Your book uses the word “Indians” instead of “Native Americans.” Why? I think that is wrong. It seems disrespectful, and not what we are learning in school. So which term is correct — Native American or American Indian?
(Niala, age 13; Corey, 12; Justin, 10; Soren, 15)

Nowadays we have many terms — like Native Americans, first Americans, American Indians, First Nations, native peoples and aboriginal peoples.

The Native American people I’ve spoken to often prefer to be identified by their tribal name which is the most accurate description. Back in the 1800s, people didn’t spell tribe names consistently — Ojibwe, Ojibwa, Chippewa and Chippeway are different spellings for the same tribe.

VICTORIA BC CANADA JUNE 24 2015: Unidentified Native Indian people in traditional costume. First Nations in BC constitute a large number of First Nations governments and peoples in the province of BC

First Nations, Canada

As a whole group in Canada now, indigenous peoples prefer First Nations. A young man at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum in Minnesota preferred to be called Native American, as did other younger members, but he suggested that older members of his tribe preferred American Indian, which is what the Smithsonian Museum uses.

But in the 1700s and 1800s people didn’t use all the terms we have now.

Back then, racial sensitivity wasn’t important. Back then native peoples may have been called “red indians or “savages,” words which may shock today’s readers. Then, the French word “sauvage” referred simply to “a person who lived in the wilderness.” That old word is now tainted with negative meanings.

An hand drawn vector illustration colored line art.Native American.Freehand sketch of an North American Indian.Hand drawings are editable in layers and groups.Colored paper background is isolated.

North American Indian

In the 1700s and 1800s, European settlers weren’t concerned about which words to use for different tribes. They used “Indians,” “red men” and “savages,” because the settlers had limited experience and were afraid of them. New settlers didn’t know how to communicate with the people whose land they were inhabiting, nor how to live together, nor how to value a different way of life. They didn’t realize how their growing communities threatened those of the native peoples. And, unfortunately, they didn’t care.

Fur traders and clerks at that time kept journals and used a variety of words, from “Savage” to “Indian” to their tribal names. George Nelson, who accepted a 5-year term as a clerk (at age15!) in 1802, was fearful at first, but as he came in greater contact with various nations, he used more tribal and personal names. Daniel Harmon spent 19 years in “Indian Country,” starting at age 21 in 1800, and included many names of individual Indians.

Vertical shot of a Native American Hobi Indian in a sepia or black and white tone. ** Note: Visible grain at 100%, best at smaller sizes

Native American Hobi Indian

John Sayers was a partner for many years in Wisconsin and Minnesota. His 1804-05 journal used many personal names, tribal band names from local areas like “La Prairie Indians” and tribal roles like “Chiefs,” “Hunters” and “Sugar Makers.”

In this book, we chose a variety of terms, realizing that no single term will make everyone happy. For “Waters Like the Sky,” we tried to be consistent with one spelling.

As authors, we intentionally used old language to give readers a stronger feel for that era, even when the words conflict with what we use these days. For example, a tribe called themselves “Dakota” while fur traders called them “Sioux.” When André became friends with them, he began using the words they preferred, to indicate his growing understanding and respect for them.


(P.S. It was difficult to find appropriate images for this post.)

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This