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The White Hindu has moved! This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Monday, June 28, 2010

Native-American or Indian?

This weekend the boyfriend and I had dinner with commenter SM and her family. We had a wonderful time. She mentioned that she might want to start a blog and I hope that she does. If you do, SM, come and share the link with us!

Also, another of our commenters has just started a blog. Art is writing about creating a Hindu American Identity:

I know a lot of people seem to be interested in forming a new identity as non-Indian Hindus. I am cautious because it is hard for me to separate out what is the religion and what is the culture and what will you lose when you let go of some of the things. But there should be a way to separate them. I was not satisfied with how it was done by the community I grew up in, but that does not mean that it's not possible.

As I was reading up on this other Churchill fellow from the last post, it brought to mind an issue that came up for me in college. I haven't faced it that much since only because I am not involved in Native American things. Although when I tell someone that I'm involved in Indian things, sometimes they think I mean turquoise jewelry and totem poles and someone once told me that she had heard that the swastika was actually an ancient symbol of Native-Americans. Sigh. No, it's an ancient symbol of India.

In America there are many different terms for different ethnic groups. In our society we put a premium on what has been labeled "Political Correctness." This means being polite when referring to ethnicities or cultures (or sexualities, religions, abilities/disabilities) different from our own. Some people say it goes too far, as many of us are very afraid to accidently offend someone by calling him the wrong thing. The "correct" term for a group can go in and out of fashion. I recently saw a debate on a message board between saying "black" people or "African-American" people. I think most people default to African-American these days. The possible trouble with that is that it qualifies someone's "Americanness" and makes it sound like they are less American than I am because no one ever calls me Irish-American.

But that example is not the point. The point is that there is a huge amount of confusion with the word "Indian."

When I was a kid I was taught that the people native to America, the ones Columbus mistakenly thought must be Indians because he thought when he got to America that he had reached India, were properly called Native-Americans. That was the PC term then.

In college I had a professor who was involved in these things and he told us that now the people preferred to be called "Indian." They were "taking back" the term. We read a wonderful book called The Lone Rancher and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, about Native-Americans living on reservations. You can see, I stubbornly continue to say "Native-American."

I asked this professor, what then would we call actual Indians? People in India? He said "East Indians." I thought that was ridiculous. I'm sorry to Native-Americans, but you can't have the term. It's been taken. The people from India or who live in India get to call themselves Indian before you do.

Not that the word "India" is native at all, but it's been around for a lot longer than America has been.

Native words for India include Bharat and Hindustan. I welcome commenters in India to add to that list.

But still, to me the word "Indian" is always going to refer to people in India and the Native-Americans are going to have to find another term if they don't like that one.


  1. three more names for india come to mind are jambu-deep, arya-varta (north india) , dakshina-varta (south india).

    - basu

  2. Namaste Aamba,
    Whoever told you that the swastika was a Native American symbol was absolutely correct. The swastika appears in many traditions, from all over the world. There is a quite famous picture of Jackie Kennedy/Onassis as a child dressed in a Native American costume with a swastika design.

    I think the idea that we should call Native Americans "Indians" and Indians "Eastern Indians" is laughable. Would that make yo a non-Native Indian, and should we start calling the USA "West India"?


  3. Wow, more that I did not know. A (Jewish) friend of mine was recently saying that the swastika is a symbol in many, many societies around the world.

    I suppose we could say "East Indian" and "West Indian" Maybe "American Indian" is okay? Although it seems to me that if you are from a country called "India" then naturally you're an "Indian." If you're from a country called "America" why on earth would you be called "Indian"? I have just never understood what was offensive or bad about "Native American." Maybe someone will enlighten me!

  4. India mostly derived from Indus or Sindhu as per textbooks in India.... With no Indus in North America... Calling native Americans as Indians is difficult for me to understand

  5. American Indian and Native American both work fine, but NDN is a good alternative spelling I've come's short and NDNs use it themselves from what I've seen.

  6. There are West Indian as in West Indies (Anglo Carribean - Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana).

  7. Many "Native Americans" prefer to be addressed by their specific tribal names- Caddo, Cherokee, et cetera rather than be lumped together into one group that lacks linguistic and cultural specificity. "Indigenous Americans" is another term I have seen used. Native Americans have been called "Indians" for so long by outsiders that they have become used to this term. It was forced upon them. I think telling them now that they must give it (after the abuse of being forced to identify with a alien word) up is a bit harsh. In our household we use specific tribal names when possible and if not "indigenous" or "natives".

  8. Swastika is one of the 108 symbols of God in Sanatan Dharma, it exists in all civilizations because they "all" originated from Sanatan Dharma.

    The world was once united under Sanatan Dharma, history as you know it is completely warped.

    You should start with linguistics - the language Sanskrit is the mother of all languages, which is a perfect language since its conception.

    It never needed any changes or needed any new words. It was complete from beginning.

    It has no words for abuse, no words for divorce! Which means that there was a time such things did not exist!

    Look at the pic below:

    This is the true answer to the universe itself. Look at the perfect never ending language!

    This depicts the truth of the universe, and the true power of enlightenment. The true source of every thing!

    If you like more information, i can tell you a lot more

  9. I think the 'native americans' have evry right to call themselves Indian. Whatever the history, the The Great Spirit has called out to all Dharmic people and let us know that we have Name Brothers across the seas.

    Be well my name brothers for you are dear to us of all the tribes of Man.

    1. Very interesting. That's a way of looking at it that I've never heard before.

  10. Remembering how we were first stuck with the name and by whom, would be a way to start looking at a way out of the use of the name?
    Christopher Columbus was, first stupid, he took the ships 180 degrees backwards towards India, a brutal murdering bully, he destroyed everyone and everything in his way to riches.
    Why should the decedents of his wrath be stuck with a wrong name from him?
    We need to stay with our own names not a non native name?

  11. Native Americans and Indians(India) have the same roots and common ancestors. There is a lot of research on this out there if you seasrch for it even on the net. So it is nature's way of having given the two cultures. Of course, there is major diversity with in the communities Native of American Indians and the Indians of India as well. But together, these teo groups are the most rich in music, culture and colours!