Re: Natives

Adrian Tanner (atanner@MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA)
Thu, 22 Feb 1996 15:05:44 -0330

In his most rescent post, on why Inuit-Aleut-Ekimo did not end up being
included in the popular category term 'Indians', Matt Tomaso suggests the
possiblity of a 'historical accident'. Or, with his reference to events in
the Alaska area, perhaps he means there were two accidents, one following
from Russian contacts in the west, the other folowing from French contacts
in the east.=20

[For the non-North Americanists in the crowd who may need reminding about
the wider significance of this discussion, the relevance (for me, at least)
is how the creation of such categories and disjuctions by outsiders may have
had an influence in the subsequent creation and development of ethnic
categories, and perhaps also even influenced social scientific
classifications. It is therefore significant to discover what are the
underlying principles of colonial ethnic classification. I have proposed
that the different physical appearence between "Indians" and "Eskimo" may
have played a part.]

It has been some time since I looked at the Russian material, but they
certainly were in contact with both 'Eskimos' (including Aleut and Yupic,
and on both continents) and 'Indians', so I would be interested to know the
history of Russian labelling and catergoization of the groups involved.
Someone like Ann Fienup-Riordan might have run across this. As for the
French, my data begins in 1600. Did Russians really have contacts in
Beringia and Alaska long before this? The French used the cover term
'Sauvage' (according to one argument, initially without the connotations of
the English word 'Savage', but with the etymology 'of the forest') which was
used to include both 'Indians' and 'Eskimo'. They also had (or at least they
now have) the term 'Indien', but I cannot recall exactly when it came into
general use among the French in North America.=20

The word Eskimo is derived from an Algonquian Indian word, although recent
linguistic analysis has raised doubts as to whether it's etymology is
actually anything like 'raw hide chewers', or ' eaters of raw food', or even
if it was originally an insult term. This is related to the very interesting
discovery that some Algoquians applied the term not to those we now call
Inuit, but to groups of other Algonquian neighbors. I do not have the
relevant article (or even the reference) with me, but the research is by
Jos=E9 Mailhot, and deals with analysis of early documents from the
southestern part of the Quebec-Labrador peninsula. The Innu (Montagnais
Naskapi) of the Saguenay applied the term Esquimaux (various spellings) to
other Indians, including Micmacs who came to the trading post of Tadoussac.
It was also used by Innu along the north shore of the St Lawrence to refer
to other Innu further east along the north shore. Mailhot (who is a fluent
speaker of the Innu language) proposes that the best etymolgy of the word
'Eskimo' to be "speakers of a distant language".

The point of all this is that at the time of first contact the term Eskimo
was in use in the gulf of St Lawrence region for a veriety of groups,
depending on who was using it. Only later did it become more narrowly
associated with the coastal-dwelling people we noew call Inuit. Moreover
(and here I turn to English sources) the phrase "Eskimo Indians" is
sometimes used. This is similar to the French clasifying the Innu, the
Mohawks, the Huron, etc. *and* the more northerly "Eskimo" as all being
"Sauvages". However, perhaps with the fall of New France and the begining of
English administration of the region, 'Eskimo' became established as a
distinct category term, and was no longer included within the English
language term 'Indian'.=20

All I can say about the "historical accident" hypothesis is that, for a
scholar, any explanation is better that what seems to me to amount to no
explanation at all.

>Tanner's problem (re: "Inuit" and "Indian" as labels possibly related to
>appearance), thus clarified, becomes more and more interesting. What=
>the possibility of "historical accident" (assuming you believe in this
>concept)? =20
>The word "eskimo," I believe (it's been years since I've read anything=
>the peoples of the north) comes from the Francoization of the word
>"esquimaux" which was an insult ascribed to the Inuit by some of their
>neighbors (literally "raw hide chewers"). And, if I remember correctly,
>Russians and Aleut/Chukchians had ongoing contact with these folk long
>before any of the major European (i.e. French, British) colonization=
>in the north. i assume that I need not remind readers of the derivation of
>"indians." Perhaps the classification scheme _does_ have something to do
>with time of arrival - of the Russians and, later, the French - that is.
>Perhaps the term "indian" was simply less culturally acceptible at this=
>or among these particular colonial milieus. If so, then we have an
>interesting example of linguistic structuration. =20
>just a speculation...
>Matt =20
>Matt Tomaso
>U. Texas Austin
>It is a sick and beautiful world.

Adrian Tanner, Dept of Anthropology, Memorial University, St John's,
Newfoundland, Canada. A1C 5S7. email Tel 709 737
8868 fax 737 8686