Who’s Native?

I recently filled out an application for a public organization and was blown away by one of the first questions. I was shocked at how illogical and inconsistent the options were for this question and was tempted not to answer or to answer it in such a way that would confuse the writers more than they already were as evidenced by the question. The question was, “What are you?” Although this seems simple enough, I was stumped. The options were as follows: Caucasian, African American, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander, or the ever-present “Other”.

I didn’t know how to answer this question. I am familiar with the Politically Correct movement which has so strongly taken hold on this continent, but I was flabbergasted by this question’s disregard for logic, and I will explain why. Supposedly, many people are offended by the usage of Black as a racial label, and that is valid- it gives someone a classification based on skin color which changes by the day, and is not accurate by any stretch of the imagination. Black people are not black, they are different shades of brown as are White people, as are Yellow, etc. The color thing doesn’t work.

So the ACLU forced governmental agencies to use different names for racial classifications, ones that do not offend. Well, they did not do their job, because the names on this list were offensive based on the ignorance it displayed. I suppose, since my skin is fairly light, that I should have marked Caucasian, which is gaining popularity as the label for fairer-skinned people. So I checked Caucasian. But, hold on. Caucasian refers to people of the Caucasus mountains, which are in Asia. If I’m Caucasian, then I’m Asian also.

So, I checked off Asian too. I began to think about this question a little more and realize that my family has been on this continent for quite a while and I’m pretty sure I have some Miami Indian blood in me. So, I check my third box, Native American. Regardless of my heritage, I was born in America, so in my book, I’m a Native American.

After some more contemplation, I begin to realize that there are more than a few people who could check off all of these boxes. If a Caucasian/Asian was part of the colonial conquests of Africa and his African descendants moved to the US, more specifically Hawaii, they could be considered a Caucasian/Asian African Native American Pacific Islander. I guess that’s why there’s always the option for Other. I have a friend in San Diego who is a Jew from South Africa—her accent is pretty awesome. According to this silly questionnaire, she could check off Caucasian (white), Asian (from Middle Eastern descent), African American (American from South Africa), and Other. But that would clearly defeat the purpose.

This essay will focus on one of those oddly, and inappropriately named labels: Native American. There are a number of reasons why the usage of native is illogical in this instance, and there is a perfectly sensible alternative, which I will discuss. The reasons for why the Native American title is inappropriate include the following: 1) Land ownership has been decided before the current parties were born, thus should not affect the naming of these parties; 2) One should describe race in an objective and consistent way (even if it’s not scientific) and should not be swayed by the subjective ideas of the race being named. With some cultures, we’ve been successful in naming things in this manner, but with regard to race, we have not.

‘Native American’ is the prevailing term for those humans whose ancestors lived on those continents which are now called North America and South America. In the age of political correctness and the overwhelming guilt in today’s society, I take exception to this terminology and propose we, as a civilization address people as they should be addressed. Those individuals with the lengthy title given in the beginning of this paragraph should be considered North American or South American, not Native American.

The title of Native American implies that these people have a right to the land on which we live, and others do not. It implies that people alive today are either owed something (North Americans), or should feel guilty (Europeans) . One proof that will clear up any confusion one might have regarding ownership of land through lineage, and it is as follows:

The way nations are set up currently is almost entirely due to the result of war. Since we cannot correct injustices to people who have already passed, we must accept the way things have been laid out for us and try to create a just world from that. Most nations are set up now as a result of a war or interracial conflict. Countries like Iraq, which was created after WWI from three distinct regions; Germany, which was multiple states known as Prussia before the twentieth century; North and South Korea which was split after WWII; England, which defeated many other states to unify the main Isle of Britain; and Mongolia, which went from an obscure tribe outside of the Gobi to establish themselves as a large presence in Asia, are all examples of modern boundaries which didn’t exist in the past.

There are some differences between the Europeans’ conquering of the Americas and Ghangis Khan’s conquering of the whole of Asia. The most prominent difference is that the Europeans had to travel to a different continent to conquer the Americas. Is that alone enough to grant descendants of American Indians a right to the land? If one can consider the European’s domination of the Americas parallel to the any other war or conquest, one should treat the ancestors of the participants equally. Yet, to call some people in Mongolia Native Asians and not others would be illogical and irrational. Indo-European colonists entered the Indian sub continent around 2500 years ago, to take the place of the then current inhabitants, the Harappas. Yet, the current Indians are no less Asian than their Chinese neighbors. To follow this standard it would be likewise illogical, and irrational, to call a race native because their ancestors were present before their neighbors’ ancestors were.

In addition, to consider the American Indians native, or indigenous, which is also widely used, is to assume that there were no inhabitants on the land before them. The American Indian’s presence in the Americas predates history. Many anthropologists say that during the last ice age (c 10,000 BC), Asians crossed the Baring Straight to arrive in the Americas. Isn’t it likely that there was some sort of human inhabitant here before that wave of Asians made it over? There is absolutely no proof that there were inhabitants before this wave of Asians, but similarly there is very little proof that that wave of humanity actually came over at that time and in that manner.

It is likely that the soon to be Americans invaded minor civilizations themselves and giving them the modifier native is to completely ignore a significant possibility.

One thing that the proponents of the Native usage fail to recognize is that many Indians here were as colonial and expansionist as the Europeans were when the Europeans arrived. The Iroquois dominated many other nations in their quest to rule the North American fur trade. Surrounding the Iroquois nation in the mid 1600s were a wide variety North Americans. The Neutrals and Erie were strong civilized nations to the northeast of the Iroquois. The Iroquois people defeated these nations (Neutrals named that way because they wanted no part in the Iroquois wars) and took their land. They were typical of many of the Indian nations. Does that make the Iroquois less native than those few Erie left over? When one looks to the individual nations, it is impossible to apply the word ‘Native’ to any type of people. The appropriate title for the entire population should be based solely on their geographic location to avoid cultural and sociological paradoxes like the expansionist Indians.

To be accurate, if one is to group all Indians together as one race (expansionist and nomadic peace-lovers, alike) their title should be North American and South American for those on the Southwestern continent. The only problem with this is that it is confusing due to the number of people who consider themselves North American (not racially, but culturally) now. Technically, though North American is accurate and consistent, as long as other races are tied to their originating continent. For this naming convention to work, all races must be tied to their originating continent (e.g. African, Asian, European). Admittedly, naming races is a difficult task to do, especially since the scientific process for identifying races is rarely in step with the cultural method.

There is a conflict with the name Indian, given that there is another civilization which uses that moniker. Just like the use of American strictly for citizens of the United States has infuriated people in Columbia because they, “live in America too,” so too has the use of Indian for the proponents of ‘Native’ usage. Columbus mistakenly called the islands in the carribbean the West Indies, thinking that he was on the East coast of Asia and near India. Since this was a mistake, some say that the inhabitants of the Indies, and later America, should have a more deserving name, one that is appropriate to them as an independent civilization. However, if Indian doesn’t work because a European named it, then Native American wouldn’t work because America was named after another European (most likely Amerigo Vespuchi).

Thus, Indian is a valid name for the North Americans and South Americans, but implies that all Indians are of the same nation, as well as race.

To name each nation by their individual names would be appropriate, but there is such an enormous amount of Indian nations (557 Federally recognized) in North America, alone, that it would be nearly impossible to do so. Moreover, in order to describe every nationality as they would actually describe themselves would mean calling the French, “francaise,” the Germans, “Deutsch,” and the Chinese, “∫∫”Ô.” One might suggest calling a nation of Indians in the Northeast U.S. the Iroquois. This is a well established name for those people, a name which they take for their own, however, the name is actually a French word for the confederacy of tribes which called themselves Hau de no sau nee, or People of the Longhouse.

North Americans watch the arrival of European’s Fifteenth century ships in this Viequez mural.

Furthermore, Hau de no sau nee is also the French translation of how the Iroquois pronounced it (ho dee noe sho nee), which makes it difficult to determine how we should truly address them to be perfectly PC. For the sake of this argument we could call them the Hau de no sau nee, and we could call the French, francais, and so on. This would result in an irrational addition of words to our language in order to correctly name each culture. We, as a culture, have established names for every population using the English language, and this is the most efficient way to continue.

We could eliminate all of the confusion and heartbreak that the naming people causes by simply naming those who live in a particular country one thing (e.g. American, Mexican, Canada). This would surely eliminate the animosity felt by some of the inhabitants and the guilt felt by others. There is a good reason for using that type of nomenclature. If you live in Mexico, you’re a Mexican. If you live in the United States of America, you’re American.

This is not to say that there is no value in ancestry; there is a great worth in documenting and retaining one’s ancestral history. If one wants to modify everyone they meet with their ancestry, that is perfectly rational, as long as it is consistent (not African American for some people and Caucasian for others). Knowledge of one’s history is what separates him from the sleepers of humanity. It is vital in, not only an understanding of yesterday, but an ability to grasp and make brighter tomorrow by making the most of today.

That being said, although classifying someone’s ancestry links them to the past and to history, it should not in anyway grant them an unequal advantage over others in the present day. Simply by placing the word Native before American, the modified person achieves more rights than the unmodified, these being rights to the land.

True, there were people here before Europeans came to this continent. There were probably people’s tents or huts sitting on the exact land which my house is now situated. Does that mean that the descendants of those hut dwellers have a right to land that I now occupy? Without going into the complexities of reparations, the simple answer is no, but the word Native implies that they might. Until the world becomes a single civilization (which is happening through deculturalization of minor civilizations) with a defined set of values and laws, we must abide by laws of the brutal warrior world. The English civilization beat the Seminole civilization, the Miami civilization, and so on, just as they had defeated the Scottish civilization hundreds of years before. The prize for their victory: land. It just so happened that they didn’t know how to handle their newly acquired land and its inhabitants, so its inhabitants revolted.

The fact remains that the land was taken by the English according to the laws of war, which are fair if not humane, and in turn taken from the English by the Americans.

We cannot get rid of all racial classifications, though, simply because it is difficult to label them. The ancestry of an individual is important and contributes to a sense of identity, which is vital for humans. However, the use of these labels, since it is far from scientific, should not be for the government in order to group people and tear apart a national culture. It should be used for inspiration and history. The use of such random and broad politically correct labels is not only irrational, it is counter-productive.

If one is persistent about not offending certain people, they could take the cue from the Algonquin Shawnee language to solve the problem of naming the North American Indians. Their word for ‘Indian’ is the same as their word for ‘person,’ so in essence, they are just people. Perhaps if we could call them ‘people’ and try to avoid so much classification, we could be dealing with more important questions that might appear on public applications, like, “What can you do?”