Native American Or American Indian

From InfoPlease

As we learned in grade school, Indian was the name Columbus mistakenly applied to the people he encountered when he arrived in what he believed was the "Indies," the medieval name for Asia. Introduced in the 1960s, the term Native American offered a way of eradicating confusion between the indigenous people of the Americas and the indigenous people of India. The term American Indian also served that purpose, but raised other problems: the use of Indian in any form had begun to be seen by some as pejorative.

Particularly in academic circles, the term Native American became the preferred term of respect, and a remedy for avoiding dehumanizing stereotypes, whether of the bloodthirsty savage or the Tonto-like Noble Savage. For a time, using Native American signaled a progressive and enlightened consciousness, in much the same way that using Asian instead of Oriental does. Use of Indian struck some as out of touch, or worse—a mark of ignorance or bigotry.

But objections to the term Native American also arose. The term struck many as dry and bureaucratic, in much the same way that some dislike the Census Bureau's use of Hispanic as an umbrella term to cover the whole of the U.S.'s diverse Spanish-speaking population.

As the Bureau of Indian Affairs elaborates:

The term, 'Native American,' came into usage in the 1960s to denote the groups served by the Bureau of Indian Affairs: American Indians and Alaska Native (Indians, Eskimos and Aleuts of Alaska). Later the term also included Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in some Federal programs. It, therefore, came into disfavor among some Indian groups. The preferred term is American Indian.

Russell Means, the Lakota activist and founder of the American Indian Movement (AIM), has strongly rejected Native American in favor of Indian:

"I abhor the term Native American. It is a generic government term used to describe all the indigenous prisoners of the United States. These are the American Samoans, the Micronesians, the Aleuts, the original Hawaiians, and the erroneously termed Eskimos, who are actually Upiks and Inupiats. And, of course, the American Indian.

"I prefer the term American Indian because I know its origins … As an added distinction the American Indian is the only ethnic group in the United States with the American before our ethnicity … We were enslaved as American Indians, we were colonized as American Indians, and we will gain our freedom as American Indians, and then we will call ourselves any damn thing we choose."

No doubt the most significant reason that an inclusive attitude toward these terms of identity has developed is their common usage among Native peoples. A 1995 Census Bureau Survey of preferences for racial and ethnic terminology (there is no more recent survey) indicated that 49% of Native people preferred being called American Indian, 37% preferred Native American, 3.6% preferred "some other term," and 5% had no preference. As The American Heritage Guide to English Usage points out, "the issue has never been particularly divisive between Indians and non-Indians. While generally welcoming the respectful tone of Native American, Indian writers have continued to use the older name at least as often as the newer one."

The criticism that Indian is hopelessly tainted by the ignorant or romantic stereotypes of popular American culture can be answered, at least in part, by pointing to the continuing use of this term among American Indians themselves. Indeed, Indian authors and those sympathetic to Indian causes often prefer it for its unpretentious familiarity as well as its emotional impact, as in this passage from the Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday's memoir The Names (1976): 'It was about this time that [my mother] began to see herself as an Indian. That dim native heritage became a fascination and a cause for her.'

"Names and Labels: Social, Racital, and Ethnic Terms: Indian", The American Heritage® Book of English Usage. A Practical and Authoritative Guide to Contemporary English. 1996.

However, if we are to adhere to the ICness of the time, the term "Native American" was as yet unknown until the 1960s. Therefore, all tribal people should be referred to as American Indians or specifically by their tribe, ex: Cheyenne, Arapaho, Apache, etc.

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