“Why can’t I call them ‘Indians’ anymore?” A question and a few possible answers

If you are under the age of thirty and went through the Canadian school system, you were probably taught not to use the word “Indian” when referring to the indigenous peoples of Canada or the United States. “Indians” are people from South Asia, and using the word “Indian” here in North America, and Canada in particular, seems outdated and conjures to mind the historic uses of harmful stereotypes.  It’s happened a few times in front of me: older folks – often Americans but not always – visiting historic sites or attending conferences here in Canada will casually use the term “Indian” … and you can see a bunch of the Canadians in the room, particularly those of the younger generation, hold back their flinches and look awkwardly at each other. However, while I wish it were as straightforward as simply saying “don’t call them Indians!”, it isn’t easy to find an alternative – and some people don’t want to, for both good and bad reasons.

Words are loaded with meaning and implications, and even the idea of having an overarching term that purports to refer to indigenous peoples of the Americas as a whole is incredibly problematic. Here is a roundup of all of the common questions I have heard asked about choices of terminology and what I believe are issues you need to be aware of before you use any of them. Many of these are questions and discussions I have had at museums with visitors, with undergraduate students, with young collège students in France, with friends, with visiting scholars, and so on. As is usually the case with thorny issues, there is no simple answer.

Disclaimer: I am a relatively young Canadian woman who identifies as being of European descent: i.e., I am a young(ish) white Canadian woman. Take everything I say with a grain of salt as I am  someone speaking from a settler community about people I respect but cannot speak for. I welcome any questions, corrections, expansions, and opinions.

Postcard 17894 The Valentine & Sons' Publishing Co., Ltd (Publisher) . Best wishes from Canada Indian Types. Montreal: Toronto: The Valentine & Sons' Publishing Co., Ltd. Montreal and Toronto, c1910. Courtesy of Peel's Prairie Provinces.
Postcard 17894. “Best wishes from Canada – Indian Types.” Montreal: Toronto: The Valentine & Sons’ Publishing Co., Ltd., circa 1910. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

“What’s wrong with the word ‘Indian’? They use it all the time in movies!”

“Indian”, at its root, is based on a misconception. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, etc., etc., ad nauseam, thought he had stumbled across India when in fact he had landed in the Caribbean, killed a bunch of people, left chaos in his wake, and went on to serve as a “heroic” symbol for European exploration and the discovery of a “New World” … which had already been “discovered” and occupied by millions of people before him but who apparently just don’t count.

Early European explorers and settlers thought that these non-European people needed to be given a name. Their own names were apparently no good: that would involve talking to them, acknowledging them, and attempting to pronounce non-European words! It really was just easier for explorers and settlers to refer to and think of them as a homogenized group: they are essentially the same people. Over time (and I acknowledge that I am generalizing here), “the Indian” grew in the imaginations of Europeans and European settlers into a very specific being – who wore a feathered headdress, smoked “peace pipes” but was a fierce and savage warrior. “The Indian” probably rode horses, screeching and whooping, and only spoke broken English if he spoke at all. The word “Indian” is inextricably tied to these stereotypes in the minds of many people even today.

Just because a word has cultural currency (i.e., you hear it in common use) doesn’t make it inoffensive. Case in point: the once common “n-word”, which I dare not even type, was once used quite frequently throughout the United States and likely elsewhere but is now incredibly considered inflammatory, blatantly racist, and offensive. Was the “n-word” ever used in a non-derogatory manner? I doubt it, but it is definitely not a word fit for polite or even impolite society today. My point is that simply because a word was heard all of the time doesn’t mean it isn’t disrespectful.

Nevertheless, the word “Indian” is still in common use throughout the United States in particular. American scholars still use it, apparently unselfconsciously, though it is very unlikely that you will see Canadian publications use the term without clarifying or identifying it as a quotation from a historical text. The Smithsonian Institution seems to favour the term “American Indian“, but as far as I am aware most Canadian scholars eschew the term, and recent works like Daniel Francis’ The Imaginary Indian, Paige Raibmon’s Authentic Indians, or Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian only use these terms after defining them not as reflections of actual people but as an idea that others hold about them. If the word “Indian” appears at all in these works, they appear in historical quotations or between scare quotes and refer to a specific concept and rarely if ever to refer to a group as old “Cowboy and Indian” Westerns once did.

Great. So why do many people, including respected American historical institutions and government bodies, continue to use the word “Indian”? I can’t tell you for sure. The thing you have to remember when using these terms is that these debates are also generally happening among Euro-Canadians and Euro-Americans. Deciding unilaterally that “Native American” is a better term than “Indian” because it makes white people feel better and trying to impose that word without the consent of the people it actually applies to also isn’t cool. I have heard some older folks say that they’ve been called an “Indian” all of their lives and they identify with it and prefer it – nobody can take that identity away from them. There is a lesson in here somewhere.

Edit: I should also mention that “Indian” is also a legal term in both the United States and Canada, designating a certain status in relation to the state. For more information on this rather convoluted legal concept and the differences between the two countries, see Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian.

“Isn’t this just political correctness run amok? Aren’t there better things to worry about?”

No. Well, yes, there are other issues to worry about. However, names have power. They are important. What you are called by others and what you call yourself are elements of your identity. Having control over what you are called is incredibly important and these terms do have certain implications – and in the case of the term “Indian”, many negative connotations are evoked. These words are not all synonyms. “Indians”, for example, are seen as relics of the past or even mythical creatures; the endless debates (that many are shocked are still happening in 2013) over the inappropriate and racist nature of “Indian” Hallowe’en costumes confirms this view. The stereotypical “Indian”, as a dead or mythological being from the past, is not perceived as being able to co-exist with the modern present and is thus frequently invisible to the wider North American society; if you aren’t a part of modern Canada/America and/or are mythological, you cannot agitate for rights.

Yes, there are other important issues yet to be tackled in these communities today, but that doesn’t diminish the necessity of little changes. May I also direct you to a very articulate explanation of why the “little things” people need to just “get over” are in fact hurtful and extremely harmful, courtesy of blogger Adrienne K. at Native Appropriations?

“Okay. What else can I call them? What about ‘aboriginal’?”

This is a term that gets thrown around a lot and is generally considered acceptable but not ideal. It simply means “original to a place,” which sounds about right. However, it is still an incredibly general term. Often, conscious of the fact that “Indian” is a less acceptable word now, people will simply use “Aboriginal” in the same way that the word “Indian” was used previously, without thinking more deeply about the subject. Generalized words are useful for making sweeping statements and discussing broad policies. They have their uses, but are also incredibly problematic because using the word “Aboriginal” (or “Indian” or other terms discussed below) assume that there actually is one large group that have enough in common to be referred to with one word, which many have argued is not the case. Having one word ignores huge differences in language, culture, and history in the Americas, and negates historical divisions and conflicts between the groups encompassed by this word. There may be far bigger cultural, linguistic, and historical differences between, say, the Inuit in Nunavut and the Iroquois near New York, than between Castillians in Spain and Muscovites in Russia. In the latter case, is it still useful to refer to both as “white”/”European” without troubling the terms a bit? What, specifically, do they have in common?

However, some “Aboriginal” people do see a political advantage to be had in solidarity, and that one of the things that “Aboriginal” peoples have in common is the fact that they have been discriminated against for generations under the collective term “Indian”. Because they have suffered under a collective term, they can perhaps find some usefulness in mobilizing under a collective term as well.

As a side note, “aboriginal” is awfully close to “aborigine”, which has been used pejoratively in Australia for many years and I am told is on par with the “n-word” in the States… so if you use it with an Australian present you may get some funny looks, if not worse.

(Edit: It has also been drawn to my attention that “Aboriginal” is also used as a collective umbrella term by some Canadian organizations to refer to, collectively, First Nations, the Inuit, and the Métis.)

“What about ‘indigenous’?”

Some people use this term to refer to native peoples of a region in many colonial states across the globe, and is essentially defined as a person (or animal, or thing) that is native or born of an area. This term is not limited to North America and is often used to contrast those who are native to a region from European settlers or colonizers. It can be a useful term, but often is used to define contrasts and can gloss over differences in radically different historical and cultural situations. Usually, when you use the word “indigenous”, it is because they are being discussed in contrast with European colonists, so you are almost defining people by what they are not. Why not call them what they call themselves? Nevertheless, it can be a useful, if general term. Be conscious of your purpose in using it.

What about ‘Amerindian’?” 

This portmanteau (“American” + “Indian”) is interesting, but I don’t hear it terribly often in Canada. I hear it more in French (“Amerindien“). At the root of it, it still has the “Indian” assumption. I believe that the “Ameri-” prefix was added mainly to distinguish between “East Indians” from India and those native to North America, which is a problem that shouldn’t even exist in the first place because these are very different peoples. Furthermore, while “American” can be a descriptor, it is far from a neutral one. It also has political implications for those nations that are resisting the hegemony of the American (or Canadian) governments – e.g., the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) on the border between Ontario and New York that issue their own passports. I am unsure of the acceptability of this term, so I would proceed with caution and perhaps look at alternatives.

“What about ‘natives’ or ‘Native Americans’?

The term “Native American” has been in use for far longer than the age of political correctness, and used to refer to anybody, including those from settler communities, that were born in North America. “Native” distinguished them from those Americans (or Canadians) from those who were born in Europe and immigrated later. It enjoys a lot of currency in the United States as an alternative to “Indian”, but it isn’t without its detractors… and of course the term “Native American” doesn’t work terribly well in Canada because while the Canadian government doesn’t have the best track record with indigenous relations, those North of the Medicine Line would probably not want to be considered American either.

“What about the word ‘squaw’? That just means ‘woman’ in an Indian language, right?”

Uh… no. Well, maybe it did at some point (and remember, etymology is not destiny), but its pronunciation has probably been corrupted by English mouths and probably sounds very different from what the word originally sounded like. “Squaw” has been a pejorative (insulting or belittling) word for over a century, and has connotations with prostitution. It has also been associated with dehumanization; racist protesters have waved signs at rallies against treaty fishing rights saying things like “Save a fish, spear a squaw.” This is not appropriate language. As far as my circle of friends and acquaintances goes, I have never heard a woman identify herself as a “squaw”.

This is a woman and child. Postcard 9711. Taken at Medicine Hat, Alberta, before 1907. Courtesy of Peel's Prairie Provinces.
This is a woman and child.
Postcard 9711. Taken at Medicine Hat, Alberta, before 1907. Courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

“Papoose”, too, is a word that has been appropriated into the English language. I believe it originally came from one of the Algonquin languages on the Eastern seaboard, but it entered English vocabulary at a very early date and has likely lost a few syllables and such over time. I don’t want to enter into the “prescriptive” versus “descriptive” language debate, as this word has been in use for several centuries in English with less belittling connotations than other words. Nevertheless, I feel that it is rarely used (in North America, at least) to refer to non-indigenous children, and so is a marker of difference. Anglophones who use this term without having a firm definition of what exactly a “papoose” is: an infant? An infant wrapped in a moss bag? A toddler? In the UK, it can even be used to refer to a kind of backpack, I think. (Brits, can you clarify this for me? What springs to mind when you hear the word “papoose”?)

Even if it does not have as many dangerous or sexist connotations as the word “squaw”, and may have indeed originated from an indigenous language in the East, applying the word “papoose” to, say, Cree children in cradle boards on the plains or to Inuit children in the North or Haida infants on the North-West Coast assumes that the children in these diverse cultures and languages are essentially the same when they are not. I would avoid it unless you hear them use the term. Ask yourself: why is there a specific term for a woman or child of a separate race? Are they not also women and children?

Furthermore, if you cannot identify which”Indian language” the word came from and are not entirely certain of the word’s definition or connotations, I would hesitate to use it until you find out more information.

“But it’s traditional! Why do we have to change the names of our mountains and stuff?”

Traditional according to whom? “Squaw Peak” or “Dead Indian Valley” probably had a different name for far longer before it got given that moniker by Europeans, Euro-Americans, or Euro-Canadians.

(Also: “your” mountains? By what right do you/we claim ownership? )

Let’s take a slightly less racist case in point. The Queen Charlotte Islands off of the coast of British Columbia held that name for over a century on European maps, but its name was recently changed back to Haida Gwaii: the Islands of the Haida. The imposition of European names upon places that were already known by different names by peoples native to the area is a whole other kettle of fish that could be addressed in a different blog post.

“Francophones in Canada use ‘Autochtone.’ What’s the deal with that?”

Apparently, at its root, it simply means “the originals.” Aside from “Premières Nations“, this was the term I heard most often in my French immersion classes in elementary, junior high, and high school. It appears to be used in the names of a few organizations – e.g., l’Alliance Autochtone du Québec. Other websites appear to use it as a synonym for “indigenous”, so as a word it may not be limited to North American peoples. As an anglophone, I am not up to date on the most common terminology in use among Francophones in Canada. I would be very interested to hear from Canadian Francophones on this subject.

(Incidentally, “autochtone” does not register as a word with either the teachers nor the students of the junior high schools (collèges) I taught at in Normandy (France) in 2011/2012. In France they were still using the term “Indiens“, which I tried to disabuse them of. My British and German friends were also much less sensitive to nuances of racialized words than my Canadian and American friends of the same age. But they were willing to learn!)

“Okay, what about ‘First Nations’?”

This is the term that is in vogue in Canada right now. Unlike “Indian”, it acknowledges that, well, they were in the area first, before white settlers (which seems obvious to me, but in many ways they are treated as if they were foreigners in their own land by governments and settler communities). It also implies pluralism – “First NationS” – and, like the collective word “United StateS” it can at once demonstrate solidarity but also individuality and independence. By using the term “nation” you may also be suggesting the idea that they are potentially sovereign nations in their own right – which they had to be, to enter into treaty with Great Britain and, later, Canada, and First Nations did on multiple occasions – though in subsequent years they were treated as wards of the crown and not the independent nations they would have been.

However, as previously mentioned, this is a word for a collective that may actually not have the same goals and aspirations, and it can also be thrown around to refer to the group in sweeping generalizations – “find and replace” the word “Indian” in your digital documents and replace it with “First Nations”? Furthermore, you have to respect the fact that if some people don’t like the phrase and don’t want to be called “First Nations” then you shouldn’t call them that.

“What about tribe names?”

I would say that this is one of the better options, but with a few caveats. Acknowledging that you are speaking of a specific group of people – e.g., the Cree, the Blackfoot, the Stoney – is definitely a big step up from the general and problematic term “Indian”. However, you may notice something peculiar about the examples that I used: “Cree” comes from the French “Christineaux”, referring to the fact that some may have converted, and “Blackfoot” and “Stoney” are clearly English in origin. These names may have a lot of cultural currency in English Canada and perhaps among these peoples themselves, but they are in all likelihood names that were imposed by English colonizers. Would they choose this designation themselves? Perhaps. Again, many of these terms have been in use a lot longer among anglophones and are more recognizable to outsiders than the actual name of the First Nation (respectively, if I have this right, the Nehiyawak, the Siksiká and the Nakoda).

And even then, as our writing system was not designed with North American indigenous languages in mind, spelling is subjective. Is it Anishinaabeg, Anishinaabek, Anishinabe, or what? Chippewa or Ojibwa or Ojibwe or Ojibway? Am I referring to the name of the people, the name of their language, or a larger confederacy or alliance of smaller groups collected together, and how do these names differ?

Furthermore, some of these “tribe names” are more or less precise than others. Be aware of the history of the word and what it actually refers to. Even using the term “Algonquin” when referring to, say, the group that Samuel de Champlain met on his two week journey down the Ottawa River Valley in 1613 is a bit of a generalization. They were Anishinaabeg; “Algonquin” is a larger linguistic group which is composed of multiple nations who may or may not have enough in common with each other to be referred to be a generalized term.

Incidentally, some of our terms may not seem English or French in origin, but are not ideal either. “Eskimo” is a good/terrible example. Often spelled “Esquimaux” in the early years, it is comes to English via the French pronunciation of a word from a group of Algonquin speakers who may have been enemies of the Inuit. “Eskimo” is generally thought to mean, roughly, “Eaters of Raw Flesh.” (Or so the story goes.) Those once called the “Eskimos”, at least in Canada, prefer to be called the “Inuit”, meaning “the People” in their own language, instead of an insulting nickname from the language of their enemies. To use a European comparison, it’s as if the most commonly used name for the French in German and Dutch were a Germanized spelling of the English “Frog Eaters” or “Surrender Monkeys.” I’m sure the French would much prefer the nicer sounding, less insulting, and native term “les Français”, or even regional terms like “les Rouennais”, “les Bretons”, etc.

(Another caveat: “Eskimos” is still used as a collective term in Alaska to refer to two different groups, the Inuit and the Yupik. I would love to hear from people who are up to date on the views of that word in Alaska! Nevertheless, “Eskimo” is not considered an acceptable term in Canada.)

Even the term “tribe” has fallen out of favour, possibly because of “primitive” anthropological connotations. I believe “nation”, “band”,  and other words are preferred to “tribe” or “tribal” now. I welcome any further clarification on this subject!

“Well, what can I call them?!”

Thank you for asking this question. The moral of this story is don’t assume. Be conscious of your word choices and think critically about them. If you are not sure, ask the group affected what they would prefer. You want a say in how people know you and your people – why would you assume that First Nations would feel otherwise? As always, I welcome comments and questions (always in a respectful manner).

Further Resources: 

  • Vine Deloria Jr., Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian ManifestoA classic work on the problems facing “American Indians”, originally published in 1969
  • Daniel Francis, The Imaginary Indian: The Image of the Indian in Canadian Culture (Vancouver, B.C.: Arsenal Pulp Press, Inc., 1992): an excellent history of how the stereotypical image of the “Indian” formed in popular culture.
  • Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (Random House; Doubleday Canada, 2012): a fascinating recent work on the subject of relations between the governments of Great Britain, America, and Canada and the indigenous peoples of North America throughout the past centuries.
  • Paige Raibmon, Authentic Indians: Episodes of Encounter from the Late-Nineteenth-Century Northwest Coast (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2005): the author tackles very thorny questions of what people mean when they evaluate the “authenticity” of indigenous culture and just how damaging ideas of “authenticity” can be.
  • Native Appropriations Blog by Adrienne K. Check out, for example, this post: “Proud to Be”: NCAI’s answer to the R-word mascot debate.
  • Etymology Online, an excellent resource for the historic origins of words.

26 thoughts on ““Why can’t I call them ‘Indians’ anymore?” A question and a few possible answers

  1. Cool post, Lauren! I’m in a First Nations/Crown/Industry Negotiation course at the moment, so this is very useful. My instructors visibly flinched the first time someone used the term ‘aboriginal’ in class, which confused everyone. We were told that ‘First Nations’ is the preferred choice for speaking in terms of plural nations, especially now as apparently the government is pushing the idea of ‘pan-aboriginalism’, which is very unpopular and considered offensive. Anyway, thanks for the info, it is sure to make me sound like less of a hillbilly in class and on the job :D

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  4. Abesh Njiene

    It doesn’t make sense to say “aborigine” is offensive but not “aboriginal”. One is a noun, the other an adjective, but they are jointly rooted. To be “an aborigine” is to be “an aboriginal person”, or simply, to be “aboriginal”. Either both words are offensive, or neither are. Likewise, there are numorous groups of white people, but I seriously doubt any white person is offended to be described as “white”. Indeed, there are numorous groups of “white Europeans”. Europe is a huge continent. But again, if you are white, and descend from anywhere in Europe, I doubt you would object to being described as a “white European”. I think (some) white people bring about this terminology fear upon themselves.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I grant you that both “aborigine” and “aboriginal” have the same root word or word origin. However, they have historically been used in completely different ways in different contexts. I cannot speak much for the situation in Australia, but it is my understanding that “Aborigine” is a term that is out of favour there because it has in the past generally been used in a pejorative or belittling way. “Aboriginal”, by contrast, in the Canadian context, is a generally accepted term and is enshrined in legislation. It, too, is far from perfect, as I discussed in my above blog post. However, it has not been used in the same way as “Aborigine” has in Australia – it does not necessarily have negative connotations (the almost emotional meaning/spread of the word beyond its dictionary definition).

      Furthermore, te meaning of words shift and evolve over time in ways. For example, the word “silly” has shifted from its original meaning of “happy” or “pious” to something that can be dismissive in some contexts (e.g., calling a priest “silly” is likely to cause offense and not pride in someone noticing his piety, even though that was the original meaning of the word). (For many fascinating examples, see: http://www.etymonline.com/)

      The term “white”, in direct contrast to “Aborigine”, has historically been rarely used in a pejorative sense. I agree with you that it is a far too generalized term. However, to equate the connotative meaning of the word “white” to the word “Aborigine” is misleading, particularly as the word “Aborigine” was one chosen by the “whites” and imposed upon indigenous groups, often pejoratively. The term “white” was often used by “white folks” themselves without the imposition of a homogenizing identity by the colonizer.

    2. David

      Are you saying that, It doesn’t make sense to say “ni**er” is offensive but not “negro”? One is a noun, the other an adjective, but they are jointly rooted.

  5. Abesh Njiene

    It’s a fair point about the difference between a word being self-assigned or imposed upon. But if we are to use an English word to describe a traditionally non-English speaking community, then of course it’s going to be imposed – what else? That doesn’t make it offensive, it’s a normal facet of language. I must admit I have never heard the word “Aborigine” used perjoratively, and if a word is used in that way, it is not acceptable. But I am very confused because I’m trying to think exactly how that word can be used negatively, any more than any other word. And that’s kind of my point. Some people wrongly think words are rude and offensive through ignorance. I remember a time when white people thought “black” was offensive! So they used the word “colored” or “person of color” instead. Then the reverse happened and “black” became acceptable, “colored” unacceptable. What does it matter? We make demons out of words when they are just words.

    1. I think that it is the intent behind words that make them dangerous. Again, I cannot speak for Australians, but I was under the impression that “Aborigine” has been used pejoratively over many generations by white colonizers. In any case, if it’s not a term that the people themselves want used, I would much rather discuss them in terms of their “tribe” or “nation” than a generalized, possibly racist term.

      We may make demons out of words, but words do have power. They can homogenize, belittle, and put people in boxes. Words shape our reality and our understanding of others.

      1. Abesh Njiene

        Yes, I have read that a lot in recent years, I.e. words shape our reality and understanding of others, words have power etc. I take that with a pinch of salt, mainly because you can tell if someone is speaking with respect or not. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in the old “sticks and stones” saying. Words can be incredibly hurtful. If people don’t want to be labelled with a certain word, I agree we should do our best to respect that. But people are individuals. One person can favour a word that someone else in the same racial group detests. For example, the term “tribe” you used, some people consider that to be offensive, prefering the word “community”. It might only be a misunderstanding, but offense is often given, or taken, where none is intended. The danger of stigmatising a (quite innocent) word is, that word then gets replaced by an alternative, politically correct word. Eventually and inevitability, the new alternative word becomes the offensive word, so we find another word to replace it – and so it goes on, a perpetual struggle to communicate with our fellow human beings. The words themselves become awkward hurdles to get over.

        1. I do take your point about the evolution of vocabulary. I think particularly of medical words describing the developmentally disabled (which is probably a phrase that is on its way to becoming offensive): “moron” and “idiot” once described varying mental capabilities. Then, the medical community moved on to “mentally retarded”, which also became an insult, and now uses other terms.

          One can also point to the fact that some First Nations individuals prefer the word “Indian” because that is what they identify with, and we must respect that because the imposition of an unwanted term now, however “well meaning”, also constitutes the erasure of identity.

          However, I believe that it is in the nature of languages to have their words shift in meaning over time. Yes, no offense is often intended, but that does not stop, for example, the word “squaw” in the words of a well-meaning older man from having connotations of prostitution. Why not call this individual a “person” or a “woman”? Even well-meaning, the choice to use racially specific and gendered vocabulary has the ultimate effect of “othering” the person that they are talking about: treating them as different and often lesser because the first word one reaches for upon viewing them is an outdated, sexist, and racist one. Words do have power, whatever their intent.

  6. mistycat1

    Controlling language is a way of controlling thoughts and asserting power. It is used to prevent anything progressive from happening in the real world. Those who seek to control language are parasites who divide people so they can be exploited by the bourgeoisie

  7. Elle Mitchell

    As a First Nation Cree woman I am deeply offended by the term “Indian”. It is truly disgusting. I hope that my fellow First Nations/Original Peoples understand this deeply derogatory meaning and stop calling themselves “Indians”. There is deep meaning to the term and why they called us “Indians”. The quicker an Original Person learns this, the more empowered s/he will become. Everyone backs Israel because of the alleged theft of land…….does anyone question the lands of Canada, Australia and/or the United States? Of course not. We do not count.

    1. Don Kelley

      Literally everyone I’ve ever talked to casually or in depth on the subject backs the first nations people. The deep meaning to why First Nations peoples were called Indians was because the explorers thought they were in India. It wasn’t derogatory as a term, it was respect, although geographically wrong. The TREATMENT of the people then was horrible. The Indian act is a respectful term used by the government, and intentionally used with that name to return the term that was widely used at the time into a term of respect.

      What’s frustrating to watch is when anybody, whatever their history, tells everyone else what they actually mean, what they actually are saying when they use a word, rather than asking the person what their intent is. Words only have negative power as long as people take offence. The word, Indian, means someone from India. They thought they were in India. Behavior of the european settlers then was horrible in regard to the aboriginals (Which, again, means “original inhabitants”). It meant that before it was used in North America, and is just a literal binary description of a historical order of peoples living in a location…. it describes who was here first.

      Older people of ALL backgrounds use the terms they learned when young. It’s how human minds work. Anyone can call themselves anything they want.

      The deep meaning behind Indian is just geographical error. The historical abuse of First Nations people by european settlers is terrible, and some First Nations people choose not to associate the behavior with the English word they were taught to refer to their peoples when they were young.

      Not to mention – think about the rather common human response to terms that became derogatory: the N word, the C word, etc. There are huge groups of humans who now embrace those words for themselves as a term of power – because the word is just a word… it can be used to self empower as much as to cause harm. I see no reason why First Nations peoples who choose to call themselves Indians, or anything they want from the long history of terms used, should be be given the power to do so and feel they are strong and united by doing so.

      1. Don Kelley

        I meant to type, ” I see no reason why First Nations peoples who choose to call themselves Indians, or anything they want from the long history of terms used, should “NOT” be be given the power to do so and feel they are strong and united by doing so.”

        The “NOT” is critical. Sorry for bad typo!

  8. Michael Greenhorse

    This stuff Is very entertaining for many of us. A whole page about suppositions and historical whys and why-nots. Would it not be easier to just ask ?
    My Name is Michael Greenhorse. I am Shawnee. WE, and everyone I know, call ourselves “Indians” Not American Indians, We know where we came from. Not Native Americans, If you were born here, you are all natives, Aboriginals ? that’s just odd. We are just Indians.
    If you really want to be Culturally sensitive, find out what Nation (Yes Nation, not tribe) and call us that. But really, Indian works just fine.

    1. Anonymous

      I think what other people mean by saying, “American Indian” is so that they don’t confuse First Nations people with actual south Asian Indians. So even though you know where you came from, its just a point of confusion.

      1. Kell

        Oh thanks for explaining to us what we should think about the things ignorant white people try to refer to us as. We couldn’t understand your foolishness on our own. (that’s sarcasm incase you were too dim to get it). How about you let us Indians choose how we feel and what we call ourselves without attempting to patronize us. You’re what we Indians call a douche.

      2. Kell

        Also after the mass genocide, we’ll try not to inconvenience you with trivial comments about these silly things like our personal identities. You’re right anonymous, call us whatever you want.

        1. I apologise for my tone. My title was meant to be sarcastic as well and my intended audience was also other white people. The joke was that it is super obvious that we as settlers should just talk to the people concerned and respect their identities, which is something far too many of us don’t do and haven’t done over hundreds of years. I’m sorry that it came off the wrong way.

  9. Elizabeth

    I would just like to point out everything can be taken as racist if looked at a certain way. If you want to get this technical about it the term ‘Native American’ can also be taken as racist. Indians didn’t call America, America so this could also be taken as racist.
    My point is that this is ‘PC’. The term Indian or Native American can equally be offensive so we can’t assume which one we should use more or less. Indians (or Native Americans) have labeled us with a name and we have with them too. It is just a way to communicate. All in all, we shouldn’t go around telling people one way is correct because everyone has a different point on different things.

    1. I take your point, however I do not see “political correctness” as a bad thing, insofar as I think that we need to be conscious of our language use. Yes, a lot of terms are problematic and are to one degree or another racist. That is why it is even more important to think about your audience and communicate with people about preferred terminology. If someone from a group asks you to stop using a word, it is respectful to stop using that word. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are – if it is a hurtful term to them, you should stop using it with them at the very least. There are conflicting perspectives on certain terms, but if a member of that community kindly asks you to stop using one word, please listen. Saying “oh, that’s just being politically correct” isn’t an answer and it dismisses very real issues. I don’t have an answer, except that we in the settler community must talk to people in Indigenous communities and have real dialogue. As you say, it isn’t just about saying “First Nations is the term we should all be using now, and anybody else who’s using another term is racist.” It’s about real dialogue and communication.

  10. JR

    I think intent is very important. I also don’t think white people get to decide what non white people wish to be called. I’m a white woman of European ancestry, as far as I know. I’m currently living in AZ, and I’d have no problem asking a non white person what their heritage is and how they’d prefer to be addressed. Identity is important. We need to respect others ‘ wishes. If I were speaking to a group of friends and something came up regarding “Indians” Columbus et. al. killed, I’d like to think I’d say Native Americans, but Indian may escape my lips, not because I don’t have respect, but because I’m a work in progress from Illinois, and that’s what was ingrained in me from childhood. When you know better you (try) to do better.

  11. Pingback: What’s the Difference Between Bison and Buffalo? | History Research Shenanigans

  12. Preston James

    Reading most of that wore me out LOL I know for a fact because my parents are still alive and we have pictures and a family tree my dad’s mother was full blooded poarch Creek Indian and his grandfather was full-blooded Irish last name James my mother’s grandmother was full-blooded Choctaw Hazel E page she married William Lee Bud Lee his first cousin was Robert E Lee. So both my grandfather’s we’re half breeds. I am very proud of all this and no I don’t own a rebel flag don’t have a problem with it just never had a desire. It’s funny though I’m 52 and I’m always asked you look so young and I always say I’m half Indian.:-) I love history especially because ancestral background are there migrants and Native Americans. When I tell someone I’m half half Irish and half Indian. I usually say so I can be your best friend or your worst nightmare it’s entirely up to you :-) Merry Christmas. Happy New Year :-)

  13. Pehr

    Autochtone is a word sometimes used in french french with the meaning “the locals”. The etymology is “from the land itself”, meaning those who were born from that land.

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