April 01, 2010

Online definitions of "Indian country"

The Native Appropriations page on Facebook brought this item to my attention:

Indian countryIndian country

(esp. during the U.S. westward migration) any region where one was likely to encounter Indians, esp. hostile Indians.

1690–1700, Americanism

Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2010.

Indian country or Indian Country

1. Indian Territory.
2. Federal reservation lands under Native American tribal jurisdiction.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Comment:  Note that these are two different definitions from two different sources. Not a two-part definition from one source.

Native Appropriations had this to say about Dictionary.com's definition:"Especially hostile Indians"? Seriously? In 2010, the accepted definition of "Indian Country" is a place where one is likely to encounter hostile Indians? The use of past tense is nice too, since we all know Indian Country is a mythical place that only existed during westward expansion. Really?

The second definition is the more-or-less correct one. The first definition should be labeled "outdated" if not "offensive."

Of course, you still hear the phrase "Indian country" used in a negative sense. Often enough that I have a page devoted to the subject. The implicit definition is something like:Any territory where hostile forces are numerous, as in American's stereotypical view of the Old West, where murderous Indians were presumed to predominate.For more on the subject, see Enemy Territory as "Indian Country."

Below:  An old mural depicting an outdated concept of Indian country. Note the Indians skulking behind rocks on the righthand side.

No comments: