I wrote about Denali the other day. That is the name that has been given to a mountain peak because the people who lived near it before it became part of the United States used to call it that. It had been named after a person who was a newcomer to the land. Those who decide on naming places believed that was wrong. They changed the name of the mountain peak back to that the original people used. The highest mountain peak in North America which used to be known as Mount McKinley is no longer known as that.
In this land the newcomers call the United States of America there are many places that had original names given to them by the original folk. The newcomers changed those names. Are we going to be consistent and start using the original names given to places by the original people? Will people now go on their honeymoon to Onguiaahra the name given to Niagara Falls by the original people?
I suppose if the newcomers are changing names we should start with the most fundamental one. What is the name by which newcomers should refer to the original people of this land. Obviously it is not right to call them Indians a name erroneously applied to them by Columbus who thought he landed in India.
That name became cemented onto them because the newcomers started to identify their wars fought using that name. Before 1776 newcomers had the French-Indian war. They also had the King Phillip’s war. (King Phillip was the name Metacomet the second son of the Sachem Massasoit and chief of the Wampanoags called himself.) That is often referred to as the First Indian War.
After that the newcomers started their own country they called America.They had wars they called the Indian Wars between the U.S. army and the original people. The newcomers would set up a Bureau of Indian Affairs that still exists under that name to this day. They needed that bureau because they believe the original people are savages who can not manage their own affairs.
The newcomers drove them off their lands and corralled them into concentrated areas like concentration camps. They called them reservations. That term came from the dealings the newcomers had with the original people. After defeating them they would demand the land they roamed over be signed over to the newcomers.
The original folk had no choice. Sometimes they were able to convince the newcomers to let them have a little bit of their formerly owned land to live on. The eventual agreement would “reserve” to them a part of their original land. Eventually the newcomers would push them off the reserved land.
Those evicted would then be put on land the newcomers had confiscated. Some had no connection with the land on which these new reservations stood. The original people do not own these lands. These are still held by the U.S. government in trust for them. The newcomers put themselves in charge of the original people’s affairs.
By the way a well-known term came from the newcomers actions where they let the originals have the land but then took it back. The term got twisted so that it would look like the originals were the ones not quite on the level. The term that came about was “Indian giver.”
The newcomers would call themselves Americans. That was the name given to the land by Europeans around 1500 AD. The original people called the land on which they lived by various names depending on the tribe they belonged to. None called it America. If pressed to give the United States of America its original name they would agree it is Hahnunah which is the name of the mythical turtle upon which North America was built.
The original people like Dinali were never consulted on what they would like to be called. Today the are unable to agree among themselves as to a proper name: Indian, Native American, American Indian, First People, Indigenous, Native, Diné/Navajo. (“Diné” meaning “The People” or “Children of the Holy People”.) The name Indian and the association with the name America seem wrong. I think it best to call them the original people.
I once call them Indians. There was nothing derogatory that use of the name. I had my “Indian summer” which was a nice relief before I entered back into the chill of fall. I had “Indian pudding” which was delicious at Durgin Park back in the old days. I even had “Indian apples” which was the name we gave to pomegranates. I was both a giver and receiver of the “Indian burn.”
It will be sad to let them go. I will now have to get with it. When I identify myself as to my ethnicity from now on I’ll say I’m an Irish-Huhnunah.