commonly used is "First Nations person" (when gender-specific, "First Nations man" or "First Nations woman").
Some tribal governments of Canada also use the term "First Nations" to refer to any indigenous, tribal or nomadic society, using the term for such diverse groups as the Romani, Saami, Māori, Hmong, and the Australian Aborigines.
Although the Canadian government has formally adopted use of the term "First Nations" and "Aboriginal peoples," the federal ministerial portfolio in charge of their affairs is named the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and under the Federal Identity Program is referred to as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), and the historical term "Indian Reserve" is still a legal land description. Some First Nations peoples also use "Indian Band" in their official names.
"First Peoples" is a broad term that includes First Nations, Inuit, Inuvialuit, and Métis (equivalent to "Aboriginal" or "indigenous" peoples)—and could be extended outside the Canadian context to comprise all descendents of pre-Columbian ethnic groups in the Americas, including (self-identified) ethnic groups whose ancestry is only partially of pre-Columbian groups (e.g., Mestizo). Due to its similarity with the term "First Nations," the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
"Canadian Indians" (1700s–late 20th century)
The Canadian Indian Act, in defining the rights of people of recognized First Nations, refers to them as "Indians". The responsible federal government department was the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, now the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, headed by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Act. The act officially recognizes people commonly known as "Status Indians," although "Registered Indian" is the official term for those on the Indian Register. Lands set aside for the use of First Nations are known as Indian reserves.
"Native" or "Native Canadian" is an ambiguous term, but people frequently use it in conversation or informal writing. A great majority use this term for describing aboriginal peoples, including aboriginal people themselves.
Canadian French nomenclature
In Canadian French, the terms are première(s) nation(s) for "First Nations" and autochtone for "Aboriginal" (used both as a noun and adjective).
The term indien or indienne is used in the legislation, although the preferred term is now amérindien. The term indigène is not used as it is seen as having negative connotations because of its similarity to the French equivalent of indigent ("poor"). It has also acquired further negative associations in French, due to the indigénat code enforced in French colonial Africa, 1887–1947. The old French term sauvage ("wild") is no longer used either, as it is considered racist.
"Inuit" (since 1977)
As a result of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference meeting in Barrow, Alaska, in 1977, the Canadian government usage has replaced the (locally) defunct term Eskimo with Inuit (Inuk in singular). The preferred term in Canada's Central Arctic is Inuinnaq, and in the eastern Canadian Arctic Inuit. The language is often called Inuktitut, though other local designations are also used.
The Algonquin autonym Anishinaabe, or Anishinabe, is used as a cross-tribal term in Algonquian-majority areas, such as Anishnabe Health, Anishnabe Education, and Training Circle. The term is also used among historically Anishinaabe peoples in the Upper Midwest region of the United States.
Chinook Jargon nomenclature
The Chinook Jargon, the old trade language of the Pacific Northwest, uses siwash (an adaptation of the French sauvage) for "Indian," "Native American," or "First Nations," either as adjective or noun. While normally meaning a male native, it is used in certain combinations, such as siwash cosho ("a seal," literally "Indian pig" or "Indian pork").
Many native communities perceive the terms sauvage and siwash negatively, but others use it freely. They consider use by non-natives to be derogatory. In the creolized form of Chinook Jargon spoken at the Grand Ronde Agency in Oregon, a distinction is made between siwash and sawash. The accent in the latter is on the second syllable, resembling the French original, and is used in Grand Ronde Jargon meaning "anything native or Indian"; by contrast, they consider siwash to be defamatory.
The Chinook Jargon term for a native woman is klootchman, an originally Nootka word adopted in regional English to mean a native woman, or (as in the Jargon), all women and also anything female. It originated as a compound of Nootka łūts 'female' with the English suffix -man. Hyas klootchman tyee means "queen", klootchman cosho, "sow"; and klootchman tenas or tenas klootchman means "girl" or "little girl". Generally klootchman in regional English simply means a native woman and has not acquired the derisive sense of siwash or squaw. The short form klootch—encountered only in English-Chinook hybrid phrasings—is always derisive, especially in forms such as blue-eyed klootch.
In Mexico, Brazil, and several other countries, these names are normally applied only to the ethnic groups that have maintained their identity and, to a some extent, their original way of life. In those countries there is also a large segment of the population with mixed native and European ancestry, who are largely integrated in mainstream society, and no longer identify themselves with their ancestral native groups. In some Spanish speaking countries, there are also Ladinos who do not have significant European ancestry, but have adopted the culture of the White and Mestizo population.
These people were originally called mestizos in Mexico and caboclos in Brazil; however, those terms have largely fallen into disuse as that segment has come to predominate among the population.[further explanation needed]
In South America, the preferred expression for the population is Indigenous Peoples (pueblos indígenas and "pueblos originarios" in Spanish and povos indígenas in Portuguese). In Spanish Latin America, Indians (indios) is no longer used, but rather "originarios." To refer to indigenous people from a rural area, you would say "originario campesino.". In Brazil the most usual expression is by far "índio".
During the late 20th century the term "Indigenous peoples" evolved into a political term that refers to ethnic groups with historical ties to groups that existed in a territory prior to colonization or formation of a nation state. In the Americas, the term "Indigenous peoples of the Americas" was adopted, and the term is tailored to specific geographic or political regions, such as "Indigenous peoples of Panama." "'Indigenous peoples' ... is a term that internationalizes the experiences, the issues and the struggles of some of the world's colonized peoples," writes Maori educator Linda Tuhiwai Smith. "The final 's' in 'indigenous peoples' ... [is] a way of recognizing that there are real differences between different indigenous peoples."
Some Europeans have called Native Americans "redskins" or, more commonly, "Red Indians." This is partially based on the color metaphors for race which colonists and settlers historically used in North America and Europe, and also to distinguish Native Americans from the Indian people of India. Such terms are considered pejorative, especially if used by non-Natives. It is similar to the fictional, and also pejorative, expressions "pale face" or "pale skin", which some fictional Native characters call white people in Hollywood movies and other Western fiction written by non-Natives. Different individuals may hold differing opinions of the term's appropriateness; there is a National Football League team named the Washington Redskins, and the Redskins serve as the mascot of some schools, including Red Mesa High School on the Navajo Reservation in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona. However, Native Americans have been protesting the use of these names since the 1970's.
The term "Red Indians" was also more specifically used by Europeans to refer to the Beothuk, a people living on Newfoundland, who used red ochre in spring to paint not only their bodies, but also their houses, canoes, weapons, household appliances and musical instruments.
The English-speaking world and Europeans, in loan-translations, used "redskin" and "red Indian" throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to refer to indigenous Americans. For example, the French translation peaux-rouges was used by Arthur Rimbaud in Le Bateau ivre and by Jean Raspail in several of his travelogues; and Kızılderili ("red skin", with a standard suffix denoting nationality) remains the most commonly used term in Turkish.
Anthropologists once used savage as a blanket term to refer to indigenous peoples worldwide (for example, Bronisław Malinowski titled his 1929 study The Sexual Life of Savages). At the beginning of the nineteenth century, representatives of the relatively new United States government often used the term in official records when referring to Indian nations (e.g., Justice Baldwin's concurring opinion in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia). This was related to their association of non-Christian people as savages.
European Christians once broadly used the word "heathens" to refer to Native Americans, a pejorative term related to their perceived lack of religious beliefs (assumed as they were not Christian).
Today, "Injun" is an intentional mispronunciation of "Indian", generally considered offensive, used to mock or impersonate Native Americans' or early settlers' supposed heavily accented English (e.g., "Honest Injun", "Injun time"). The word and related terms have been defined as derogatory by indigenous people and are not widely used.
Most Native Americans consider the word "squaw" highly offensive, derogatory, misogynist and racist. Although there is some controversy on the topic, it is often grouped with other words that carry an implication of exotic inferiority based on race, such as "negress" or "Jewess". There has been a movement to remove the name "squaw" from geographic place names across the United States. In some situations, the term "Indian princess" is also considered demeaning to Native American women as the concept of a "princess" is not a part of Native culture; dressing up with fake Native regalia as in a Halloween "Indian Princess" costume is considered particularly offensive. However, this should not be confused with the more recent practice of tribes, powwow organizations, colleges, and other indigenous groups choosing young women with leadership and talent to represent their groups as tribal "princesses."
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SOL SANDERSON: ...if you’ve ever wondered where that term First Nations came from, I coined that in the early 80s when we were disputing in our forum about our positions on the agenda that we wanted to advance respecting the constitution. ...
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- Includes sources (including quotes: Russel Means at "I am an American Indian, Not a Native American!" and Christina Berry at "What's in a Name? Indians and Political Correctness", also referenced on this page).
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- Recommended start is "Coast Salish Villages of Puget Sound".
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