The Native American name controversy is an ongoing discussion about the changing terminology used by the indigenous peoples of the Americas to describe themselves, as well as how they prefer to be referred to by others. Preferred terms vary primarily by region and age. As indigenous people and communities are diverse, there is no consensus on naming, aside from the fact that most people prefer to be referred to by their specific nation.
When discussing broad groups of peoples, naming may be based on shared language, region, or historical relationship, such as "Algonquin-speaking peoples", "Pueblo-dwelling peoples", "Plains Indians" or "LDN peoples" (Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples).
Many English exonyms have been used to refer to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, who were resident within their own countries when European colonists arrived in the 15th and 16th centuries. Some of these names were based on French, Spanish, or other European language terminology used by earlier explorers and colonists; some resulted from the colonists' attempt to translate endonyms from the native language into their own; and some were pejorative terms arising out of prejudice and fear, during periods of conflict between the cultures involved.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, indigenous peoples in the Americas have been more vocal about the ways they wish to be referred to, pressing for the elimination of terms widely considered to be obsolete, inaccurate, or racist. During the latter half of the 20th century and the rise of the Indian rights movement, the United States government responded by proposing the use of the term "Native American", to recognize the primacy of indigenous peoples' tenure in the nation. The term has met with only partial acceptance. Other naming conventions have been proposed and used, but none are accepted by all indigenous groups. Typically, each name has a particular audience and political or cultural connotation, and regional usage varies.
In Canada, while Status Indian remains a legal designation due to the Indian Act, the term "Indian" is generally considered offensive when used by non-Natives with the term First Nations being preferred for peoples covered by the Indian Act and Indigenous peoples preferred for Native peoples generally or when talking about Inuit and Métis who do not fall under the "First Nations" category.
Europeans at the time of Christopher Columbus's voyage often referred to all of South and East Asia as "India" or "the Indias/Indies", sometimes dividing the area into "Greater India", "Middle India", and "Lesser India". The oldest surviving terrestrial globe, by Martin Behaim in 1492 (before Columbus' voyage), labels the entire Asian subcontinent region as "India".
Columbus carried a passport in Latin from the Spanish monarchs that dispatched him ad partes Indie ("toward the regions of India") on their behalf. When he landed in the Antilles, Columbus referred to the resident peoples he encountered there as "Indians" reflecting his purported belief that he had reached the Indian Ocean. The name stuck; for centuries the native people of the Americas were collectively called "Indians" in various European languages. This misnomer was perpetuated in place naming; the islands of the Caribbean were named, and are still known as, the West Indies.
As European colonists began to move into the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries, and have more sustained contact with the resident peoples, it became clear to them that the residents were not a homogeneous group sharing a unified culture and government, but discrete societies with their own distinct languages and social systems. Early historical accounts show that some colonists attempted to learn and record the autonyms of these individual groups, but the use of the general term "Indian" persisted.
In 1968, the American Indian Movement was founded. In 1977, a delegation from the International Indian Treaty Council, an arm of AIM, elected to collectively identify as "American Indian", at the United Nations Conference on Indians in the Americas at Geneva, Switzerland. Some activists and public figures of indigenous descent, such as Russell Means, prefer "American Indian" to the more recently adopted "Native American".
In the late 20th century, some American public figures suggested that the origin of the term was not from a confusion with India, but from the Spanish expression En Dios, meaning "in God", or a similar one in Italian. Proponents of this idea include the American Indian activist Russell Means; and the comedian George Carlin.
In his book The Wind Is My Mother, the Muscogee writer Bear Heart (Nokus Feke Ematha Tustanaki) wrote: "When Columbus found the natives here, they were gentle people who accepted him, so Columbus wrote in his journal, 'These are people of God' ("una gente in Dios"). Later the 's' was dropped and Indio became Indian." However, as the writer David Wilton noted in his book Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends, this phrase does not appear in any of Columbus' writing. Wilton also says that since Greek and Roman times, more than a millennium before the voyages of Columbus, many European languages used variations of the term "Indian" to describe the peoples of the Indian subcontinent.
Objections to the usage of "Indian" and "American Indian" include the fact that "Indian" arose from a historical error, and thus does not accurately reflect the derivation of the people to whom it refers; and some feel that the term has absorbed negative and demeaning connotations through its historical usage that render it objectionable in context. Additionally, "American Indian" is often understood to mean only the peoples of the mainland body of the United States, which excludes other Native Americans in the United States who are considered indigenous peoples of the Americas; including the Haida, Tlingit, Athabascan, Inuit, Yup'ik (Yuits/Alutiiq/Cup'ik), Iñupiat, Aleut (i.e., the groups whose traditional languages are Eskimo-Aleut languages), Marshallese, and Samoan; who are referred to collectively as either Alaskan Natives, First Nations, Native Hawaiians or Siberians.
Supporters of the terms "Indian" and "American Indian" argue that they have been in use for such a long period of time that many people have become accustomed to them and no longer consider them exonyms. Both terms are still widely used today. "American Indian" appears often in treaties between the United States and the indigenous peoples with whom they have been negotiating since the colonial period, and many federal, state and local laws also use it.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites usage of the uncapitalized term native American in several publications reaching as far back as 1737, but it is unclear whether these texts refer to indigenous peoples or simply to persons born on American soil. During the 1850s, a group of Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americans used the capitalized term Native Americans to differentiate themselves from recent Irish and German immigrants, both of whom were predominantly Catholic. The group later formed the "Know-Nothings", a 19th-century political party that opposed immigration to the United States, a policy known as nativism. The Know-Nothings also called themselves the "Native American Party" and were referred to in the press with the capitalized term.
In 1918, leaders of the Peyote Religion incorporated as the Native American Church of Oklahoma. In 1956, Aldous Huxley wrote a letter in which he thanks his correspondent for "your most interesting letter about the Native American churchmen".
The use of Native American or native American to refer to peoples indigenous to the Americas came into widespread, common use during the civil rights era of the 1960s and 1970s. This term was considered to represent historical fact more accurately (i.e., "Native" cultures predated European colonization), while activists also believed it was free of negative historical connotations that had come to be associated with previous terms.
Other objections to Native American--whether capitalized or not--include a concern that it is often understood to exclude American groups outside the continental US (e.g., Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico), and indigenous groups in South America, Mexico and Canada. The word American is sometimes questioned because the peoples referred to resided in the Americas before they were so named.
As of 1995, according to the US Census Bureau, 50% of people who identified as Indigenous preferred the term American Indian, 37% preferred Native American, and the remainder preferred other terms or had no preference.
According to The American Heritage Dictionary, "indigenous specifies that something or someone is native rather than coming or being brought in from elsewhere: an indigenous crop; the Ainu, a people indigenous to the northernmost islands of Japan."
The United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development used the term "indigenous peoples" for the first time in its official political declaration in 2002. Prior to this date, the term was considered to be "still under debate" for usage in official UN documents.
The term is less favored among some Canadian First Nations peoples; the French equivalent indigène has historically been used in a derogatory sense toward them.
The English adjective "aboriginal" and the noun "aborigine" comes from a Latin phrase meaning "from the origin;" the ancient Romans used it to refer a contemporary group, one of many ancient peoples in Italy. Until about 1910, these terms were used in English to refer to various indigenous peoples. Today throughout most of the English-speaking world, it is most commonly understood to refer to the Indigenous Australians, with the notable exception of Canada, where the term "aboriginal" refers to Aboriginal Canadians (but usually "aborigine" does not) (see below).
"Alaska Native" refers to the indigenous peoples in Alaska, including the Aleut, Athabascan, Alutiiq, Cup'ik, Haida, Inuit, Iñupiat, Tlingit and Yup'ik peoples. The term predominates because of its legal use in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and includes all the above-named peoples.
The term Eskimo was once common, but is now sometimes perceived as derogatory, especially in Canada. In Alaska, however, the term Eskimo is commonly used, because it includes both Yupik and Inupiat, while Inuit is not accepted as a collective term or even specifically used for Inupiat (who technically are Inuit). No universal term other than Eskimo, inclusive of all Inuit and Yupik people, exists for the Inuit and Yupik peoples.
The primary reason that Eskimo is considered derogatory is the questionable but widespread perception that in Algonkian languages it means "eaters of raw meat". One Cree speaker suggested the original word that became corrupted to Eskimo might indeed have been askamiciw (which means "he eats it raw"), and the Inuit are referred to in some Cree texts as askipiw (which means "eats something raw"). It is generally held in Canada and Greenland that the term Eskimo is pejorative.
The people of the Canadian Arctic are currently officially known as the Inuit, which means 'the people', or singularly, Inuk, which means 'the person'. The Inuit Circumpolar Conference meeting in Barrow, Alaska officially adopted "Inuit" as a designation for all Eskimos, regardless of their local usages, in 1977. However, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, as it is known today, uses both "Inuit" and "Eskimo" in its official documents.
The term "Amerind"/"Amerindian" is a portmanteau of "American Indian", though it can also be parsed as a blend of "American" and "Indigenous". It was coined in 1902 by the American Anthropological Association. Usage in English occurs primarily in anthropological and linguistic contexts as well as in up-to-date news sources. In French, the term "Amérindien" is used to describe the peoples residing in the Americas prior to European contact.
The Canadian Indian Act, in defining the rights of people of recognized First Nations, refers to them as "Indians". The responsible federal government department was the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, now Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, headed by the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. The Act officially recognizes people commonly known as "Status Indians", although "Registered Indian" is the official term for those on the Indian Register. Lands set aside for the use of First Nations are officially known as Indian reserves. The word "band" persists in band government.
In Canada, the term "Aboriginal peoples in Canada" is used for all indigenous peoples within the country, including the Inuit and First Nations, as well as the Métis. More recently, the term Indigenous peoples has been used more frequently and in 2015 the federal government department responsible for First Nations, Metis, and Inuit issues changed its name from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
"First Nations" came into common usage in the 1980s to replace the term "Indian band". Elder Sol Sanderson says that he coined the term in the early 1980s. Others state that the term came into common usage in the 1970s to avoid using the word "Indian", which some people considered offensive. Apparently, no legal definition of the term exists. Some Aboriginal peoples in Canada have also adopted the term "First Nation" to replace the word "band" in the name of their community.
"First Nations" (most often used in the plural) has come into general use for the Indigenous peoples of North America located in what is now Canada, and their descendants, excluding the Inuit and Métis, who have distinct identities. The singular commonly used is "First Nations person" (when gender-specific, "First Nations man" or "First Nations woman").
Some tribal governments of Canada also use the term "First Nations" to refer to any indigenous, tribal or nomadic society, using the term for such diverse groups as the Romani, Saami, M?ori, Hmong, and the Australian Aborigines.
Although the Canadian government has formally adopted use of the term "First Nations" and "Aboriginal peoples", the federal ministerial portfolio in charge of their affairs is named the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and under the Federal Identity Program is referred to as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), and the historical term "Indian Reserve" is still a legal land description. Some First Nations peoples also use "Indian Band" in their official names.
"First Peoples" is a broad term that includes First Nations, Inuit, Inuvialuit, and Métis (equivalent to "Aboriginal" or "indigenous" peoples)--and could be extended outside the Canadian context to comprise all descendants of pre-Columbian ethnic groups in the Americas, including (self-identified) ethnic groups whose ancestry is only partially of pre-Columbian groups (e.g., Mestizo). Due to its similarity with the term "First Nations", the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
"Native" or "Native Canadian" is an ambiguous term, but people frequently use it in conversation or informal writing. A great majority use this term for describing aboriginal peoples, including aboriginal people themselves.
In Canadian French, the terms are première(s) nation(s) for "First Nations" and autochtone for "Aboriginal" (used both as a noun and adjective).
The term indien or indienne is used in the legislation, although the preferred term is now amérindien. The term indigène is not used as it is seen as having negative connotations because of its similarity to the French equivalent of indigent ("poor"). It has also acquired further negative associations in French, due to the indigénat code enforced in French colonial Africa, 1887-1947. The old French term sauvage ("wild") is no longer used either, as it is considered racist.
As a result of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference meeting in Barrow, Alaska, in 1977, the Canadian government usage has replaced the (locally) defunct term Eskimo with Inuit (Inuk in singular). The preferred term in Canada's Central Arctic is Inuinnaq, and in the eastern Canadian Arctic Inuit. The language is often called Inuktitut, though other local designations are also used.
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The Algonquin autonym Anishinaabe, or Anishinabe, is used as a cross-tribal term in Algonquian-majority areas, such as Anishnabe Health, Anishnabe Education, and Training Circle. The term is also used among historically Anishinaabe peoples in the Upper Midwest region of the United States.
The Chinook Jargon, the old trade language of the Pacific Northwest, uses siwash (an adaptation of the French sauvage) for "Indian", "Native American", or "First Nations", either as adjective or noun. While normally meaning a male native, it is used in certain combinations, such as siwash cosho ("a seal", literally "Indian pig" or "Indian pork").
Many native communities perceive the terms sauvage and siwash negatively, but others use it freely. They consider use by non-natives to be derogatory. In the creolized form of Chinook Jargon spoken at the Grand Ronde Agency in Oregon, a distinction is made between siwash and sawash. The accent in the latter is on the second syllable, resembling the French original, and is used in Grand Ronde Jargon meaning "anything native or Indian"; by contrast, they consider siwash to be defamatory.
The Chinook Jargon term for a native woman is klootchman, an originally Nootka word adopted in regional English to mean a native woman or, as in the Jargon, all women and also anything female. It originated as a compound of Nootka ts 'female' with the English suffix -man. Hyas klootchman tyee means "queen", klootchman cosho, "sow"; and klootchman tenas or tenas klootchman means "girl" or "little girl". Generally klootchman in regional English simply means a native woman and has not acquired the derisive sense of siwash or squaw. The short form klootch--encountered only in English-Chinook hybrid phrasings--is always derisive, especially in forms such as blue-eyed klootch.
In South America, the preferred expression for the population is also Indigenous peoples (pueblos indígenas and pueblos originarios in Spanish, and povos indígenas in Portuguese). In Spanish Latin America, "Indians" (indios) is increasingly no longer used - today, to refer to indigenous people from a rural area, one would most likely say campesino originario or indígena campesino if they were to use language that is largely not seen as inaccurate, controversial, pejorative or offensive.
In Brazil the most usual expression is by far índio, with indígena sounding a little more formal; the Portuguese demonym for the country of India is indiano. Indios is still in common use, including among people of Indigenous identity. In Mexico, Brazil, and several other countries, these names are normally applied only to the ethnic groups that have maintained their identity and, to a some extent, their original way of life.
Less common terms for Indigenous peoples of the Americas include amerindio (in Spanish) and ameríndio (in Portuguese).
In most of Latin America there are also large segments of the population with mixed Indigenous and non-Indigenous ancestry, who are largely integrated into mainstream society, and by and large no longer identify themselves with their Indigenous ancestral groups unless they coexist with their ancestral Indigenous nation. Names for such groups include mestizo, zambo and pardo in Spanish, for people with European/Middle Eastern, Native and European/Middle Eastern and African admixed ancestry, respectively, besides castizo for people who are over three quarters European with some Native assimilation, and caboclo (current) or mameluco (dated), cafuzo, juçara, ainoko/ainocoand sarará in Portuguese, for people of European and Native, Native and African, European/Middle Eastern, Native and African, East Asian (most particularly Japanese), and European and the latter being mostly European/Middle Eastern and African (with fair hair and skin, but black facial features and/or hair texture) admixed ancestry, respectively, with the first three necessarily involving a degree of Indigenous ancestry. Ainokos and sararás might have some level of Native DNA assimilation. Ainoko is sometimes replaced by another Japanese term known as hafu or eurasiano, involving all Asians.
In some Spanish-speaking countries, there are also Ladinos who do not have significant European ancestry, but have adopted the culture of the dominant non-Indigenous population. In Brazil, however, assimilated Indigenous people are called caboclos (itself a subset of pardos, or brown people), the same term used for people of European and Amerindian mix who do not have at the same time a white-passing phenotype and a mainstream Brazilian cultural identity - which also means that caboclos are not necessarily mestiços (Portuguese for "mixed-race" in general).
During the late 20th century the term "Indigenous peoples" evolved into a political term that refers to ethnic groups with historical ties to groups that existed in a territory prior to colonization or formation of a nation state. In the Americas, the term "Indigenous peoples of the Americas" was adopted, and the term is tailored to specific geographic or political regions, such as "Indigenous peoples of Panama". "'Indigenous peoples' ... is a term that internationalizes the experiences, the issues and the struggles of some of the world's colonized peoples", writes M?ori educator Linda Tuhiwai Smith. "The final 's' in 'indigenous peoples' ... [is] a way of recognizing that there are real differences between different indigenous peoples."
Another, less commonly used term is in reference to the continent: Turtle Island. Though officially named North America, a number of histories from various Turtle Island countries make reference to the continent existing atop a turtle's back. Though not present across all nations and countries, this symbolism and icon has spread to become nearly pan-Indigenous. As Europeans, Asians and Africans have terms that allude to their home continents, "Turtle Islander" is an attempt to do just that.
In some situations, the term "Indian princess" is considered demeaning to Native American women as the concept of a "princess" is not a part of Native culture; dressing up with fake Native regalia as in a Halloween "Indian Princess" costume is considered particularly offensive. However, this should not be confused with the more recent practice of tribes, powwow organizations, colleges, and other indigenous groups choosing young women with leadership and talent to represent their groups as tribal "princesses."
"Injun" is an originally 17th century mispronunciation of "Indian", generally considered offensive today, used to mock or impersonate Native Americans' or early settlers' supposed heavily accented English (e.g., "Honest Injun", "Injun time"). The word and related terms have been defined as derogatory by indigenous people and are not widely used.
Some Europeans have historically called Native Americans "Red Indians". The term was largely used in the 18th and 19th Centuries, partially based on the color metaphors for race which colonists and settlers historically used in North America and Europe, and also to distinguish Native Americans from the Indian people of India.
The term "Redskins" is now seen, by Native Americans in particular, as pejorative and often highly offensive, as it is the term that was used for body parts used as "proof of kill" when Native Americans were hunted for bounty by colonists on the frontier. There is an American National Football League team named the Washington Redskins, and "Redskin" is the name of the mascot at the Red Mesa High School on the Navajo Reservation in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona. Native Americans have been protesting the use of these names by non-Natives since the 1970s.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) maintains that names like Redskins perpetuate negative stereotypes of Native American people, "Often citing a long held myth by non-Native people that 'Indian' mascots 'honor Native people', American sports businesses such as the NFL's Washington 'Redskins'... continue to profit from harmful stereotypes originated during a time when white superiority and segregation were commonplace."
The term "Red Indians" was also more specifically used by Europeans to refer to the Beothuk, a people living on Newfoundland, who used red ochre in spring to paint not only their bodies, but also their houses, canoes, weapons, household appliances and musical instruments.
Anthropologists once used savage as a blanket term to refer to indigenous peoples worldwide (for example, Bronis?aw Malinowski titled his 1929 study The Sexual Life of Savages). At the beginning of the nineteenth century, representatives of the relatively new United States government often used the term in official records when referring to Indian nations (e.g., Justice Baldwin's concurring opinion in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia). This was related to their association of non-Christian people as savages. Early anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan posited in Ancient Society (1877) a three-part evolution of societies from, in his terms, savagery through barbarism to civilization. European Christians once broadly used the word "heathens" to refer to Native Americans, a pejorative Christian term that refers to people who do not worship the Christian god.
The English word "squaw", when used to refer to Indigenous women, is considered highly offensive, derogatory, misogynist and racist. Although there has been some controversy on the topic, it is almost always grouped with other words that carry a colonial implication of exotic inferiority based on race, such as "negress" or "Jewess". There is a movement to remove the name "squaw" from geographic place names across the United States. There is a minority counter-movement among a small number of academics to "reclaim" what they claim is the possible original meaning of the word, as an in-group term, which could still be offensive if used outside of that speech community. But even this usage only be relevant to the original, Algonquian-language phonemes of the word -- the small parts that make up larger, historical forms -- not the English form currently used as a slur. Any effort at "reclamation" would not apply to the much larger Native American community of women who are affected by this slur, as Algonquian-speakers only make up a small minority of those affected by it.
Because neither Alaskan nor Russian Inuit were able to attend that event, the need for Inuit to meet as one indivisible people became clearly evident at that meeting. ... Inuit visionaries such as Mayor Eben Hopson ... he had his special assistant, Billy Neakoq, deliver an invitation to a pan-Eskimo gathering to be held some time in the near future.
SOL SANDERSON: ...if you've ever wondered where that term First Nations came from, I coined that in the early 80s when we were disputing in our forum about our positions on the agenda that we wanted to advance respecting the constitution. ...
n. Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a Native American.
Let's just agree the following words are never okay to call Indigenous peoples: savage, red Indian, redskin, primitive, half-breed, squaw/brave/papoose.
Through communication and education American Indian people have come to understand the derogatory meaning of the word. American Indian women claim the right to define ourselves as women and we reject the offensive term squaw.