Answers to reader’s questions

Mama’s Note: This was left as a comment to your article ““Hostile to the United States” Part B: Internal countries, organizations, and individuals

You seem to be very knowledgeable on the matter, so let me ask, why is the term “native American” disrespectful? At one time, in the ’60′s or ’70′s, it was demanded as the ONLY acceptable term by a number of vocal members of [that group]. It is of course true that their ancestors arrived only a few tens of thousands of years ago, the blink of an eye in geologic , or even human evolutionary terms, but they were in fact “native” when explorers and settlers arrived from Europe.

Nathan: Actually, the term became common in the late ’70s and ’80s, and was not used in the 1960s. Indeed the most radical and vocal “Native American” group in that period (2nd Wounded Knee, Alcatraz, etc.) Called themselves the American Indian Movement (AIM), not the “Native American Movement.”  Like many politically correct terms, “Native American” was invented by academic and political elites, to try and ingratiate themselves with the community, like “black” and “African-American” and “Afro-American” and so many others.  These terms are used, quite often, in the most asinine of ways – example, referring to a German of Namibian heritage as a “German African-American” or speaking of the large “Afro-American population” of Belgium (which is mostly black-skinned people from the Congo (Zaire) and nearby countries).  And of course, REFUSING to refer to an American whose parents were Afrikaaner as an African-American because he has “white skin.”

Why is “native American” disrespectful?  Let me first answer that from my own perspective, and then from that of a good many enrolled members of various tribes.  But I warn you, I am an engineer and a geologist, and I do not believe in either evolution nor the standard “historical geology” fantasies.

Native, as in “native-born” refers to someone who is born in a given land, usually of parents also born in that specific land: it is usually a legal term.  Native also has a negative connotation, as in primitive, local (hicks, yokels, etc.)  So the PC term itself has issues and is confusing.  I for example, am a “native” of Colorado because I was born in that state.  Although I lived outside that state, I was a state resident (“citizen”) from my age of majority (18) until I gave up my Colorado citizenship in 1990 to become a South Dakota resident or citizen.  However, my parents were NOT native Coloradoans; one was born in New Mexico and one in Texas.  Under the laws of those states, I can claim to be a “Native Texan” and a “Native New Mexican” because my parents were born and lived in both those states.  I can also claim to be a Native Texan AND a Native “Texican” or “Texian” because I have several Anglo ancestors who were citizens of the Republic of Texas, and were naturalized (back to being) Americans when Texas was admitted.  But I can also be called “Native American” by the PC crowd because some of my ancestors were Cherokee from the Carolinas, Chiricahua (one of  the Apache bands), and Quahadi Numu (Comanche). (The Comanche was originally “Texan” and the Chricuahua “Arizonan” but both tribes ended up in what is now Oklahoma. So the phrase is, at best, confusing and often misleading.

That, of course, is the problem with “native American” and “American Indian” and even the general term “AmerInd.”  It is like introducing a Lapp, a Basque, a Hellene, and a Manxman and telling them that they must be “Native Europeans” or “European Whiteskins” and that they all have to wear Greek kilts, eat Lapp-style Reindeer steak, and use the Suomi sauna, wear Phyrgian caps, and have Roman-style government!  Lumping everyone together IS demeaning and judgmental and certainly does not further liberty.

Closely related to this is the confusion of “Native American” versus “Native Canadian” and “Native Mexican” (and so on for every nation in the Americas – mainland and islands included.  I have seen Canadian tribal members called “Native American” when rather, they are “Native Canadians”  (where, by the way, the politically correct term is “First Nations.”)

Also, many enrolled members of tribes consider it demeaning because of the connotations of “native” (as made popular by the colonial powers of the 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s) for people in Asia and Africa – backwards and primitive.  (There is a similar negative connotation to the term “Aboriginal.”)  And they do NOT consider themselves to be all mashed together in some mass, instead preferring (as do I) to be identified by their nation(s) (tribe(s)).  Even so, they do take more pride in being called “American Indians” because they ARE Americans, and overall, most tribal members I know are very patriotic, and usually (despite their votes for Democrats and Republicans) pretty conservative.

Continuing your question:
And how is the term “American Indian” appropriate or non-disrespectful? India is, as I’m sure you’re aware, an actual country far far away from America, which is not in any way connected to the people who settled in America. Why does Christopher Columbus’s brain fart carry so much weight, and the patina of legitimacy?

Nathan: First off, “American Indian” or just plain “Indian” is NOT a reference to the subcontinent (or nation) of India, but rather to the “Indies,” which was the Spanish name referring to all of southern Asia, including what has been for centuries known as the “East Indies” – which today is mostly the nation of Indonesia.  This was based on the miscalculation as to the diameter of the planet, which is why the islands of the Caribbean are now the “West Indies.”  Since these were the first long-term inhabitants to be encountered by Europeans (well, Spanish, though commanded by an “Italian” who was actually a Genoan), the name stuck, was NOT derogatory, and makes sense if you are dealing with multiple nations (tribes) and cultures.

This is similar to the fact that most Brits and Americans refer to the Low Lands (Nederland or Netherlands) as “Holland” even though that is just one small (if important) province of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Koninkrijk der Nederlanden).) Or referring to a Scot or Manxman as a “Brit” (short for British subject).  Or even referring to Britain as “England” as so many Americans do, including those who claim to be “PC.”

Second, the term American Indian was not originally derogatory, disrespectful, or non-appropriate.  It was simply descriptive.  And for that matter, the use of just the word “Indian”  when its meaning is clear in context should not be a problem.  It is simply a name, and not intended to be derogatory in any way. Do we have a problem with “titmouse” even though it is not a mouse and does not have teats?

As for Columbus himself, he didn’t establish any legitimacy; indeed, he was long dead before the term “American Indian” came into common use in English. But consider how the name America even came about: from a relatively unimportant explorer, who discovered (as known even in his day) pretty much nothing.  If we want to be so politically correct, then let us use the English translation of the most common term for the two continents used by the pre-Columbian inhabitants:  “Turtle.”  So it would be “these United States of Turtle,” and we would be “Turtleans?”

I don’t think disrespect has anything to do with the use of the term:  anymore than it would be disrespectful to call Johnny Cash’s “boy named Sue” by the name his parents gave him.  It is not the name, but how the name is used, that constitutes disrespect.

My own preference (which I normally use) in referring to people from several different tribes or culture groups is an anthropological term, “AmerInd.”  It is both simple, it removes at least some of the confusion and sting of the full terms, and can be neutral.  It has customarily been applied to ALL pre-1492 inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere.  And people understand it.  Still, whenever possible, I will use the common name or the people’s own name for themselves:  Navajo or Dineh, Inde or Apache, Comanche or Numu, and Sioux or L/D/Nakota.  (Actually, the best term in my opinion is Ahkota for the Seven Council Fires, since it includes (like “Sioux”) all three dialects.)  I know and work with many people who are mostly (by blood) and culturally Lakota, and while about 1 in 10 prefer “Native American,” more accept “American Indian”

Obviously, people’s personal attitude can vary.  But I do not think that refusing to use a term (or terms) that is clearly understood and accepted by most of the people so described makes sense.  Even the term “Redskin” falls into that category: it is nothing more than descriptive, just like “White” or “Black” unless it is used with the intent to demean.  Those are unlike words such as “squaw” or “buck” which were derogatory from the git-go.  (Which is why words like “brave” or “warrior” are, to me and many others are acceptable.)  The fact is, it is to the advantage of politicians and statists to denigrate the use of certain words.

I hope this answers your questions.  Thanks for asking!

About tpolnathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (christian), Pahasapan, Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer.
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2 Responses to Answers to reader’s questions

  1. Bear says:

    AmerInd is the term I generally use when I’m not referring to (or know which) a specific tribe or nation. It pops up in Net Assets, and that’s one thing no one has ever complained about. Yet.

    When folks insist on “Native American,” I like to point out that _I_ was born in America; definitely native to the place. Is there some official number of generations of native-born ancestors you need to qualify? I was born in America, my parents were born in America, ditto the grandparents. Now, my paternal G-Granpa Bussjaeger was immigrant. Do I qualify? Why not? What’s the cut off, why _that_ number?

    For some reason about then, the person starts yelling, then storms off without answering. [grin]

    (And yes, I have fun with people who want to know if I’m “German” — as in “German-American” — too.)


    • MamaLiberty says:

      I’d love to watch you twisting their tails that way. LOL I’m proud of my Scottish ancestry, but not because of any nation/state. Instead. I’m proud because they survived terrible adversity and came to America, then helped produce the most free and prosperous society on earth. And, one day, I hope the best of that society can flourish again. When people ask, I tell them I live in the territory called Wyoming, on the continent called America. I am not a “citizen, nor do I “belong” to the “country.” Those are slave terms.


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