“I would also like to be called by my name, Kyle.”
May 22, 2015 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Do You Prefer "Native American" or "American Indian"? 6 Prominent Voices Respond "Wherever I go, from the reservation to the city, through the halls of academia, from younger to older, to the grassroots, and in social media, I hear numerous discussions and debates around how people choose to identify with certain references, e.g., which word is the most appropriate: Native American? Native? Indian? American Indian? Indigenous? My task here was to ask several friends and people whom I (and many others) admire what reference they feel most comfortable with."
posted by jaguar (67 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I work in a field where this has become an issue.
There are regional as well as personal variations and Roxanna Thomas's response rings true to me. Use the preferred term for a person or people and be descriptive rather then resorting to easy shorthand when talking about the peoples that lived here before the arrival of Europeans (and the descendants of those people).
It ain't easy, but it ain't hard either.
posted by Seamus at 10:50 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


He also stated he refuses to be called, ‘Chief’ because, “I am not a chief of a tribe. It’s a sacred thing.”

Do people need to be told this? If you're running around calling Native Americans "chief," yeah, you're pretty much a racist.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:52 AM on May 22, 2015 [38 favorites]


Thanks for this post. As an Indian (ie from India) I'm very interested in this question, because even I find it annoying that huge swathes of people all across the Americas have been named Indian out of a stupid historical mistake. Even the name India is one bestowed upon the country by outsiders. I think Roxanne Thomas' attitude is the best -"She said she puts more effort into referring to herself by her indigenous tribes and in their indigenous language because, as she stated, “It’s about going back to our original self. Why use names that are give to us?" If everyone did that, then people would start getting used to the names, and the diversity of tribes etc, as easily as we are now used to countries.
posted by dhruva at 10:53 AM on May 22, 2015 [14 favorites]


This is a great summation of the diversity of perspectives on this question out there. I'm white and anglo, but like Seamus, I work in a field where I interact a lot with Native artists and performers, and similarly, at my job we embrace the idea of avoiding generics whenever possible and referring to people by their particular community; by asking them how they prefer to identify themselves whenever it's relevant to do so; and by using 'indigenous' if you're unsure. I've worked with people from indigenous communities who choose each and every one of these terms, some very assertively and some more flexibly, so it's not monolithic at all. i think it's one of those things where a basic level of mindfulness and respect for others forms the basis of the language choice.
posted by Miko at 10:58 AM on May 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


It seems like there's a generational component to this - the older folks are debating between Native American and Indian, while the younger kids like neither option very much, as they're names given to them rather than names they decided upon themselves. They seem to want to identify as their own culture/ethniity first, and then Native or Indigenous to describe their culture's larger place in things.

This makes sense, because if you ask a white person, "What are you?" you'll be told they're "Italian-Scotts-Irish with some Polish" not "European."

He added, “I would also like to be called by my name, Kyle.”
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:12 AM on May 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


I went to college with an Onondaga girl who said she preferred "American Indian" because that was the language used in the treaties with the U.S. Government. She felt like the U.S. had already failed to hold up so much of their end, she didn't want to give them any kind of moral excuse for those lapses or any future ones.

I don't remember her exact words, but it was something along the lines of, "If Sam makes a contract with a guy he calls Joe, even if it's not his real name, Joe's DBA (doing business as) Joe, and he signs the contract. If Joe starts calling himself John, there are going to be people who support Sam when he says, 'I agreed to pay 'Joe,' not 'John.'"

Not that it really makes a practical difference in the end, I suppose, but it was her way of saying, "I held up my end of the bargain; can you say the same?"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:13 AM on May 22, 2015 [16 favorites]


I wonder why we have to differentiate...can't we just refer to them as members of a Tribe or Nation?

We don't often ask Germans, Spaniards or the French if they prefer to be called European, do we? Seems like a linguistic way of reducing identity into a stereotype.
posted by Chuffy at 11:15 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


can't we just refer to them as members of a Tribe or Nation?

Definitely, individually. But there are some good reasons why a pan-Native nomenclature is necessary because of the shared political history of indigenous people.
posted by Miko at 11:16 AM on May 22, 2015 [21 favorites]


I worked for some years for a Native American organization that featured the word "Indian" prominently in its title. They used "Native American" and "Indian" interchangeably in their communities. Nobody seemed to have a problem with it, which isn't to say no one did, only that it wasn't a contentious enough issue to warrant conspicuous discussion/debate.

That said, I typically call someone whatever they asked to be called within reason.
posted by echocollate at 11:17 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


> We don't often ask Germans, Spaniards or the French if they prefer to be called European, do we? Seems like a linguistic way of reducing identity into a stereotype.

We (residents and citizens of the USA) do not have a historical relationship with German, Spaniards, or French, or descendents of same, as we do with indigenous peoples of what is now the US. How is this not obvious?

You aren't required to ask, of course. But if you don't, and the person or people you are speaking with say "Please call me/us [this term]," and you decide you don't have to because... you know better than they do about reducing identities?.... don't be surprised it they think you are very rude, at best.
posted by rtha at 11:20 AM on May 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


That said, I typically call someone whatever they asked to be called within reason.

I feel like in many ways this is the same kind of thing as we see with preferred gender pronouns. That is to say, anyone who doesn't identify as First Nations/Indian/Indigenous/Native/_____ doesn't really get to decide what 'within reason' is; we call people what they prefer to be called, no question. (That's not a dig at you; your comment sparked the thought, that's all.)

Where I worry, as a white and cis man, is whether it's better to outright ask someone what they prefer, and thus force them into the tiring position of yet again having to be an educator, if even for a moment, or to hope it sort of just comes up and avoid using signifiers until it does. Thoughts?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:32 AM on May 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is interesting, compared to the similar question in Canada about terminology. While there are some generally agreed upon "rules", I know that opinions still vary and it's important, as Miko stated so well, to be mindful of individuals' own preferred identity.
posted by Kabanos at 11:33 AM on May 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


it's much easier to deal with this in spanish. i can say indios or cholos or indigenos without any confusion or explanation required but god forbid i describe myself as "ndn" in english in the presence of non native ppl who will then tell me i'm using inappropriate terms to refer to myself.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:49 AM on May 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


As a member of the demographic in question, the way I tend to handle this when it comes up is by saying "I'm Poarch Creek." Then the interesting, sometimes at least, bit starts.

See, there's a few layers to this. Namely because my physical appearance is only marked by very dark hair and a darker-than-most-non-minorities skin tone, and as such I don't really present as what most folks think of when they think about these groups, and because I reside in a place far from the places that folks nowadays, thanks to relocation (which my tribe was lucky enough to avoid), think of when the subject is brought up. That means people are sometimes surprised when I mention that sort of heritage and genealogy.

So, back on track, after answering with or mentioning my lineage the reaction of the audience tends to vary wildly and that's when their true nature becomes apparent. Some folks are interested and ask, usually politely, me to explain the situation, which is somewhat understandable and usually innocuous enough. Nosy, but nice... usually.

Others take it at face value without a question or qualm, no differently than if I said my family was Scot-Irish with a bit of French, these are the people that I immediately like and appreciate the most.

Some people are obviously incredulous and think I'm somehow mistaken or even lying. They're the ones that almost inevitably end up asking rude questions about history, why I appear the way I do, and how me/our tribe must be just as we are for the money or, I shit you not, if my family ever lived in a teepee or sells cigarettes. The "Haha, you know I'm kidding around, that's so interesting" sort of chatter.

So, yea, it's funny how my experience with those three groups of listeners over the years of my life has nudged me to answer that question with "I'm Poarch Creek." the way I do. I don't know what I was getting at here, if anything, but I guess maybe I'm saying don't be in the asshole group and avoid the nosy group, at least until you know someone much better than a lunch work party proximity thing, if at all possible when put into this situation. Which I wish I could say is common sense but, sadly, my experience says otherwise.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:52 AM on May 22, 2015 [37 favorites]


Americans in my home have been taken aback to see The Book of Negroes on my bookshelf. I realize that for Americans the word has a wierd sort of connotation -- it's not inherently offensive, but anyone who uses it these days is either way behind the times our outright racist. That's why the book was sold under a different title in the US.

Anyway, the words "Indian" and "Tribe" inspire the same sort of cringing in me. I don't think either of these words are used in polite company in Canada (except occasionally by people within the groups who may be reclaiming the words, or in reference to titles of acts or treaties (this akin to the use of "negro" in United Negro College Fund in the US, I think)).

Oh and poffin, I would not use the word "Indio" (unless referring to a person from India) or "cholo" in Spanish, either. In fact, my parents have amusingly started referring to people from India as "Indiano" specifically to avoid using the word "Indio."
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:52 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Where I worry, as a white and cis man, is whether it's better to outright ask someone what they prefer, and thus force them into the tiring position of yet again having to be an educator, if even for a moment, or to hope it sort of just comes up and avoid using signifiers until it does. Thoughts?

Ha. I didn't preview and, as such, missed this. Maybe see my preceding post for some sort of relevance perhaps?
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:53 AM on May 22, 2015


That's very helpful, thanks!
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:57 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


i can say indios

Here in Mexico, it's my understanding that the word in frowned upon.
posted by dhruva at 11:59 AM on May 22, 2015


In Canada we eventually learned to use the term "First Nations", because, you know, they were here first. I think everyone can agree there's nothing remotely pejorative or inaccurate about that term and it affords a lot more dignity than "American"-anything or anything-"Indian". The word Native carries far too much negative baggage.
posted by simra at 12:01 PM on May 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


poffin, indio would be offensive in Peru, and I sure wouldn't call anyone a cholo. If possible I'd use the particular group name (Quechua, Aymara, Aguaruna, etc.).
posted by zompist at 12:02 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guess I didn't mention much as to the whys and wherefors of my answer choice but I think it basically evolved into that because when I said "I'm Native American" then it mostly led folk to believe that I was not actually culturally or physically tied to a tribe so much as I was a poser who was somehow playing on a distant relative or family rumor that we had that blood in us. Sad but true, so I started shaping the answer to a more factual, descriptive one that made it that much harder for folks to discard my heritage as hogwash.

And I should mention that myself personally, and my tribe in general I feel, has a bit less of a dog in this fight with regards to other tribes and their cultural needs and preferences if only because we were lucky enough to have avoided the misery that was the Trail of Tears and being uprooted and placed into a locale in such a high concentration that the Othering factor was ramped up from simple racism (which we did/do experience within the reach of painful, living memory) to Oh-My-God-We're-Starving-Dying-And-Abused levels.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:05 PM on May 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


If only I had a penguin… Anyway, the words "Indian" and "Tribe" inspire the same sort of cringing in me. I don't think either of these words are used in polite company in Canada (except occasionally by people within the groups who may be reclaiming the words, or in reference to titles of acts or treaties…

This really shows how individualized and regional the preference is -- as it should be. In college I hung out with a lot of native students who were from various tribes in the Dakotas and Minnesota; they'd look at you funny if you referred to them as "indigenous" or "first nations" and generally preferred to be called "Indian" or "Native".
posted by nathan_teske at 12:14 PM on May 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


In Canada we eventually learned to use the term "First Nations", because, you know, they were here first.

And when talking about the even larger group of all indigenous people in Canada, we often use the more inclusive acronym "FNMI" which stands for First Nations, Metis, and Inuit.
posted by arcticwoman at 12:17 PM on May 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


I have no First Peoples/Pre-columbian ancestry that I am aware of, but I went to High School in Northeast Oklahoma, where most people I knew were able to proudly claim at least some tribal heritage (usually but not always Osage or Cherokee.) If possible (and necessary, which, come on, isn't all that often the case), I try to revert to the specific tribe as a descriptor if I don't know the person's preference explicitly.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:18 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I meant to add - in Canada it is important to include Metis and Inuit people by name (they also have distinctive Tribe or Band names, as do FN people) - as they are not First Nations but have faced much of the same (and some totally different forms of) colonialization and oppression. They often get forgotten when discussing Canada's Indigenous people.
posted by arcticwoman at 12:19 PM on May 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's never been clear to me why Inuit aren't considered First Nations. If I recall my history correctly, they were literally first, existing on the continent before any of the other First Nations. One of the articles linked above seems to imply that it's because "First Nations" came to replace "Indian" rather than to describe the various nations that were literally first. Still, it seems like the term should/could be extended to include the Inuit and not doing so feels weird and exclusionary to me since they're the nations that fit the term most.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:25 PM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


For those interested in hearing more discussion of this, with a lot of indigenous perspectives, the Facebook page of Indian Country Today has posted it, and there are 700-some comments from different folks.
posted by Miko at 12:32 PM on May 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


This really shows how individualized and regional the preference is -- as it should be. In college I hung out with a lot of native students who were from various tribes in the Dakotas and Minnesota; they'd look at you funny if you referred to them as "indigenous" or "first nations" and generally preferred to be called "Indian" or "Native".

You know, in principle I think you should call people what they want to be called and if someone said they preferred Native, I would call them Native. However, if someone told me they wanted to be called Indian, I don't think I would feel even close to comfortable doing it. I would just avoid calling them anything at all (which I don't imagine would be that hard. how often do we refer to people by their ethnicity?). I would no more call a person "Indian" than I could call a person the n-word if they wanted me to. That said, I spelled one those out and not the other, so I don't think they're equally bad, but they're both more bad than I want to be associated with.

And again, I do recognize that this is a place-specific thing. Though I wouldn't call anyone that, I understand that when Americans call people that it's a different thing because the word just isn't viewed quite the same way there.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:34 PM on May 22, 2015


It's never been clear to me why Inuit aren't considered First Nations. If I recall my history correctly, they were literally first, existing on the continent before any of the other First Nations. One of the articles linked above seems to imply that it's because "First Nations" came to replace "Indian" rather than to describe the various nations that were literally first. Still, it seems like the term should/could be extended to include the Inuit and not doing so feels weird and exclusionary to me since they're the nations that fit the term most.

My understanding is that this is because s. 35 of the Charter refers to "Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada", and "First Nations" has come to replace Indian. Not sure why the Charter drew a line between Inuit and Indian though.
posted by iona at 12:35 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the link. I'm always a little wary with this nomenclature but it sounds to me that "native American" is the most universally tolerated, if not the best. It seems more important that it's said with respect and, if possible, only as a placeholder for a better term that you can ask for.

And of course this is all assuming there's some reason to even bring it up — no one wants that "but where are you FROM" stuff.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:38 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


In Canada we eventually learned to use the term "First Nations", because, you know, they were here first.

You can still hear "Native" a fair bit in casual conversation, though I can't recall ever hearing "Indian."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:46 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


"American Aborigines" is technically correct, but woe be unto you if you actually use it. You're liable to get scourged and shamed.

aborigine -- an original inhabitant of a country or region who has been there from the earliest known times.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:50 PM on May 22, 2015


For those interested in hearing more discussion of this, with a lot of indigenous perspectives, the Facebook page of Indian Country Today has posted it, and there are 700-some comments from different folks.

Oh, nice. I found this article via their Facebook feed, but it didn't have any comments when I saw it. I'm white, and I've found that having the Indian Country Today Media Network in my Facebook feed has been a good way to keep educating myself -- it's helpful for me to see Native news reported by Native sources.
posted by jaguar at 12:57 PM on May 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Canada's Parliament has a document from HillNotes called Aboriginal Peoples: Terminology and Identity, which covers some of the First Nation/Inuit split (and what you should and shouldn't say); The University of British Columbia's Inigenous Foundations program has a page on terminology; and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has Frequently Asked Questions about Inuit Relations that include terminology.

> It's never been clear to me why Inuit aren't considered First Nations.

> My understanding is that this is because s. 35 of the Charter refers to "Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada", and "First Nations" has come to replace Indian. Not sure why the Charter drew a line between Inuit and Indian though.

The 1876 Indian Act excluded Inuits, but this was addressed in the 1924 amendment and Inuits were added into the classification of "Indian," but that was undone in 1930, and in the 1951 revision of the Indian Act explicitly excluded Eskimos (Inuit) (a good, long read, titled Canada's Relationship with Inuit: A History of Policy and Program Development, from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada).
posted by filthy light thief at 1:04 PM on May 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


"I would like to be called by my name, Kyle" is a classic answer, but the question is wrong: not how you would like to be CALLED, but how would you like to be DESCRIBED?
posted by Tom-B at 1:07 PM on May 22, 2015


You know, in principle I think you should call people what they want to be called and if someone said they preferred Native, I would call them Native. However, if someone told me they wanted to be called Indian, I don't think I would feel even close to comfortable doing it.

I have a Native coworker who is fine with either*, and from talking to him I feel fine using either with him, because it's how he talks. It would feel weird to keep using Native, if he's in a mood where he's saying Indian. When I talk about him, though, I tend to use Native for the reasons you mention.

*A third option, "fucking Indians," is mostly reserved for tribal leadership.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:12 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


My wife has lots of first cousins that are half-um, whatever you call it. But they generally refer to themselves as Indian. They're all members of The Three Affiliated Tribes and that group is so blended breaking it down to a specific tribe is impossible.

I used to work at a university office for minority students. The office manager was this sweet woman of Three Tribes descent. She never had a bad word to say about anyone until one day when a student was complaining because of something he'd gotten himself into. Once he was out the door she growled, "Typical Sioux." I raised an eyebrow. "Haven't gotten along with them for hundreds of years, why should I start now?"
posted by Ber at 1:14 PM on May 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think the context would have a lot to do with it. I know that this isn't at all an equivalent thing but it's logistically a little similar. If I'm talking to someone who lives in the same area as me, I'm from Bloomington, if they're from a little farther out, I'm from "The Cities" (meaning the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area), get a little farther outside of the state and I'm from Minnesota, outside the country and I'm just from the U.S.

If anyone around here told me that they were Lakota or Ojibwe or something and I'm familiar with group. I'd think people would be pretty familiar with a lot of the other more well know tribes (Navajo and Chippewa come to mind off the top of my head but there are a bunch of others that I would recognize if I heard them). Anything much more specific than that and I'm going to get lost and ask some follow up questions because I'm curious. I'd not heard of Diné before but it get's said as "Diné/Navajo" probably wouldn't peak my curiosity (though it did prompt a trip to wikipedia just now). I mean, I'm perfectly willing to use whatever term a person tells me they prefer, just know that if I'm not already familiar with that group on some level, I'm probably going to ask a follow-up question.

This "First Nations" thing makes sense but it seems like it would be awkward to use in conversation. Can I just stick with Native American and give people an opportunity to correct me if they prefer something else? Actually, I think more than anything else, making it routine and not at all awkward to have someone express their preferred term is the way to go.
posted by VTX at 1:15 PM on May 22, 2015


"I would like to be called by my name, Kyle" is a classic answer, but the question is wrong: not how you would like to be CALLED, but how would you like to be DESCRIBED?

As "That dude, Kyle," probably? Or maybe as "Kyle, 'of the Eagle Tribe and Brown Bear Clan of the Tlingit and Yurok Nations and born for the Black Streak Wood People and Edgewater of the Navajo'" as it says right in TFA?

I'm willing to guess that an 18 year old who is savvy enough to become a political operative probably knows the difference between 'describe' and 'call.'
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:17 PM on May 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


yea, it's weird that the national museum of the american indian is called that.
posted by kliuless at 1:49 PM on May 22, 2015


A friend of mine from back home who grew up on the Crow Reservation believes that people who aren't really enrolled tribal members (people who claim some Cherokee great-grandmother and the like) care more about nomenclature because people living on the res have lots more to deal with.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:35 PM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I also hate the constant dichotomy of rez Natives (therefore the “real” ones) and off-rez Natives on the mascot issue. The reason some folks on the rez don’t care as much (which is also a dangerous stereotype, cause many of the lead activists in this, Amanda Blackhorse included, live on or near reservations) is because they aren’t faced with all these examples I showed above on a daily basis. We in the city have to walk down the street and encounter this racism everyday, and we’re separated from the counter-narratives and counter-representations that would surround us if we lived in our communities. Many of us don’t have easy access to our ceremonies, our aunties, our grandmas, our land–the things that show us we aren’t the harmful stereotypes we see at the sports arena. Folks on the rez do have those counter-examples, surrounding them at all times. Additionally, if you only interact with other Native people everyday, no one is going to call you a redsk*n as a slur.

But those on reservations also have deep, real, and life-or-death challenges, that many of us in urban settings don’t have to face everyday. Which brings us to the “bigger issues” argument. Broken record time, for those who read the blog often:

Yes, unequivocally, we have big things to tackle in Indian Country. We have pressing and dire issues that are taking the lives of our men and women everyday, and I am in absolutely no way minimizing this reality. But we also live in a state of active colonialism. In order to justify the genocide against Native peoples in this country, we must be painted as inferior–that’s the colonial game. These images continue that process. The dominant culture therefore continues to marginalize our peoples, to ignore and erase our existence. We are taught everyday, explicitly in classrooms, and implicitly through messages from the media, that our cultures are something of the past, something that exists in negative contrast to “western” values, and something that can be commodified and enjoyed by anyone with $20 to buy a cheap plastic headdress. These stereotypical images like mascots feed into this ongoing cycle, and until we demand more, our contemporary existence (and therefore the “real” problems in Indian Country) simply doesn’t exist in the minds of the dominant culture.

How can we expect mainstream support for sovereignty, self-determination, Nation Building, tribally-controlled education, health care, and jobs when the 90% of Americans only view Native people as one-dimensional stereotypes, situated in the historic past, or even worse, situated in their imaginations?
posted by jaguar at 3:01 PM on May 22, 2015 [14 favorites]


Identity is such a funny thing. I guess we need to wait for the aliens to arrive before referring to oneself as a First Earthling will be accepted as true rather than a snark dismissal of arbitrary othering of each other.
posted by astrobiophysican at 3:08 PM on May 22, 2015


Even then, I personally don't think I'd be in a huge rush to give up my own cultural self-identification.

I don't have a lot of detailed information about the naming of NMAI, but I do know that the design of the entire institution went through a lot of collaborative processes so I suspect it was the best of many possible compromises. Also, I believe that it was chosen partly to honor (or possibly comply legally) with the origin of much of its collection, which was the Heye Museum of the American Indian, established in 1916 when that was pretty much the dominant-culture term.
posted by Miko at 3:17 PM on May 22, 2015


The NMAI in DC also has the best cafe and nicest restrooms of any of the museums on the national mall.

Though we always referred to it as the "Native American" history museum. Should we have asked what it preferred to be called?
posted by VTX at 3:43 PM on May 22, 2015


> Though we always referred to it as the "Native American" history museum. Should we have asked what it preferred to be called?

I'm reading this as really snarky, and defensive. Is that how you meant it? If you did, why? The building is not a person, which is obvious.
posted by rtha at 3:50 PM on May 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


I kind of thought I was setting someone up to tell to call it, "Kyle." Which, on reflection might be in poor taste, in which case I apologize.

Also it bugs me that it used "American Indian" instead of "Native American" or some other more generally acceptable term. I didn't even realize it used the term when I was there so I guess I was kind of snarkily criticizing the use of the term. Definitely not meant to be defensive.
posted by VTX at 4:04 PM on May 22, 2015


Well, as noted in my comment, there is a lot of history to why the term was chosen. Maybe you want to look into the reasons for it, since it bugs you, rather than get snarky about it.
posted by Miko at 4:12 PM on May 22, 2015


This doesn't speak to naming issues, but does give some sense of the dynamics and tensions swirling around the creation of the NMAI.

Been through the Act, been through the Heye archive. I can't find specific discussions about how the name was chosen, but I do think it comes down to honoring continuity with the Heye museum (and possibly, retaining money that might have come with it). Also, it was named in 1989, so.
posted by Miko at 4:26 PM on May 22, 2015


If only I had a penguin... It's never been clear to me why Inuit aren't considered First Nations. If I recall my history correctly, they were literally first,

Actually I believe the Inuit are the most recent arrivals, hence being penned into the north and not able to move south into occupied lands.
posted by Cosine at 4:27 PM on May 22, 2015


I used to work at NMAI; there are indeed historical legal reasons for the name, and fyi, its collections represent peoples from North, Central and South Americas. See http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Museum_of_the_American_Indian and http://www.nmai.si.edu/about/
posted by mollymillions at 4:27 PM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


like the NAACP?
posted by kliuless at 4:36 PM on May 22, 2015


mollymillions! I found those links, but they don't address the naming specifically. Do you know of anything that does? I'd hoped the act or the archive would have some narrative about it.
posted by Miko at 4:40 PM on May 22, 2015


One of the things I really liked about the article was that it was written by a Native woman who interviewed a variety of Native people and did not come to any prescriptivist "This is the consensus opinion on what you should do," addressed to either Native people or anyone else. I think there's a common laziness among majority-race people who just want "the settled answer" without actually engaging with the question(s), especially in spaces where people of color's voices are prioritized.
posted by jaguar at 6:53 PM on May 22, 2015 [12 favorites]


Actually I believe the Inuit are the most recent arrivals, hence being penned into the north and not able to move south into occupied lands.

Huh, ok. I always assumed they arrived first and the population expanded south more than migrating south, per se. Like as the population grew the next settlement would be formed farther and farther south. But I guess it makes sense that if you arrived first you would move south (even little by little, generation by generation) if you could, just for the more hospitable environment.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:00 PM on May 22, 2015


Eh...

Inuit who stayed in the North come from a long tradition of Arctic Survival. If it works, why try something else?

After many generations, Inuit have genetically drifted to derive more benefit from their traditional diet. Health problems abound with Inuit who are on typical Western North American diets. Many First Nations seem to, too, with increased incidences of diabetes most common among them.

Like how most modern drugs are studied using mostly Caucasian patients, pharmacogenomic differences between people of different ancestry has been acknowledged for decades but there's really minimal regulatory or research done. USA FDA Table of Pharmacogenomic Biomarkers in Drug Labeling.

There was a study in the past couple of years that genotyped a decent sample of First Nations people, including Inuit people. Indeed, there were at least a couple of "waves" and the Inuit were pretty distinct from the other First Nations peoples. I can't recall what order the Inuit crossed the Bearing Straight relative to the other First Nations.

While the Inuit has have had their culture and lands encroached by colonization; the colonizers were/are-still uninterested in encroaching on Inuit territories compared to other First Nations due to the environment of those territories.

Then again, global climate change is likely to alter the climate of Canada's North significantly. It'll probably be a disaster but life will probably adapt. Whether humans are included in those who'll adapt isn't a a sure thing.
posted by porpoise at 8:50 PM on May 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I prefer “Native” most often as a collective and to refer to myself, but I prefer my tribe whenever possible. I also use “Indian” a bit and I am around people who use this, but I usually see it reserved for humor and poking fun at ourselves. In my experience it can be a term that many Native people are okay with calling each other, but some may get a little irritated if it is applied to them by outsiders (ironically?), especially because it has a history of being used in a derogatorily tone/context by non-Natives. Some people use it frequently and in many contexts and others hate any use of it.

American Indian strikes me more as something many are (often reluctantly) okay with out of the necessity of legal language and the legacy and legitimacy of activism (American Indian Movement, National Congress of American Indians, etc). However, I personally avoid Native American as much as possible because it seems to only be used in the US. I am Ojibwe and the broader Ojibwe nation, like many others, was split in half by the Canadian/American border, so it doesn’t seem to be an appropriate term…plus it hinges on defining ourselves based on colonialism. I’m okay with “Native” though and I use this most often.

Personally, I am also very fond of the term “First Nations” even though I know that has a political definition in Canada. However, I feel it is a strong collective term that establishes indigeneity and also respects the fact that tribal governments are not only real and legitimate entities, but also that there is a multiplicity of tribal nations. All these are huge problems that lawmakers and the average American have trouble comprehending, which harms tribal sovereignty. So I think it’s an important thing to emphasize via a name. Native American stereotypes are so monolithic in the US and I believe that has a lot to do with the fact that there are no collective terms that establish that there are hundreds of individual tribes and that there are modern nations with political structure and power. Aside from that, I see Indigenous being used regularly (and that's also a good route to go if you're unsure of what to call someone), but usually as a catch-all for broader discussions of colonialism across North and South America.
posted by giizhik at 11:03 PM on May 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


This makes sense, because if you ask a white person, "What are you?" you'll be told they're "Italian-Scotts-Irish with some Polish" not "European."

This whole list of part ethnicities seems much more an American thing then a white thing. The debate in the UK usually centres around English or Scottish or Welsh or Northern Irish vs British identity (the last being the most complex). There are occasional polls as to whether people also see themself as European. Mostly Brits don't, not sure what other Europeans answer.
posted by biffa at 10:41 AM on May 23, 2015


the Facebook page of Indian Country Today has posted it

As a cis white guy who lives in the whitestiest white area of a pretty white state, I try to follow people of color and others different than me on tumblr because the exposure helps me not only to find cool stuff and learn about awesome people, but because I am made more aware of issues others are facing that I may not even be aware of (and am really unlikely to be exposed to in my daily life here).

Can anyone point me to tumblr blogs that are either authored/collated by First Nations folk or by advocacy groups? I'd love to add them to my "cut-rate panopticon". I don't facebook much any longer, though maybe I should "start over" and get rid of the crufty "I knew that person once for 15 minutes" folks and build a FB feed which would mimic my tumblr experience. Though probably with fewer puppies and random nudity.
posted by maxwelton at 12:52 PM on May 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Can anyone point me to tumblr blogs that are either authored/collated by First Nations folk or by advocacy groups?

I like nitanahkohe. It tends to be a mix of social-justice issues and neat Native fashion.

Native Appropriations is a great social-justice blog, but I don't know if you can follow non-tumblr sites on tumblr.
posted by jaguar at 1:25 PM on May 23, 2015


Search the NDN tag- and be respectful of the people that ask whites not to follow them.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:27 PM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Native American stereotypes are so monolithic in the US and I believe that has a lot to do with the fact that there are no collective terms that establish that there are hundreds of individual tribes and that there are modern nations with political structure and power.

Last year I attended an international conference on criminal justice, and I saw a representative of the US State Department give a speech to a room full of non-Americans. Discussing how complex American criminal law is, she said "the US criminal justice system has federal, state, and tribal jurisdictions."

And it gave me a real jolt, because that is not how they teach it in school. Nothing I ever learned in school really emphasized that Native American people were anything other than another ethnic group, no different than Asian Americans for example. Sure, everyone knows about "Indian casinos" and all, but we are not taught to view that in any sort of larger context. And I can't help thinking it's deliberate.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:16 PM on May 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Super interesting article Jaguar. Thanks for posting.
posted by biggreenplant at 12:25 PM on May 24, 2015


Last year I was in a bar in Anchorage that had this sign on the wall. Everybody was friendly as hell. FWIW. (this place in Talkeetna was one of the best dives I've evr been top, although you're not allowed to say "fuck" inside it)
posted by jonmc at 2:26 PM on May 24, 2015


Man, you live a sheltered life. Picture if you will, Nazi tents. As in merchant tents at a "county fair" all selling white supremacist literature and Nazi artifacts.

There is one that is not. Its owner has a pony-tail down to his ass. He has a size 6XL T-Shirt pegged to the back wall of his merchant's tent. It shows a stone tomahawk with the legend: "CUSTER HAD IT COMING."

If it's an open-carry state, he has a huge revolver strapped to his waist. If it's not an open carry state, he has a huge revolver strapped to his waist.

Picture if you will, local cops in New England responding to no-kidding Nazis complaining about an Indian with a handgun.

They sell popcorn at the fair, yes.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:37 PM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


If anyone around here told me that they were Lakota or Ojibwe or something and I'm familiar with group. I'd think people would be pretty familiar with a lot of the other more well know tribes (Navajo and Chippewa come to mind off the top of my head but there are a bunch of others that I would recognize if I heard them).

Chippewa = Ojibwe
posted by elsietheeel at 12:31 PM on May 26, 2015


"And when talking about the even larger group of all indigenous people in Canada, we often use the more inclusive acronym "FNMI" which stands for First Nations, Metis, and Inuit."

I wonder if that gets pronounced "fenmi."

"And it gave me a real jolt, because that is not how they teach it in school. Nothing I ever learned in school really emphasized that Native American people were anything other than another ethnic group, no different than Asian Americans for example. Sure, everyone knows about "Indian casinos" and all, but we are not taught to view that in any sort of larger context. And I can't help thinking it's deliberate."

I wonder how much of that is just from where you grew up — through a lot of the upper midwest, excise taxes (like cigarette and gas) make a lot of people really clear on the geographical bounds of tribal authorities. It's a really weird quasi-international setup where the enforcement of pretty much all of the treaties depends largely on the whims of one party.
posted by klangklangston at 9:08 PM on June 15, 2015


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