?What's In a Name
The name "Indian" reflects a mistaken identity. Columbus was lost and thought he'd reached India. So, he called the peoples he met in the Western hemisphere "Indians". The name "Native American" is sometimes used, but it also reflects the naming of this continent after a European, Amerigo Vespucci. The Native peoples of Canada refer to themselves as the "First Nations Peoples" -- but that's a mouthful.
Anishinaabek peoples are widespread throughout Turtle Island from Canada to Mexico and the Anishinaabek language is thus widely-spoken. Many aboriginal people of Turtle Island now use the term Niiji (an Anishinaabek word meaning "friend") to define a Native person other than Inuit.
Niiji has replaced the term Indian among many and may soon completely replace it -- just as Inuit replaced Eskimo. Every Native nation on Turtle Island has its distinct language and name. The name Niiji does not replace names of nations. It replaces the term Indian as a way of referring to all the aboriginal peoples of Turtle Island.
In John Trudell: When Columbus got off the boat, poet, musician, actor, and activist John Trudell of the Santee Sioux addresses this issue as a loss of humanity for both the peoples of the Americas and Europeans. Elsewhere, Trudell explains that we are all originally tribal people, but the Europeans who colonized America had lost their indigenous roots during the centuries of destruction of European tribal cultures.
Trudell points out:
"When Columbus got off the boat, he asked us who we were. We said we’re the Human Beings, we’re the People. Conceptually, the Europeans didn’t understand that, it was beyond their conceptual reality. They didn’t see us. They couldn’t see who we were.
Historically speaking, we went from being Indians to pagans to savages to hostiles to militants to activists to Native Americans. It’s five hundred years later and they still can’t see us. We are still invisible. They don’t see us as human beings, but we’ve been saying to them all along that’s what we are.
We are invisible to them because we are still the Human Beings, we’re still the People, but they will never call us that. They taught us to call ourselves Indians, now they’re teaching us to call ourselves Native Americans. It’s not who we are. We’re the People.
They can’t see us as human beings. But they can’t see themselves as human beings. The invisibility is at every level, it’s not just that we’re tucked away out of sight. We’re the evidence of the crime. They can’t deal with the reality of who we are because then they have to deal with the reality of what they have done. If they deal with the reality of who we are, they have to deal with the reality of who they aren’t.
So they have to fear us, not recognize us, not like us. The very fact of calling us Indians creates a new identity for us, an identity that began with their arrival. Changing identity, creating a new perceptual reality, is another form of genocide. It’s like severing a spiritual umbilical cord that reaches into the ancestral past.
The history of the Indians begins with the arrival of the Europeans. The history of the People begins with the beginning of the history of the People. The history of the People is one of cooperation, collectivity, and living in balance. The history of the Indians is one of being attacked and genocide, rather than a history of peace and balance. The history of the People under attack, the Indians, in an evolutionary context, is not very long, it’s only five hundred years.
The objective of civilizing us is to make Indian history become our permanent reality.
The necessary objective of Native people is to outlast this attack, however long it takes, to keep our identity alive."