Do All Indians Live in Tipis?Questions and Answers from the National Museum of the American Indian
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Cathryn National Museum of the American Indian
All right reserved.ISBN: 9780061153013
What is the correct terminology: American Indian, Indian, Native American, or Native?
All of the above terms are acceptable. The consensus, however, is that whenever possible, Native people prefer to be called by their specific tribal name. Native peoples in the Western Hemisphere are best understood as thousands of distinct communities and cultures. Many Native communities have distinct languages, religious beliefs, ceremonies, and social and political systems. The inclusive word Indian (a name given by Christopher Columbus, mistakenly believing he had sailed to India, a term used by the Spanish to refer to much of southern Asia) says little about the diversity and independence of the cultures.
In the United States, Native American has been widely used but is falling out of favor with some groups, and the terms American Indian or indigenous Americans are now preferred by many Native people. Native American, however, grew out of 1960s and 1970s political movements and is now used in legislation. Legally, it refers not only to the indigenous people of the lower forty-eight states but also to Native people in U.S. territories. As an adjective, many people now prefer to use simply Native or Indian.
Canadians, too, have addressed the question of names—many Native Canadians, especially Métis (people of indigenous and French descent) and Inuit people, reject the appellation Indian. Similarly, the Inuit, Yup'ik, and Aleut peoples in Alaska see themselves as separate from Indians. Canadians have developed a range of terms, including aboriginal, First Nations, and First Peoples.
In Central and South America the direct translation for Indian has negative connotations. As a result, Spanish speakers use the word indígenas.
Should I say tribe or nation?
Tribe, nation, community, pueblo, rancheria, village, band—American Indian people describe their own cultures and the places they come from in many ways. Often, the words tribe and nation are used interchangeably, but for many Native people they can hold very different meanings. Each community has a word or phrase in its own language that identifies it, as well as an official name recognized by the federal or state government. When being introduced to a Native person, it is appropriate to ask what community the person comes from and how he or she likes to be described. For example, many members of the Navajo Nation of Arizona (the largest tribe in the country) refer to themselves as Diné, the Navajo word meaning "the people." In this instance, you would refer to a Navajo person as being Diné, or a member of the Navajo Nation. Similarly, members of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma refer to themselves as Nu
u, which also translates to "the people."
Although many tribal groups are known by official names that include the word nation, like the Navajo Nation or the Comanche Nation, typically the U.S. government uses the word tribe when referring to Indian communities in the United States. Of the approximately 561 tribes in the United States alone, many refer to themselves in completely different ways. The nineteen Pueblo communities in New Mexico, for example, have distinct names such as San Juan Pueblo and Zia Pueblo. California is home to more than forty rancherias, or Indian communities located on small parcels of land, such as the Berry Creek Rancheria in Oroville and the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians in Geyserville. Rancherias, like reservations in other states, are government-designated lands over which one or more tribes maintain sovereignty. Farther north, many Native people of Alaska call their communities "villages." Examples are the Traditional Village of Togiak and Skagway Village.
There are many ways to refer to Native communities throughout the United States but even more ways to address the groups living to the north and south. Today Native people throughout Canada refer to themselves as aboriginal or members of First Nations rather than as American Indians or Native Americans. Each First Nation community in Canada has a specific name, such as the Swan Lake First Nation in Manitoba or the Peepeekisis Indian Band of Saskatchewan. In Mexico, Central America, and South America, indigenous cultures do not like to use the Spanish or Portuguese words for Indian or tribe, since the direct translations carry negative meanings. As a result, most Native people in these areas use the words indígenas ("indigenous people" or "indigenous") and communidad ("community") to describe who they are or where they come from.
It is important to remember that each Native tribe or nation has its own distinct viewpoint and culture. When identifying a Native community, first try to learn how members of the community describe themselves.
Why do many tribes have more than one name?
When Europeans arrived in the Americas, they discovered that Indians had named their particular nations in their own languages, which also specified names for rivers, mountains, trees, animals, plants, towns, and villages. Europeans found these names difficult to understand and pronounce. In time, original Indian personal names and place-names often were replaced by names chosen by the Spanish, German, Dutch, French, and English newcomers.
Thus, the names by which many Indian tribes are commonly known today likewise were not chosen by the tribes themselves. During the twentieth century some tribes cast off the names given to them by the French, Spanish, and English. For example, the Muscogee Nation, originally a confederacy of small tribes who lived in present-day Georgia and Alabama, were identified for several hundred years as the Creek Indians. This name was applied to them by English colonists because abundant waterways flowed through their lands.
Other communities rejected the often insulting nicknames that had originated with other tribes. In 1984 the tribe in southern Arizona formerly called Papago, a Spanish mispronunciation of a Native word meaning "bean-eaters," reverted to its traditional name: "Tohono O'odham," or "desert people." Many Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota peoples prefer these traditional names to "Sioux," or "little snakes," which is a French approximation of the name they were called . . .