Monday, April 24, 2006


Today, We Have the Naming of Parts

Everytime I hear the words "Native American" I clench my teeth. Anyone who was born here or will be born here is a Native American. The pop p.c., though, is to call American Indians "Native Americans." One day last summer, I wore a t-shirt that had a picture of Apache warriors, all armed, standing out in desert brush; over the picture it said "Homeland Security." One of the warriors was the man we mostly call Geronimo. A woman came up and told me she liked my shirt. Then she said she'd seen one with "a Native American gentleman who was kneeling and holding a rifle. I think he was Apache, maybe." My companion had on that t-shirt—the logo was "My Heroes Have Always Killed Cowboys." I asked her if that was the one and she said yes.

I wondered if that was the first time Goyathlay—Geronimo—had ever been called a "Native American gentleman."

Date: Mon, 24 Apr 2006 00:37:54 +0000
From: andre cramblit

Native American Indian Studies -
A Note on Names ©

by Peter d'Errico, Legal Studies Department, University of Massachusetts

Native American Indian Studies is a mouthful of a phrase. I chose it
because I want people to think about names. I want to provoke a critical
awareness of history and culture. In the study of Indigenous Peoples, I
don't want the question of names to slide by, to be taken-for-granted. 1

Most of us know the story about how the Peoples of the "new world" came
to be called "American Indians." Columbus (his name gives away his
secret: Cristobal Colon; the Christian colonizer) thought he was going
to India and, being a vain and self-important man, insisted he had found
it. So he named the people he met "Indians." The "American" part would
come later, after everyone but Columbus had admitted his error, and the
land had been named for another Italian navigator, Amerigo Vespucci.

"American Indians" derives from the colonizers' world-view and is
therefore not the real name of anyone. It is a name given to people by
outsiders, not by themselves. Why should we use any name given to a
people by someone other than themselves? 2

On the other hand, why shouldn't we use it? Almost everybody in the
world knows the name and to whom it refers. It is commonly used by many
Indigenous Peoples in the United States, even today. It is the legal
definition of these Peoples in United States law.

Some people get upset about "American Indian" because of its association
with Columbus. There is an equally serious dilemma with the use of
"Native American," which came into vogue as part of a concern for
"political correctness." The latter was an effort to acknowledge ethnic
diversity in the United States while insisting on an over-arching
American unity. Groups became identified as hyphen-American. Thus,
African-American, Irish-American, Italian-American, and so on. For the
original inhabitants of the land, the "correct" term became

The word "native" has a generic meaning, referring to anyone or anything
that is at home in its place of origin. "Native" also has a pejorative
meaning in English colonization, as in "The natives are restless
tonight." From an English perspective (and, after all, we are talking
about English words), "native" carries the connotation of "primitive,"
which itself has both a generic definition, meaning "first" or
"primary," and a pejorative use, meaning "backward" or "ignorant." And,
as we have seen, "American" derives from that other Italian. So "Native
American" does not avoid the problem of naming from an outsider's

Concern for political correctness focuses more on appearances than
reality. As John Trudell observed at the time, "They change our name and
treat us the same." Basic to the treatment is an insistence that the
original inhabitants of the land are not permitted to name themselves.
As an added twist, it seems that the only full, un-hyphenated Americans
are those who make no claim of origin beyond the shores of this land.
Many of these folk assert that they are in fact the real "native"

We have to discard both "American Indian" and "Native American" if we
want to be faithful to reality and true to the principle that a People's
name ought to come from themselves. The consequence of this is that the
original inhabitants of this land are to be called by whatever names
they give themselves. There are no American Indians or Native Americans.
There are many different peoples, hundreds in fact, bearing such names
as Wampanoag, Cherokee, Seminole, Navajo, Hopi, and so on and on through
the field of names. These are the "real" names of the people.

But the conundrum of names doesn't end there. Some of the traditional or
"real" names are not actually derived from the people themselves, but
from their neighbors or even enemies. "Mohawk" is a Narraganset name,
meaning "flesh eaters." "Sioux" is a French corruption of an Anishinabe
word for "enemy." Similarly, "Apache" is a Spanish corruption of a Zuni
word for "enemy," while Navajo is from the Spanish version of a Tewa
word. If we want to be fully authentic in every instance, we will have
to inquire into the language of each People to find the name they call
themselves. It may not be surprising to find that the deepest real names
are often a word for "people" or for the homeland or for some
differentiating characteristic of the people as seen through their own

The important thing is to acknowledge the fundamental difference between
how a People view themselves and how they are viewed by others, and to
not get hung up on names for the sake of "political correctness."

In this context, the difference between "American Indian" and
"Native-American" is nonexistent. Both are names given from the outside.
On the other hand, in studying the situation and history of the Original
Peoples of the continent, we do not need to completely avoid names whose
significance is understood by all. Indeed, it may be that the shortest
way to penetrate the situation of Indigenous Peoples is to critically
use the generic name imposed on them.

"Native American Indian Studies," then, is a way to describe an
important part of the history of "America," of the colonization of the
"Americas." It is a part of world history, world politics, world
culture. It is a component of "Indigenous Peoples Studies." By using
this terminology, we aim for a critical awareness of nationhood and
homelands, of Indigenous self-determination.

It is sometimes noted how far advanced Indigenous Peoples in Latin and
South America and Canada are in thinking about their nationhood, as
compared to Native Peoples inside the United States. A major reason for
this disparity is the apparent capturing of Indigenous
self-understanding in the United States (and not only in American
history classes). The substitution of "Native American" for "American
Indian" may actually deepen the problem. Everyone knows the Indigenous
Peoples are not Indians. Not so many know they are also not Americans.

A survey of American Indian college and high-school students, reported
in Native Americas [Winter, 1997], indicated that more than 96% of the
youth identified themselves with their Indian nation, and more than 40%
identified themselves solely in those terms. Only a little more than
half identified themselves as American citizens. This survey is an
example of the usefulness of the "incorrect" label "Indian" to explain
something significant about indigenous self-identification.

It's been asked ,"What's in a name?" Sometimes the answer is everything,
as when the name is Rumplestiltskin; sometimes nothing, as with the
fragrant rose. N. Scott Momaday, in The Names: A Memoir, writes about
the meaning of who we are that is contained and not contained in our
names. Names, in other words, are mysterious, sometimes revealing
sometimes concealing our identity or the identity of a people or place.

Names can have great power, and the power of naming is a great power.
History and law, as well as literature and politics, are activities of
naming. The Bible tells a story of God giving Adam the power to name the
animals and other parts of creation. An important part of the
Judeo-Christian creation story is a power of naming that is a power over
creation. This story established a relation that became crucial in the
encounters of Christian colonizers with the inhabitants of the "new

A critical approach to "Native American Indian Studies" aims to reclaim
the power of naming that has so long stifled Indigenous self-awareness
and self-expression. The goal of this kind of education is to build a
curriculum that enhances Indigenous self-determination. We cannot be
deterred by the fact that English has intersected with and hybridized
the ways in which Indigenous Peoples name themselves. I offer this
provocation toward the deconstruction of definitions which have trapped
Indigenous Peoples in the dreams of others.


1. For a detailed critical analysis of government naming
practices—including an extended discussion of "the renaming of Native
Americans" as a "cultural project: to fashion and normalize a standard
patriarchal family-system deemed suitable to [U.S. and Canadian]
citizenship, property rights, and civilized, moral conduct"—see James C.
Scott, John Tehranian, and Jeremy Mathias, "Government Surnames and
Legal Identities," in Carl Watner, ed., National Identification Systems
(Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2004). The essay
originally appeared as "The Production of Legal Identities Proper to
States: The Case of the Permanent Family Surname," Comparative Studies
in Society and History, 44:01, pp. 4-44 (January 2002); available at
Cambridge Journals Online.

2. The following excerpts from an 1897 essay by the Superintendent of
the U. S. Boarding School for Crow Indians, Montana, illustrate the
government policy of "naming the Indians": "The Indian Department has
continually urged this matter upon its agents, superintendents, and
other workers 'in the field.' The command to give names to the Indians
and to establish the same as far as possible by continuous use has been
a part of the 'Rules and Regulations' for years past. ... In this thing,
as in nearly all others, the Indians do not know what is best for them.
They can't see that our system has any advantages over their own, and
they have fought stubbornly against the innovation." Frank Terry,"Naming
the Indians," American Monthly Review of Reviews, (New York: March,
1897). [This essay is available as an etext from the University of
Virginia Library Electronic Text Center.


Date: Mon, 24 Apr 2006 00:38:25 +0000
From: andre cramblit
Subject: What To Call Us

What To Call Us?

"American Indian" or "Native American"

Many people are unsure how to refer to the original inhabitants of North
American "American Indian" versus "Native American". So prefer the
American Indian as it identifies them as Americans and Indian people.
Some prefer Native American because it describes their “original” status
in this land. Still others use Indigenous, aboriginal or simply by the
Tribe they identify with. A good way of not stepping on too many toes
is ask people you are working with how they prefer to be described and
use the terms they give you. If people within a group do not agree on a
preference, try to use the one most often used within the group. The
term Indian by itself is used informally.

Me, I am Karuk áraaraha

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