Re: Amerind an offensive term (was: Early Amerind assimilation

Stephen W. Russell (
Thu, 1 Aug 1996 17:59:17 -0500

While this is a real problem, it would be easier to treat it as such if
the "scientists" involved seemed to be on a good faith quest for a solution.

I once had the anonymous referees of an article point out (correctly)
that I had used names of tribes when I in fact meant individuals from
those tribes when discussing some particular migrations.

Some "names" of tribes are not what they purport to be, partially because
of the practice of Euros "learning" the "names" of unfriendly tribes from
friendly tribes who might be enemies of the people they were describing.

So you see Ho-Chunks who consider Winnebago a brand name for a
recreational vehicle and potential for more or less animousity with
Sioux, Creek, Pima, Navajo, Apache, etc. My people, known to Euros as
Cherokees, have actually adopted the name Cherokee spoken in our language
rather than what we originally called ourselves, which had more syllables
than Eric Brunner's sig line.

But, you know, I have yet to see an Indian make a big deal out of this
(with the exception of some members of the WaNaBe Tribe) when satisfied
that the general tone of the narrative was benign. Some of us are a bit
touchy. From the beginning of the invasion, Cherokees lost about 70% of
their population and virtually all of their land. Three different periods
of relative prosperity were halted by new Euro demands, and we never
recovered from the last, the Dawes Act. And compared to many, many
tribes, our path was easy! So, yeah, some Indians are a little touchy.
And nice liberal academics can't imagine why.

The fact is that any yonega who moves to any rez, learns the language,
and works to benefit the people there, will find him or herself one of
the family in a mere ten or fifteen years. For an Indian of another
tribe, the time frame is quicker, but there is still something to prove.

You look at us and see remnants of conquered people. Some of us see a
500 year resistance continuing. This difference of viewpoint explains a
lot about why we don't get sloppily kissy-face with every academic who
wants to leave his mark on the hegemonic version of our story.

Every tribe has a story and an investment in it written in blood, and
that investment is interpreted by many scientists as "Don't confuse us
with facts" or "All that needs to be known is known."

The scientific method has presented us with many alternative stories
about ourselves, most of which have been thoroughly discredited by
inconvenient facts. One of my personal faves is the midwestern burial
mounds origin tales. And we are scarcely a century away from the
"science" of phrenology, filling cranial cavities with mustard seeds to
demonstrate the racial superiority obvious from the results on the

So while this labelling problem is real, it is just a proxy for whether
Indians are people or data. Someone might suggest changes but seldom
will anyone really get in your face if it is apparent that you mean well
(which is more than meaning no harm).

When I write, I try for tribal names--real ones--and then I whip back and
forth between Native American and Indian depending upon nothing more
esoteric than how many syllables sound good in the sentence. That'll
work in just about everything I have ever read.

Steve Russell