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American Indian Movement of Colorado

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Friday, September 24, 2004

American Indian or Native American?-

Slate.com has a regular feature called "the explainer." As the name states, the column gives attempts to answer questions that might be on the mind of it's readers. Some recent columns have tackled such questions as "How to renounce your citizenship""Why are killer bees so slow" and "Why do we get Labor Day off?" Today, slate gives some reasons for the simultaneous,opposing, and at times confusing, use of the terms "American Indian" and "Native American."

This is how slate describes it.

Despite the wave of political correctness in the 1990s, during which "Native American" was often trumpeted as a more sensitive phrase, American Indians remain split on which term is preferable. A 1995 Department of Labor survey found that close to 50 percent of American Indians were perfectly happy with that label, while 37 percent preferred to be known as Native Americans. Those who prefer the former often do so because "Native American" sounds like a phrase concocted by government regulators—note, for example, that one of the community's most radical civil rights groups is the American Indian Movement. Those who prefer Native American, on the other hand, often think that "Indian" conjures up too many vicious stereotypes from Western serials.

Though either term works when referring to the general population, individuals often prefer to be identified according to their tribal affiliation. It would be considered good form, for example, to refer to writer N. Scott Momaday as, "N. Scott Momaday, a member of the Kiowa tribe," rather than, "N. Scott Momaday, an American Indian." Full article

By some accounts, the term "Native American" was created by the Census Bureau, which is one reason that some Indigenous Peoples object to it. Another reason is that anyone born in this country will often lay claim to the term "Native American."

The origin of the term "American Indian" is not altogether clear either. As the article later notes, one objection to that label is that it includes the term "Indian," which can lead one to believe the person in question is actually from the country of India.

Slate also misunderstands a term, as it is used by bush, in that the use of "Indian Country" has a legal and political grounding.(The Wall Street Journal recently ran an editorial titled "indian country" which will be the subject of a later entry) This is the paragraph containing the gaffe.

Perhaps the biggest goof is to drop the American from American Indian, as President Bush did at the ceremony while waxing poetic on how "the sun is rising on Indian country." Native Americans/American Indians often dislike this simplest of monikers, as it can lead to confusion about whether a person is a tribal member or an émigré from the Indian subcontinent.

To most Indigenous Peoples, Bush's use of the term "Indian Country" would be considered correct as it has the legal and political dimensions attached to it.

There should be a correction made as to the description used for the American Indian Movement. Slate refers to the American Indian Movement as the"community's most radical civil rights groups." The American Indian Movement is not a civil rights group, per se, but rather an organization dedicated to the liberation of Indigenous Nations and Peoples. The defense of civil rights certainly falls within that objective, but it is not the primary goal that the American Indian Movement pursues.


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