Pride Comes with a Native American Name

For some Native Americans the new year is a time to give their children a traditional tribal name. Commentator Harlan McKosato recalls his own name, and the pride it instilled in him many years ago.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

For some Native Americans, the new year is a time to give their children traditional tribal names. Commentator Harlan McKosato(ph) recalls his own name and the pride it instilled in him many years ago.

HARLAN McKOSATO:

Just a little more than a century ago, many Native Americans were still using our traditional tribal names, which consisted of just one name, not a first, middle and last name like we carry today. For instance, my great-great grandfather's name was McKosato, which means `sounds like a fox' in our tribal language. This name was given to all our family since he was the head of household at the time when the US Department of War conducted a census on Native Americans in the late 1800s and provided us with surnames. My family has kept this custom of providing a traditional tribal name to our children. For my family, it's not really a matter of if you're going to give your child an Indian name but when.

It's comparable to the way traditional Jewish families give their children Hebrew names. This tribal name that we were given is different than our legal name and it is not used in public. My young son's legal name is Nicon(ph); it means `friend' in our tribal language. His mother and I chose that name because we wanted his legal name to reflect his Native American heritage. He received his Fox clan name or Indian name a couple of years ago during a special family gathering in Sac and Fox territory in central Oklahoma at our family farm just off Moccasin Trail. My son's Indian name, Wawatothe(ph), translated to English is `fox walking together.'

But why give a child an Indian name? Well, it's my hope that when my son is older, his name will offer him a sense of direction and perhaps provide him with a strong cultural and religious foundation. He's four years old now, and he knows his Indian name. I remind him about it almost every day, what it means, where it comes from and why it was given. I want him to grow up proud of his Native American heritage, unlike me, who many times felt ashamed of being Native American because of the way we were looked down upon as second-class citizens and by the way we were portrayed in the movies and in the classroom.

This shame lasted until I was told about my Indian name, which is Kabaniquay(ph), and in English, it means `the village's son.' It had been given to me as a child but was never talked about while I was growing up. It prompted me to find out more about my heritage, and what I found was a new sense of pride and a desire to contribute to the entire Native American community as the village's son. I pray my son won't need to search for an identity as he makes his way through life. He will always be reminded that he has a big extended family that loves him and will always protect him. Wawatothe, or `fox walking together,' will always have his own special place within our tribe and our people.

BLOCK: Commentator Harlan McKosato is a member of the Sack and Fox nations.

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