A Quickie with Kathleen Eagle –
On “Indian” P.C.
(November 18, 1997)
In a recent Write Byte, author Chelley Kitzmiller wrote of the allure of the Indian romance. I made a point in my introduction to state that while I used the term “Native American” in the title, Chelley used the term “Indian” in her actual topic and that no disrespect was meant.
Author Kathleen Eagle, who frequently pops into All About Romance, wrote in response:
Just thought I’d put in a comment about your introduction to Chelley Kitzmiller’s interesting article about the appeal of Native American Romance.My husband gets a chuckle out of the whole PC issue regarding what to call American Indians. He’s remarked a time or two, “I wish you guys would make up your mind what you’re gonna call us.” Truth is, most of what’s written about American Indians is written by “us white guys.” Tribal leaders from across the nation have discussed the term “Native American” in recent years (a term which apparently came from the academic community during the PC revolution) and have, as I understand it, determined that Native American is no more politically correct than American Indian. What’s more, “Native American” causes confusion. For example, many non-Indians (the term Indians in this part of the country often use for the rest of us guys; “Anglo” is a term used more in the Southwest) check “Native American” on forms – the census, for example – because they are native-born Americans. The question of who’s really an American Indian, what with the variation in blood quantum requirements from tribe to tribe, is confusing enough, and it’s mostly because the Federal government has a long history of meddling, claiming the right to tell Indian people who they are and who they ought to be. Now we’re all trying to be absolutely correct and polite and do the right thing, which is good. (But don’t push PC on the sports world. Now you’re talking America’s truly sacred ground, where “Redskin” is an honorable term, and if you’re Lakota and you’re too ignorant to appreciate the honor because you or your ancestors have actually been called that, well, the hell with you.)
In our area, tribal leaders have been asked by newspapers what term they prefer. It was recently reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the response was, use the correct tribal affiliation whenever possible (Lakota, Navaho, Acoma, Anishinabe) but when speaking of American Indian people in general, that is the preferred term (as opposed to Native American). That is the policy the Star Tribune now follows. This is also a newspaper that does not print sports team names that American Indians have said over and over again that they find offensive. The Star Tribune refers to the “Redskins” only as Washington and the “Braves” only as Atlanta. They’ve been criticized roundly for it, but they are “white guys” writing about American Indians, and for once they are listening. It’s a step.
This is not to say that individual preferences never differ. I’ve heard Indian people say they think Native American sounds better or Indiginous People is more appropriate. I’ve listened to my own children debate the issue. They prefer Lakota, but many Americans don’t know what that is. But you say “Sioux,” and they know. We’ve used “Lakota Sioux” on some of my books for clarification.
We’re all trying our best to be respectful, and I don’t claim to speak for Indian people. Thought I’d pass on what I know, just for the sake of discussion. It’s a topic that I often get questions about, and all I can say is over the years, this is what I’ve observed…