BY ISAIAH NIELSON
I’m sure you already knew Indians are those people from that country called India, so why the geography lesson from me? Well, in this day and age Americans, especially white Americans, still seem to be quite ignorant as to what the word “Indian” really means.
This is my first semester at MSUM, and already three of my four professors have referred to Native or Indigenous people as “Indians.” So what, right? I mean that’s what they are, and that’s what they’ve always been known as.
As you may or may not know, the term “Indian” finds its origin with Christopher Columbus. Columbus and his crew were on a journey to India, following the spice trade. They happened to take a few wrong turns and wound up in what is presently called the United States. Columbus and his men mistakenly thought they had reached India, and thus called the Indigenous inhabitants of the land “Indians.”
The term “Indian,” when used to label Indigenous people, carries an ugly and negative connotation. Indigenous people are not Indians. I’ve spoken to many Native people in the Detroit Lakes area, and they all unanimously agree that the term “Indian” carries about as much justice for their people as the N-word would for black people.
I’ve been instructed that the correct and appropriate names for Native people are “Indigenous,” “First Nations” and “Native,” but not “Native American.”
If you’re stumped on this last one, then you must understand that Native people are not native to America; they were here before America, and they especially do not want any association with America, considering the great holocaust America carried out on their people.
You may say there is nothing wrong with the term “Indian” because, after all, there are Indian Reservations, Indian acts and laws, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. But that brings me to my point; “Indian” Reservations, acts, laws and even the Bureau of “Indian” Affairs were all named, created and established by white people.
White people have no right in naming a group of individuals they do not belong to. But white people irresponsibly and arrogantly taking on the matters of those who never asked them to, nor never wanted them to, has always been an issue, not just within North America, but the world throughout.
So next time your professor, or anybody for that matter, refers to Indigenous people as “Indians,” please correct them.
Seeing as how America has never made an effort to apologize or even recognize the atrocity they committed against the original Indigenous people of this continent, it seems the least Americans can do is call Native people by their respectful name, and not the name improperly given to them by a group of people who nearly destroyed their land, culture and way of life.