Indian or Native?


I was listening to someone on the radio the other day, and I caught the story in mid-
flight. They were talking about an “Indian community” where a tragedy occurred. I immediately thought about a potential fire, earthquake or flood in India…you know, where Indians live?

But when the discussion continued, I realized they were talking about the shooting on the central Alberta reserve, where the 23-month-old toddler, Asia Saddleback, was shot in a drive-by incident by a 15 and 18 year old boys.

The incident spurred me to do more than shake my head, as my wife was present, and I spouted, “Can we not get names right yet?” I’m sure she was a little caught off-guard. I continued, “Scientists downgraded Pluto from being a planet to a ‘dwarf planet’ and no one makes the mistake anymore. Who doesn’t know that Pluto isn’t a planet? But we still use the term Indian! How long ago did we realize we didn’t live in India? How long did it take Columbus and Co. to realize that they weren’t in India? I just don’t get how we still use that term.”

I’m not someone who is oversensitive about this kind of thing. I just believe that terms have power. They have domain over our perceptions of people and groups of people. And when our First Nations who are “Natives” as they are native to Canada (so far as anyone in anthropology can postulate: i.e. they may have traveled to what is now The Americas when there was still a Bering land-bridge between both east and west hemispheres of the globe) are being called Indians, because explorers were ass-backwards and thinking they were in India, I think it is a foolish piece of our lexicon.

I doubt anyone can question the validity of Natives not being from India, nor living in India, yet we accept the label of Indian. Why? We let go of “planet” for Pluto, but we can’t seem to let go of Prince (The Artist Formerly Known As Prince), because the name change was stupid, contrived, and egotistically artsy. We saw the name-change as silly, and we kept the original. For the record, I love Prince, and his Superbowl halftime show clobbers every halftime show, since of before, so badly it’s embarrassing. I digress.

We also weren’t fooled by the Freedom Fries, 10-year-old-behavior charade, and we all just stuck with french fries. But these two instances were lame to begin with. They were clearly media events, designed to get attention. Calling Natives by the name Indians is a lack of sensitivity to a people who had more than their identity taken from them at the arrival of white explorers. Indian IS NOT akin to Freedom Fries. It is more important. It is not some publicity stunt to rally nationalism.

Very few people know that I went to El Salvador when I was 18. I remember very clearly the reaction to the term “American” whenever is slipped out of someone’s mouth. People in South or Central America are not particularly pleased with residents of The United States of America calling themselves “Americans” as if they’re the only people living in “America”. People in Central America, El Salvador for sure, see this is pompous, as they know that they are also Americans, except their name has the prefix “South” attached to it.

If people can be this sensitive to the naming of their national identity, or global identity, I don’t understand how the word Indian has not been actively discouraged in favour of the term Native.

We can respect the name changes of people like Mohammed Ali from Cassius Clay, Malcolm X from Malcolm Little, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar from Lew Alcindor, Pope John Paul II from Karol Wojtyla, because it seems that name changes pertaining to religious identity, or freedom from someone else’s name are legit. So how can Indian not be considered anything less than a non-identifier of First Nations Peoples or Natives?

Any clarifications on this subject would be appreciated. I ask these questions and rant like this to better understand. To understand how a nation, how a hemisphere fails to adopt a respectful, mindful, geographically accurate name for an unfairly marginalized group of original inhabitants of what we call Canada and the United States.


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