April 28, 2008

"American Indian" vs. "Native American"

In News Tribune Country, we pay attention to languageThe page proof used the term Indian Country, which recalled the thoughtful e-mail that began that previous correspondence.

“I find it astonishing that you would allow your editors, reporters and writers to use the seriously out-dated term ‘American Indian’ versus ‘Native American,’” he said, referring to a story in mid-April about Nisqually Tribe members teaching tribal songs and dances to public school students.

“We don’t see headlines saying Barack Obama attended a ‘colored’ or ‘Negro’ church,” he continued. “American Indian was considered old and even insulting as far back as the ’80s. A change would help the News Tribune seem more modern and in touch.”

The writer said he has a friend who’s a member of a Northwest tribe. He said that although she wasn’t offended at the term American Indian she thought most members of her tribe would be.
Why the "thoughtful e-mail" was dead wrong:We use the term American Indian for several reasons. One, it’s what the federal government uses (the Bureau of Indian Affairs, for example) and it’s the legal term used in most treaties and contracts.

Two, it’s what The Associated Press Stylebook (the Bible for language usage by most of the news media) uses. The stylebook also allows use of the term Native American when used by a speaker or in the name of an organization. Most all news copy comes to us using American Indian.

There’s also common usage. The Smithsonian named its relatively new museum the National Museum of the American Indian. Russell Means, the famous Indian activist, has been quoted as saying he prefers the term Indian and abhors the term Native American.

Means is not alone. A Census Bureau survey (1995) showed more Indians preferred the term Indian (50 percent) to Native American (37 percent). And journalist Charles C. Mann noted in the appendix to his 2005 best-seller, “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus,” that virtually all the native people he met in researching the book referred to themselves as Indians.
Comment:  Forget the NMAI. We probably could find 100,000 tribal, governmental, and nonprofit organizations named for Indians. And forget Charles Mann. Anyone who knows Indians knows they call themselves Indians.

Really, how ignorant do you have to be not to have heard of the American Indian Movement, the American Indian College Fund, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Gaming Association, or the Indian Country Today newspaper? Indian, Indian, Indian, Indian, Indian.

And what about the dozens of tribes whose name includes the word "Indian"? For instance:

Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Indians
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
Ak Chin Indian Community
Alturas Indian Rancheria
Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians
Augustine Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians
Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians
Bay Mills Indian Community
Berry Creek Rancheria of Maidu Indians
Big Sandy Rancheria of Mono Indians
Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians
Bridgeport Paiute Indian Colony
Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians
Cabazon Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians
Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians
Caddo Indian Tribe
Cahuilla Band of Mission Indians
Cahto Indian Tribe of the Laytonville Rancheria
Campo Band of Diegueno Mission Indians
Capitan Grande Band of Diegueno Mission Indians
Barona Band of Mission Indians
Catawba Indian Nation
Chemehuevi Indian Tribe
Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria
Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians
Chippewa-Cree Indians of the Rocky Boy's Reservation
Cloverdale Rancheria of Pomo Indians
Cold Springs Rancheria of Mono Indians
Colorado River Indian Tribes
Cortina Indian Rancheria of Wintun Indians
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians
Cowlitz Indian Tribe
Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians

And that's only the A-C portion of the alphabet.

Did anyone tell these Indians that they've erroneously called themselves "Indians"? Is it just a coincidence that not a single Indian tribe has the term "Native American" in its name? No.

In short, it would be more correct to call the "thoughtful" e-mail thoughtless. The e-mailer didn't have a clue what's acceptable or unacceptable in Indian country (not "Native American country").

For more on the subject, see "Indian" vs. "Native American."


dmarks said...

"“We don’t see headlines saying Barack Obama attended a ‘colored’ or ‘Negro’ church,” he continued"

Unfortunately the inane "colored" term has been retooled and is still around as "people of color"

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
writerfella agrees, though distantly and even distaffly. One, 'Indian' though it may be contained in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, is a misnomer and should be corrected. Natives here have NOTHING to do with India and only peripherally with the West Indies. That was Columbus' error and it should be rectified. Two, Native people predate 'America' and even Amerigo Vespucci, so the term 'Native American' is out of place in time. Three, 'Amerind' was the coinage of scientists and obviously is an abbreviation of 'American Indian.' In writerfella's science fiction stories, he invented the term, 'NovaMundian,' literally 'New World Man.' All of you may hate the term 'EuroMan,' but that's who you are. So, why should we embrace terminologies that DO NOT DESCRIBE WHO WE REALLY ARE? Just asking...
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

I don't use "EuroMan" because I don't like made-up words with capital letters in the middle. I use "Euro-American" because it's more accurate, accepted, and grammatically correct. It reflects the continuity of culture from Europe to America and it doesn't exclude women.

"NovaMundian" is no more valid than any of the choices you dismiss. The Western Hemisphere wasn't a "new world" to its inhabitants, so why should they embrace the "new world" concept? And why should they embrace a Latinate word that comes from the language of their conquerors?

No, you can be sure your coinage won't catch on. Instead, it'll die with you in 10 or 20 years. "Indian" will be the accepted term long after "NovaMundian" is gone and forgotten.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
The actual discoverers of both the North and South 'New World' continents in fact had found new worlds, and so the term 'NovaMundians' is correct, as the history of the world is referenced and known to EuroMen latecomers. 'Euro-Americans' only glorifies EuroMen, period, in fact TWICE. Wow, talk about an ego...
All Best
Russ Bates

dmarks said...

Rob said: "I don't use "EuroMan" because I don't like made-up words with capital letters in the middle."

While I am not so politically correct to object to "policeman" and "firemen", etc (it is OK to have them as legacy words), it seems "quaint" in this day to coin new terms that refer to just "man".

I've spent a couple of weeks in Europe, and the rest of my life in the Americas. I don't take as my ethnic identity a place I was only at for some tiny fraction of my life.

Writerfella said: " is a misnomer and should be corrected. Natives here have NOTHING to do with India and only peripherally with the West Indies."

I know. On occasion, I have to distinguish in conversation between "Native American Indians" and "India Indians". However, Rob is right about Indians preferring "Indian". I'd stop using it once Indians turn against it.

"NovaMundian" sounds like something from1 1965 science-fiction novel.

Writerfella said "The actual discoverers of both the North and South 'New World' continents in fact had found new worlds"

They were just continents. And even if you accept the "world" word, it is just one world, not worlds. There was a continuity and gradation of Native cultures from the Arctic down to Tierra del Fuego.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
In fact, 'NovaMundian' comes from a 1992 science fiction screenplay by writerfella and Thomas McKelvey Cleaver, titled ANASAZI. It still is in rotation at The Kennedy-Marshall Company, and writerfella's option check for the first quarter of 2008 just arrived, thank you. The word 'NovaMundian' shortly will be unveiled to readers when 'The Last Quest" by writerfella is published later this year in RED SKIN Magazine.
In 1979, when writerfella spent six weeks with an Eastern Michigan University summer seminar group studying British SF in England, he discovered an interesting fact: the Indians of India are called 'the Black Indians,' and the aboriginals of the Americas are called 'the Red Indians.' Talk about a meaningful differentiation, and by EuroMan, at that!
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

Humans discovered Europe, Asia, and Australia before they discovered North and South America. Your term doesn't distinguish between the discoverers of any of these new "worlds" (i.e., continents).

Whether you realize it or not, you've endorsed the idea that the Western Hemisphere is "new" and the Eastern Hemisphere is "old." As I told you, most Indians don't and won't accept this notion.

Since a continent isn't a world, your term also doesn't distinguish between Indians and space explorers who travel to and settle on new worlds. So it's a poor choice all around.

Moreover, your term is the only one that glorifies anyone. Apparently you're ashamed of the "Indians" label and think you need something more lofty. Too bad no one agrees with you.

In contrast, "Euro-Americans" doesn't glorify anyone. As an objective and neutral term, it merely identifies a group of people--namely, Europeans who came to America and their descendants. This group includes me and DMarks, presumably.

Of course, this discussion is only academic. It's fun to enlighten you about how people would receive your neologisms if they ever appeared. In reality, there isn't the slightest chance anyone will adopt "NovaMundians" before you die.

So your screenplay has been bouncing around since 1992? And you still think it has a chance to be produced? Wow, you're more of a dreamer than I thought.

What's the record for the longest gap between the time a script was first optioned and the time it was produced? If Anasazi hasn't set a record for futility, it must be getting close. Congratulations on your "achievement."

P.S. The magazine is named Redskin, not Red Skin, as I've told you repeatedly. See Educating Russ About Redskin for proof.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Rob Schmidt, not buying your diatribe/screed.

Outmoded terminology may be historically logged in official gov't records, but that does not make it right. Do you really think the 1996-2006 Congress or that that the 2001-2008 Executive cared a whit about correcting outdated terminology? That they had any concern at all?

Jeez, even the foremost black organization, NAACP, has that name simply because they had to refer to themselves in terminology that was socio/culturally acceptable in the day and age of their founding. You can rest assured they realized they would gain nothing by inflaming the ire of racist xenophopic white males. They were smart enough to know that being confrontational would only get them the business end of the police baton, the firehoses, and the attack dogs.

Unfortunately, for a brave few in Mississippi/Alabama, but luckily for the rest of America, that started changing in the late 50's/60's.

In the meantime, a lot of outdated terms still remain. It'll change, slowly, but surely, it will change. As all you old, racist bazturds slowly but surely die out, we younger, more accepting Americans will change things. Of course, whatever offspring you've managed to indoctrinate with your nonsense will remain obstructionist, but they too will eventually die out.

Put that in your sock and smell it!!

Richard Mahoney said...

Rob wrote: "Apparently you're ashamed of the "Indians" label and think you need something more lofty. Too bad no one agrees with you."

Not so, Rob: for one, I agree with Writerfella, at least in part.

To designate as Indians the descendants of those who inhabited, when Columbus arrived, what most English speakers now call the Americas is a absurd misnomer. They are not Indians in any shape or form. Only those who come from or live in India should be called Indians. The most appropriate designator, In English, for the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Americas is Native Americans.

NB to all who are so inclined, interesting, intelligent and, especially, witty arguments are more likely to win over our audience if we can resist the temptation to leaven them with ad hominem attacks on those with whom we disagree.

Rob said...

I guess you couldn't touch the evidence I posted, Oscar, so you didn't even try.

For my full response, see "Indian" Term Dying Out?

Rob said...

You didn't address my arguments either, Richard. Why don't you try doing that before you worry about ad hominem attacks?

As I've said many times, most Indians prefer the term "Indian." I'm waiting to hear why any individual's opinion should outweigh their opinion.

We could criticize "Native American" the same way you criticized "Indian." Are Indians really native if they came from Asia? Aren't Euro-Americans whose ancestors have lived here 400 years also native? Why should Indians use "American" when it comes from an Italian explorer's name? Etc.

"Indian" refers to someone from the Indies, not India. The Indians Columbus met lived in the West Indies. That and historical precedent are good enough reasons to use the term.