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Old 08-17-2004, 10:37 AM   #1
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Native American OR American Indian?

Native American or American Indian?
A reader's question from Japan

Posted: August 13, 2004 - 12:40pm EST

Dear Indian Country Today,

I’d be much obliged if you would answer my question about a practical usage of the word "Indian."

I am a member of a study group that works on English language education for children in Japan. We received complaints about using a word "Indian" in teaching material we made.

A dictionary published in Japan says that "Indian" is an offensive term and not used in the U.S. anymore. "Native American" is a proper term.

In fact, I have heard the news that a symbol of a high school in Minnesota, which was an Indian, was forced to change to a wolf because it was considered as a racial discrimination in the ’80s. Also the words of a famous song, "The 10 little Indians," has been changed to harmless lyrics.

But when I searched the word on the Internet, I found that "Indian" is used as a synonym of "Native American" on many Web sites that are concerned with Native Americans, including yours. It seems that this word has already been fully accepted as present-day English.

I’m sorry for sending such an e-mail, but please kindly inform us how the word "Indian" is used in your country, so that we won’t teach wrong things to Japanese children.

- Yuko Kijima, Japan

Editor’s response

Thank you for your very perceptive question. While it is true that the term "Indian" does not accurately describe the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere, its usage, particularly when incorporated into the term "American Indian" has been largely (although not universally) accepted by most tribal officials. Also, as a matter of style usage the term "American Indian" seems to be gaining favor over the term "Native American," since it carries with it a more specific identification. For example, anyone born in the United States could technically call themselves "native Americans," but cannot identify themselves as "American Indians." Our newspaper prefers the term "American Indian," and we will often use the single word "Indian" for subsequent references within a story. Although language evolves through time and usage I would suggest that the term "American Indian" will likely become more commonplace nationally and internationally. One factor is because national publications such as ours, Indian Country Today, have made it our style choice. Other factors include its use in nationally and internationally renowned organizations such as the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and the National Congress of American Indians, etc.

Nevertheless, you will still hear some complain that the term "Indian" is incorrect, which, technically, it is. The United States, alone, has hundreds of distinct tribal governments and communities - each with its own name for itself in its own language. However, you should know that the term American Indian is widely understood and accepted even within the discourse of American Indians themselves, since 1) we all know whom we’re talking about, and 2) decades of argument and searching for an all-encompassing alternative have proven futile unless you have the luxury of listing the names of every tribe written accurately in their own languages.

In closing let me say that the children of Japan are very fortunate to have someone like you working so diligently to teach them the correct use of the English language. By your very question I can tell you are intellectually engaged on behalf of your students. Unfortunately, not every question has a simple answer and American Indians themselves have struggled to get even English speaking peoples to speak and use the English language clearly and honestly.

- Tim Johnson, Executive Editor
Indian Country Today

____

WhoMe's Comments:

the term "Indian" is the actual legal term used in federal law. In modern usage, the legal term "Indian" usually means an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe (or one who is eligible to be enrolled in a federally recognized tribe). Each tribe has the sovereign authority to define who their members are and who is eligible to be enrolled. Some tribes have blood quantum requirements (a requirement that to be enrolled, a person must have at least a certain degree of tribal ancestry - such as one-fourth) while other tribes' laws state that a person is eligible for enrollment if one of their ancestors appears on a particular historical list of tribal members. Ultimately, the question of, "Who is an Indian?", is determined by tribal law.
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Old 08-17-2004, 12:03 PM   #2
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okay
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Old 08-17-2004, 05:27 PM   #3
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OH my; another good topic to start an arguement...
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Old 08-17-2004, 05:40 PM   #4
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although many caucasion rednecks insensitive to the plight of others prefer the term "injun" :reallymad
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Old 08-17-2004, 06:20 PM   #5
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The definition of "American Indian" as explained by Tim Johnson is the correct term used by the Federal Government. I was on staff in one of the government offices that worked closely with the Office of General Counsel and this question came up back when the term "Native American" was just beginning to be used. The Director's response was essentially the same as Johnson's, that the term "American Indian" was used to identify those people that were indigenous to the North American continent and that the term "Native American" could essentially be applied to any person who was born in the United States.
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Old 08-18-2004, 10:34 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mountaindew
The definition of "American Indian" as explained by Tim Johnson is the correct term used by the Federal Government. I was on staff in one of the government offices that worked closely with the Office of General Counsel and this question came up back when the term "Native American" was just beginning to be used. The Director's response was essentially the same as Johnson's, that the term "American Indian" was used to identify those people that were indigenous to the North American continent and that the term "Native American" could essentially be applied to any person who was born in the United States.
__

mountainD:

I have a very "personal opinion" about the term Native American. To me, Native American sounds very "artsie," new-age, and even clinical. It came into usage in the American language about the same time Political Correctness became popular.

I think the Canadians have the best term of all - "First Nations!"
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Old 08-18-2004, 10:44 AM   #7
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I just call myself NATIVE. dammit....

:)

I dont like native american either....like they say, anyone can use that term.
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Old 08-18-2004, 11:20 AM   #8
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Call me anything but Canadian. :american: :lol2:
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Old 08-19-2004, 09:32 AM   #9
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Old 08-20-2004, 02:39 AM   #10
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I got this one in email and thought that it was fantastic that the teacher would ask. It does show some sensitivity and respect and the guy's answer was a good one. Kinda warmed my heart reading this.
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Old 08-20-2004, 02:52 AM   #11
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I call myself and friends and family "indian" cuz my family's been called indian all their lives and we call each other that amongst ourselves...but i guess we should call ourselves "anishinabe" which is our nation. Non-natives can call us Anishinabe, native american, canadian native, (we're we wear runners and drink pop, not sneakers and sody pops), or first nations, or i hate this one, "aboriginals". if non-natives call me an indian i would take offense.
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Old 08-20-2004, 02:54 AM   #12
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just don't call me late for supper cuz ya know i like that back bacon enit, eh.
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Old 08-20-2004, 04:09 PM   #13
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Old 08-20-2004, 11:18 PM   #14
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Red face personal ads

I put a personal ad in yahoo! once. Said I wanted a Native American guy. This one guy responded. He stated he was Native so I didn't question him until we met and he explained. He'd been born here, raised here and considered himself native American. His family were German. I don't know that American Indian is any better because it has to do with the confusion of the explorers thinking they were finding a shortcut to India (as I recall). Anyway, if I want to be smart I say "I'm an Indigenous American"; otherwise I say Native American....
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The Creator said, "A foreign race of white people will come, who will become your friends. You should treat them well."

The Creator sure had a strange sense of humor!

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Old 08-27-2004, 04:02 PM   #15
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I always just say I'm Shoshone. Or I ask if someone else is Indin or Native. And I heard Indian came from Columbus calling the native people he encounter in Dios, meaning with God. But he WAS looking for the Indies, East or West I forget.
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Old 08-27-2004, 04:23 PM   #16
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i don't care if some non-ndn calls me ndn, i actually would prefer it to the alternatives. if they say injun i take offense. unless the non natives study us, or are around us often, they have no way of knowing what an anishinabe is...and other ndns of other tribes may take offense. native american sounds too pc and new age-ey, like others have said in this thread...i do think first nations is more proper, respectful although pc also. i agree anyone born here can say they are "native american" and be technically right. just call me ndn
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how come everytime i turn around someone is speaking spanish to me? this is new
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Old 08-31-2004, 05:48 PM   #17
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I'm rarely called either because folks usually put us in the mixedblood bag. When they do, it's always, "oh yeah, you're Indian."
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Old 08-31-2004, 06:09 PM   #18
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neither... :).. its navajo...
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Old 08-31-2004, 10:38 PM   #19
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Sho you right Burbs. Hey, this reminds me of an interesting thing my son said the other day. We were watching the Olympics and he asks, "mom, are there any Indians competing in the olympics?" I told him I didn't know (still wondering about one girl on the US indoor volleyball team). He then comes back with, "well, if there are any Indians, they should have let them come in the opening ceremonies with their tribal flags so they can represent their tribe, which is their country, right?"

it's a little off the subject, but whatcha think about his question?
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Old 08-31-2004, 10:44 PM   #20
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Thumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond reputeThumper has a reputation beyond repute
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: ALBUQUERQUE, NM
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hmmmm.... smart kid you got. i think that would be proper and right, although i'm sure it would stir "controversy" cause of all the jerks and crybabies.....
__________________
if i could change i would, take back the pain i would. retrace every wrong move that i made i would. stand up and take the blame i would. i would take all my shame to the grave
KEEP ON ROCKIN' IN THE FREE WORLD!
WHAT'S 5'8 200lbs and HARD ALL OVER?
how come everytime i turn around someone is speaking spanish to me? this is new
HONOR THY CHILDREN
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