October 08, 2007

"Indian" vs. "Native American"

Tim Giago:  Stop trying to rename 'Indians'If one visits an Indian reservation (there’s that word Indian again) and speaks to the elders of the tribe, he or she will find that they refer to themselves as “Indian,” without reservation (no pun intended).

I am a firm believer that most historians are wrong when they credit Christopher Columbus for coining the word “Indian” because he thought he was landing his ships in India. In 1492 there was no country known as India. Instead that country was called Hindustan. I think that is closer to the truth that the Spanish padre that sailed with Columbus was so impressed with the innocence of the Natives he observed that he called them Los Ninos in Dios. My spelling may be wrong on the Spanish words, but the description by the padre means something like “Children of God.”

After many years of usage the word Indios emerged and to this day the indigenous people of South and Central America are called Indios. I am told that as the word wound its way North it evolved into “Indian.” Of course some will say that there was a place called the East Indies in 1492 and Columbus may have thought he was headed for that region.
"Some will say that" because it's true.

Giago unknowingly parrots Russell Means's argument--or is it the other way around? Either way, they're both wrong.

First, Columbus's goal was China, not India. When he reached the Caribbean islands, he thought they were the islands south of China: the (East) Indies.

Second, the term "India" has been in use much longer than Giago claims. As Wikipedia explains:The name India may refer to either the region of Greater India (the Indian subcontinent), or to the contemporary Republic of India contained therein. The term is derived from the name of the Sindhu (Indus River) and has been in use in Greek since Plutarchus (1st century AD). The term appears in Old English in the 9th century, and again in Modern English since the 17th century.The Indies were named after India...Columbus thought he reached the Indies...end of story.

Ironically, David Yeagley is closer to the truth on the origin of "Indian" than Giago is. See Yeagley:  Liberals Deceive Indians About Name, Spirituality for details.

Giago continues:[F]inally, when some Indian journalists made it to the newsrooms of large and prestigious mainstream newspapers, they reacted to the word “Indian” as they did when they were in college. The went to their editors and tried to impress upon them that the paper should no longer use the word “Indian,” but should, instead, switch to Native American or Native.

I first ran across this sudden change when I was mailed a copy of my weekly column that had appeared in the Lincoln (Neb.) Star Journal. In every place I had used “Indian” the editorial page editor edited it to read “Native.” Of course I was appalled. If I had intended to use “Native” I would have used it and I resented the fact that the EPE had changed the word in order to fit his presumption of political correctness.

I immediately dropped him a note and asked, “When you come across organizational names like National Congress of American Indians or National Indian Education Association are you going to change them to read National Congress of Native Americans or National Native Education Association.”
Giago is right when he says most Indians call themselves Indians, not Native Americans. I can verify that from my extensive reading and personal experience.

A few people have written me claiming the correct term is "Native American," not "Indian." I corrected them with arguments similar to Giago's.

I think "Native American" came into use partly because it was "politically correct," but also because it was useful. "Indian" alone causes confusion between "American Indian" and "Asian Indian." It also doesn't include Alaskan Natives. "American Indian" is clear but doesn't include Canadian Indians, Latin American Indians, or Alaskan Natives. "Native American" encompasses all the Natives of the Americas whereas "Indian" or "American Indian" doesn't.

Giago is right that "Native American" causes confusion between people who were born in America and people who have inhabited America since the beginning of recorded history. That's why we use capitalization: to distinguish between native Americans and Native Americans. But "Native American" (or simply Native) remains a useful term for the reasons stated above.

Thus endeth today's lesson in etymology.

Pictured below:  A Native American and a native American.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
writerfella prefers 'Native' to 'Native American,' hands down. Tim can call himself 'Indian' if he so wishes but he should only speak for himself, as does writerfella. And then Tim's gonna go real ape shape when he reads writerfella's short story, "The Last Quest," in an upcoming issue of RED SKIN Magfazine, in which writerfella renames his people "NovaMundians" or New World Man. And Rob, you forgot the Indus Valley civilizations on the subcontinent that are as old as Angkor Wat.
Interestingly, Tim walks the line between 'ignorant' and 'ignoramus.' Someone 'igorant' either doesn't know or doesn't want to know. But an 'ignoramus' simply ignores inconvenient truths...
All Best
Russ Bates

Anonymous said...

From a Canadian, "First Nations" is the preferred term, "Native" and "Native American" seem to be preferred to "Indian"; that term is regarded as near-archaic.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
But that's ONLY if you speak Canadian instead of American.
All Best