The names Americans use for many American Indian tribes are derogatory. European Americans often learned what to call one tribe from a neighboring rival tribe. Sometimes whites simply developed their own contemptuous names for groups of Native people. Markers in Arizona are full of these wrong names. Some Native groups have responded to this confusion by accepting their new name even if it originally had negative connotations. Others are mounting determined efforts to be known by the name they call themselves. Arizona offers examples of both.
NAVAJO INDIANS: BARBONCITO - CHIEF OF THE NAVAJO TRIBE IN NEW MEXICO
By far the largest and most populous Indian reservation in the United States is the Navajo reservation, which occupies all of northeastern Arizona and extends into Utah and New Mexico. Navajo is the name given to these once nomadic people by the already-settled Tewa Pueblo Indians. 1 It may mean "thieves" or "takers from the fields." The Navajos came to the Southwest millennia after the Tewas and call themselves Dine, sometimes spelled Dineh, which means "we the people." 2 Most Native American groups call themselves by names that mean "we the people." Like most societies they were ethnocentric - seeing their own culture as the yardstick of sound human behavior - and these names reflect that certainty.
Tewa Pueblo Indian
The name of another famous Arizona tribe, Apaches, means "enemies." The Zunis named them that. Related linguistically to the Navajos, Apaches too call themselves Dine. In southern Arizona, Papagos means "bean eaters," a name given by the nearby Pimas. Papagos call themselves Tohono O'Otam, or "desert people." Pimas, another southern Arizona tribe, refer to themselves as Ahkeemult O'odham or "river people." "Pima" actually means "I don't know," apparently their reply when asked their name in Spanish by an early explorer!
"Tohono O'odham Woman" circa 1905
Americans have learned to call the people who built the ancient cliff dwellings at Canyon de Chelly in Arizona "the Anasazi." Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning "ancient enemies." Since the Anasazis have "vanished" according to anthropologists, we cannot now ask them what they called themselves. In reality the Anasazi didn't "vanish" but merged into the various pueblo peoples whose descendants still live in Arizona and New Mexico. Most Pueblo Indians prefer to call the Anasazi "ancestral Puebloans" and still know which pueblo includes descendants from which "Anasazi" site.
The use of derogatory names is hardly limited to Arizona. Native people living in far northern Canada and Alaska call themselves Inuit - again, "we the people" - while the Crees to their southeast called them Eskimos, "those who eat raw flesh." The Sioux call themselves Dakotas or Lakotas, meaning "allies" or "people," but their ancient enemies, the Ojibwes, called them Nadouwesioux, meaning "little snakes" or "enemies," and the French shortened it to Sioux. In turn, Ojibwes, sometimes written Chippewas, refer to themselves as Anishinabes, "people of the creation." "Mohawk" means "cannibal" in Algonquian; they call themselves "Kaniengehagas," "people of the place of flint."
Some names take note of physical characteristics of Natives. Thus British Americans called the Salish ("we the people") the Flathead Indians. The French called two groups of Indians "Gros Ventres," "big bellies," apparently derived from their name in Indian sign language. The French also renamed the Nimipus ("we the people") the Nez Perces, "pierced noses," because some of them wore nose pendants.
The Delaware Indians (Lenni Lenape)
A few names were complimentary. On the east coast the British renamed the Lenape "Delawares." They didn't mind once the British explained that Lord De La Ware was a brave military leader. Lenape means - you guessed it - "we the people." 3 The most famous new name of all - "Indians," coined by Columbus for the Arawaks he met in the Caribbean - was complimentary in a sense: Columbus either thought he was in the East Indies or hoped to convince his supporters that he had reached that important trading destination by using the term. 4
Some whites claim that their practice of naming sports teams for Native Americans is complimentary. Thus we have the Florida State University Seminoles, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, and worst of all, Washington Redskins. Some Indians do consider some of these terms flattering.
"Hopi" means "peaceful ones."
At least two tribes in Arizona are called by their own names. "Havasupai" means "people of the blue-green waters," referring to their homeland's beautiful waterfalls in a side gorge of the Grand Canyon, and "Hopi" means "peaceful ones." Some other Arizona Indians have given in to the renaming. Apaches now acquiesce to being called "Apaches." Many Navajos accept "Navajo" rather than insisting on "Dine." Many Pimas now call themselves Pimas. Papagos, however, are making a concerted effort to be known as Tohono O'otam.
In Minnesota some Ojibwes now ask others to call them Anishinabes. Throughout the world, naming has been a prerogative of power. With colonialism on the wane, calling natives by the name they use for themselves is gradually becoming accepted practice. Thus when leaders in Upper Volta changed its name to Burkino Faso, mapmakers had to make the adjustment. 5 Native Americans who care may win similar respect in coming years. (source: World Free Internet)