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Indigenous Swedes: Lessons for American Culture Wars

What can Americans learn from indigenous Swedes? In the recent issue of American Historical Review (127:4, 2022), there was an article entitled “Atlantis Restored: Natural Knowledge and Political Economy in Early Modern Sweden” by Carl Wennerlind. Although the article is, in fact, about early modern Sweden, there are lessons to be learned from it for the culture wars in the United States 3-400 years later.

The topic I wish to address is the Sami people of Sápmi, an Indigenous people according to the article better known as Lapps from Lapland. They were people facing internal colonization by the Swedes. Some Swedish reformers thought that violence would not be necessary. “The benign force of science would transform the northern provinces into thriving communities.”

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Sweden’s most influential improvement writer, is best known for his botany and classification system. His most formative journey was to Sápmi in 1732. He was stuck by the “abundance of natural resources and inspired by the way the Indigenous population lived.” He saw Sápmi as a “repository of new and exotic knowledge and resource, all of which ought to be exploited through settler colonialism.” They were a “’new frontier’” and a “’new world on the threshold of old Europe.’”

Linnaeus was deeply impressed by the Sami.

He viewed them as the closest living relatives to the Goths, the idealized population of Scandinavia and thus the repository of ancient purity and simplicity.

He extolled their way of life in contrast to the way the average Swede lived who:

“eats like an Englishman, drinks like a Dutchman, takes snuff like a Spaniard, and guzzles vodka like a Russian.” Swedes should live like Swedes, the only surviving example of which were the Sami.

Despite these glowing words for Sweden’s “’noble savages,’” he classified them as Homo monstrosus and referred to them as Alpine dwarves.  According to Wennerlind, the hierarchical classification system of distinct racial categories which Linnaeus used, laid the foundation for scientific racism. He sought to improve the status of the Sami using then modern civilized methods. However much to his regret, the “Sami resisted progress and their stubborn insistence on retaining their independence trumped any inclination toward bettering their own condition.”

Linnaeus’s efforts at the improvement of Sweden should be understood with the geopolitics of its time. He endeavored to restore Sweden’s glory days in the wake of the rise of new empires. One should recall that there once was a New Sweden here in the United States.

The Sámi (as they are spelled by The New York Times) were the feature of a huge article in paper, “Writing the Tale of Her People,’ (2/1/23, print). They were on the front page of the Arts Section and a full page (7) on the inside. The subject was Carl Linnaeus and her novel Stolen. She is identified as Indigenous and shown surrounded by reindeer who are to her people as buffalo and whales are to other Indigenous people.

The success of her novel is forcing Sweden to learn a lesson from its long and oppressive colonization of the Sámi people. According to the article, they number around 80,000 and inhabit lands stretching across multiple counties in the Arctic. Their language and culture have been forcibly suppressed by these multiple government. They have stripped the Sámi of their land rights and have their livelihoods and cultures threatened by the development of industry. No surprise, they are actively involved in multiple law suits and political conflicts to protect their way of life.

The rest of the article tells of the development of Laestadius as an author and the growing acceptance of Sami artists in the European cultural world. Her book is becoming a film for Netflix. In the meantime, she has raised the visibility of reindeer kills as an act of violence against her people.

Many of the descriptions in the journal article and the newspaper article are eerily similar to the way Indigenous people are described and acted upon here in the United States.

One question which has not been raised is if, or when, Sami, migrate to the United States, how are they classified according to our racial classification system? The two authors of the journal article and the newspaper article routinely classify them as “Indigenous” although there is nothing to indicate that the Sami themselves use that term for themselves. After all, they have a proper noun name. So if they emigrated to America and listed country of origin as Sweden or Norway, it is quite possible that would be designated as “white” and lose their “Indigenous” status.

Other articles from The New York Times indicate the same question: people are identified as “Indigenous” which raises the question of how they would be classified if they emigrated to the United States. Here are some examples from the different countries I read about in my print editions this year.

January 28: Chile – Indigenous rapper of the Mapuche, the country’s largest Indigenous group. The article is about the vote on the new Constitution and Indigenous rights. More than 80% of Chile’s 2 million Indigenous are Mapuche who have been struggling against European colonizers for five centuries in defense of their land, their language, their way of life (earlier full page article September 3, 2022)

January 28: Peru – Indigenous Aymara as part of large-scale political turmoil in the country; see also Quechua being added to Google translate June 1, 2022)

February 25: Africa – Indigenous as a term used by French soldiers to refer to African conscripts in World War I

April 8: Guatemala – Indigenous Maya holding on to their culture and language; see also Indigenous Mayan women in Mexico playing softball, November 18, 2021, full page)

May 16 (full page): Paraguay – Espinillo Indigenous community

Qom Indigenous group: “It’s like we were animals to be bought” referring to the practice of “’herding’” them into “’corrals’” for voting

Enxet Sur

May 19 (full page): Poland – “It has long been known that Nordic warriors established outposts more than a millennium ago on Poland’s Baltic coast, enslaving Indigenous Slavic people to supply a booming slave trade…” One should keep in mind that it is from these raids that the Indigenous Slavic people became equated with their social position generating the word “slave.”

May 27 (full page): Columbia – Indigenous Emberá and Afro-Columbian Black people

So when an article on the science fiction book Dune by Frank Herbert describes his sources as ranging from Greek mythology to Indigenous cultures, which Indigenous cultures did the author mean (October 21, 2021)?

When an author writes about the impact on the Atlantic coastal region in Newfoundland refers to the Irish, Scottish, English, French, and Indigenous influences, how come the white Europeans are identified by proper noun names and the Indigenous people are not?

In this sample, I deliberately restricted myself to Indigenous peoples in Europe and South America and excluded peoples in Africa and North Africa. That is for another blog.

So what are the lessons to be learned here?

1. The journal and newspaper I read both were in print. If I received them only online, it is unlikely I would have read all these articles and made all these connections. By turning the page of the newspaper, my eye was naturally drawn to the full-page and front-page articles with pictures which I would have skipped if I only saw a headline caption on the front page. Even with the journal article, by thumbing through the physical journal, I noticed more than I would simply by reading the table of contents. In other words, online subscriptions to newspapers and journals promotes silo thinking.

2. Indigenous is not a helpful term as a means of identifying people. The people labelled as “Indigenous” is this same might be considered white, Hispanic, or Indigenous here in the United States. All three identifications pose problems and can generate confusion.

3. This review of the use of the term “Indigenous” as a proper noun exposes its shortcomings. It is a characteristic and not a name. Imagine if the term “immigrant” suddenly became the name of peoples. Or how about “refugees”? Which political party benefits most from these shortcomings?

The academic embrace of a term with such shortcomings poses a danger now that it has entered the public arena just as happened with the academic term “critical race theory.”

When Did Indians First Become Indigenous?

We are all victims now! (Elijah Nouvelage, Bloomberg)

When did Indians first become Indigenous? When were they first victimized? Before suggesting some dates, I provide again the following working definition of the term “Indigenous”:

No general, internationally accepted definition of indigenous peoples exists. It is typical of indigenous populations that they do not represent the dominant population in the larger society of which they are part, although they may be the population group that inhabited the area first.

To be Indigenous requires a dominant population that has victimized a weaker people. You can’t have a victimized people with there being someone to victimize them. So when did that process begin?

As a caution, I am including the words of Susanah Shaw Romney in “Settler Colonial Prehistories in Seventeenth-Century Century North America” (William and Mary Quarterly 76 2019). She writes that terms may be applied when they are inappropriate.

Central to the theory is the idea of settler colonialism as a structure that requires Native erasure, both ideologically and in the real world… [I]t is crucial that we not become part of the ongoing process Native erasure ourselves by failing to recognize the central role played by Native nations both in the past and today.

As I understand this, she is informing us not to fall into the trap of discounting the contribution Indians have and are making to American history. One corollary is to recognize the existence of Indian history prior to contact with white people in its own right.

Here, then, are some suggestion dates for when Indians became Indigenous based on the 12,000 year existence of Indians on Turtle Island.

0          At creation – were Indians victimized at the moment of their creation?  If yes, then who was the dominant population? If no, then it is not appropriate to refer to Indians as “Indigenous” for that time.

12,000 BCE to 1491 Pre-Columbus – were Indians victimized during the first 11,491 years of their existence prior to the arrival of Columbus? If yes, then who was the dominant population? If no, then it is not appropriate to refer to Indians as “Indigenous” for that time.

1492 Columbus – Did the arrival of Columbus mean the instant victimization of all Indian peoples in the western hemisphere? If not, then it is not appropriate to refer to Indians as “Indigenous” at that time.

Consider some non-Indian examples. Suppose Jews decided in response to their victimization and struggle to survive against dominant populations, they wish to be called the Holocaust People as in:

Moses led the Holocaust People out of Egypt.
David became king of the Holocaust People in Jerusalem.

Or suppose Armenians wanted to be called the Genocide People after their victimization.

In the beginning of the fourth century CE, the Genocide People established the Armenian Orthodox Church.

Or how about Africans declaring that they are to be called the Enslaved People?

These examples are not exact parallels. Still, they highlight one crucial similarity with each other: peoples who have been victimized do not necessarily want to be defined by victimhood or named after the act of victimhood perpetrated against them.

When the following meetings occurred, were they occasions of victimization or attempts as alliance/friendship?

1607 John Smith and Powhatan (Algonquian)
1609 Henry Hudson and the Lenape
1620 Pilgrims and the Wampanoag.

These “first contacts” can be compared and contrasted with that of Columbus and the Carib. To characterize the English or Dutch as dominant at this these times seems farfetched. Eventually these three Indian peoples would become victims of the dominant people. However, it is incorrect to designate them as “Indigenous” right from the start.

In fact, one could tell the history of the United States through the prism of Indians becoming an Indigenous people, that is, one dominated by a population which victimized them. The very Exchange in the journal of the American Historical Association that started this thread (see Native American and Indigenous Studies: Another Culture Wars Episode) presents one such moment that could be considered as a starting point: King Philip’s War (1675-1678) marked a last ditch effort by the Wampanoag to fend off the English settlers who had and did become the dominant people.

Here in New York, 1779, the Sullivan Campaign marks an important turning point in the relation between the American settlers and the Haudenosaunee. Prior to then, multiple Indian tribes and European peoples jockeyed for power in various wars from the 1600s through the French and Indian War to the American Revolution. Until this time Indians were players in the game of power politics and not Indigenous.

A similar case can be made for the Cherokee. They had developed a script, written a constitution, and settled as farmers. Then came the Trail of Tears. At that point, it seems appropriate to refer to them as Indigenous as clearly the dominant culture had victimized them by forcibly removing them from their land.

In 1876, the Battle of Little Bighorn was between two sides quite capable of squaring off against each other. In fact, the Sioux were even capable of winning the battle. Eventually their foe would become the dominant one but it hadn’t yet happened. The Sioux did not yet fit the definition of an Indigenous people.

The same applies to the Apache before their leader Geronimo died in 1909.

These examples show a more than 200 year period over which various Indian peoples from New England to New York to the southeast to the northern Plains to the west became victimized by the dominant population. As Shaw writes:

The dominance of Native peoples on the continent through much of the eighteenth century, and clear understanding of that dominance by the colonists at the time, fits poorly with current theorizations of settler colonialism….

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the real power of Native peoples on the North American continent often constrained whites from enacting settler colonialist fantasies.

Notice how Shaw, whether accidentally or on purpose, has reversed the definition of “Indigenous.” She states that both Indians and Europeans/Americans in the 18th century recognized that the Indians were the dominant people. She has no illusion about what would happen next. But she objects to “perpetuat[ing] ideologies of the Disappearing Indian.” So at the very time when Indians say “We’re still here,” their history risks being shortchanged by limiting them to victimhood status.

There is no historical basis for intrinsically defining Indians as victims from the moment of their creation through the first 11,500 years of their existence. Or to the moment of first contact with a single white person in 1492. Or with various white people over the centuries to follow. So why do white people routinely designate Indians as “Indigenous.” Why define them as being victimized by a dominant population? Instead, it happened to them at specific points in time, with specific people, and specific events. Indians were not created as victims so why should they have a victimized name (does any other people)?

You may be thinking that when people say “Indigenous” they really mean “indigenous” in the traditional sense and not the politically-corrected sense. Then why use the term at all? When I began this thread, I asked what is the value added of using the term “Indigenous” over “Indian.” Indians don’t object to being called “Indians.” Why do white people prefer “Indigenous” to “Indian”?

In a previous blog, I claimed that white people would not support the change of Columbus Day to Indian Heritage Day. However they would support the change to “Indigenous Heritage Day.” I suggested that “Indian” was just a name so there was no moral benefit to calling the holiday that. By contrast, “Indigenous Heritage Day” marked a victory over evil and repentance for America’s second original sin.

At that time I forgot about a phrase used to name that situation. It comes from the Civil Rights movement. It is called the “white savior” syndrome. It can be defined as follows:

The term white savior, sometimes combined with savior complex to write white savior complex, refers to a white person who provides help to black people in a self-serving manner. The role is considered a modern-day version of what is expressed in the poem “The White Man’s Burden” (1899) by Rudyard Kipling.    

I wrote about it briefly back in 2018 (Twelve Years a Slave – What about the Other Years?).

Consider the movie Brooklyn (2015), the story of an Irish immigrant to America in the 1950s who lives the American Dream. She was not a superhero. She did not change the course of human history. She did not stand out as she was one of many who eventually found their heaven on earth after an intermarriage to an Italian and a dedication to education. Solomon Northup was doing that over a century earlier but that story is only glimpsed at the beginning and end of the movie.

There is more to black lives than being rescued by the white savior. Yes, it’s great that the godly Brad Pitt helped free Northup from captivity but notice that limited life being assigned to black people – they are victims. We all are aware of how important victim ideology is in the political arena today. Elitists love to tell the story of a Joe Louis or Jackie Robinson but what about the black Saoirse Ronan who stars in Brooklyn. Free blacks had a life in New York beyond the Underground Railroad with stories to tell just as Irish, German, Italian, Jewish, and immigrants from countries besides Norway have to tell. But those stories aren’t told.

For the application of the white-savior complex in Africa, see The White-Savior Industrial Complex by Teju Cole (The Atlantic, 2012):

One song we hear too often is the one in which Africa serves as a backdrop for white fantasies of conquest and heroism….Africa has provided a space onto which white egos can conveniently be projected.

One of the common tropes of the white-savior is the school teacher in the inner city. You would think that there is no such thing as a black teacher making a difference. The exception is To Sir with Love but that was in England and the students were white.

It shouldn’t be a surprise then that the same white-savior complex found in the Civil Rights movement on America’s first original sin also has been applied to Indians on America’s second original sin. Defining Indians as “Indigenous” defines them as existing solely in terms of white people, as having no existence until the dominant people arrived and as having no other relationship with whites except as victims. Why do Indians allow white people to define them as victims instead of calling the, Indians or using the name of their people? What choice do they have against the dominant population seeking to redeem itself?

Biden Becomes America’s Second Indigenous President: Who Knew?

Plantations In Ireland Due to English Settler Colonialism (Wikipedia)

Joe Biden has become America’s second Indigenous President. John Kennedy was the first. Who knew?

It turns out based on the definition of “Indigenous” as an academic construct both the Irish and the Jews are Indigenous.

No general, internationally accepted definition of indigenous peoples exists. It is typical of indigenous populations that they do not represent the dominant population in the larger society of which they are part, although they may be the population group that inhabited the area first.

These “Indigenous” people also may compose the majority of the population in a given political entity as long as they are in a subordinate position. The critical component is the presence of a dominant population. Without a dominant population having victimized a weaker people, there effectively is no “Indigenous” people.

Part of the confusion over the meaning of the term occurs due to the different ways in which “Indigenous” is used. First of all, it does not mean “indigenous.” People who are labelled “Indigenous” do not necessarily live on their ancestral homeland. There is no correlation between being an “Indigenous” people in the politically-correct sense and being ‘indigenous” in the traditional sense of local or native.  However, in the popular usage, “Indigenous” means “we were here before the dominant people came here and victimized us” including when the “here” means being displaced to somewhere else.

A second issue with “Indigenous” is with the academic construct itself.  In the article “Settler Colonial Prehistories in Seventeenth-Century Century North America” (William and Mary Quarterly 76 2019), Susanah Shaw Romney notes that the related term “settler colonialism” remains a scholarly concept most widely used for the post-1800 English-speaking world. Shaw cautions Americanists to take heed of how scholars in distant fields use the term as will be shown below. She also cautions that terms may be applied when they are inappropriate such as with the seventeenth-century Dutch in New York, her own area of scholarship. This overuse problem with the application of the term will be addressed in a forthcoming blog. In the previous blog and this one, the issue is the underuse of the terms and not the overuse.

One byproduct revealed here is the frequent limitation of the application of “Indigenous” to being directed against white people, most notably English and American. This results in the undermining of the academic construct although not in the popular usage. As shown in the previous blog, Bantu settler colonialism against other people in Africa which occurred without any involvement of white people tends to be overlooked in Indigenous studies as not being relevant. In this blog, the same situation occurs in the Middle East and Europe further rendering that academic construct suspect due to its restricted application.


On October 25, I was viewing the Indigenous History Conference. When the session ended, I zoomed over to another conference, this one entitled “The Land that I Will Show You” Recent Archaeological & Historical Studies of Ancient Israel hosted by NYU. Notice how one conference includes the name of the people and the other does not. The speaker at the second conference when I zoomed was Yifat Thareani, New York University Tel Aviv, Hebrew Union College. She is an Israeli archaeologist. Her topic was “In Praise of the Conquered: Identity Making in Israel and Judah in the Face of Assyrian Rule.”

I missed the beginning of her presentation, but when I began listening partway through, I heard her say she was talking about Israelites as an indigenous people suffering from settler colonialism. The very same terms used in the Indigenous Conference were being used in the Ancient Israel Conference only this time they involved ancient Assyria and Israel and not Americans and Indians.

If you are not familiar with the situation, here is what happened. In 722/721 BCE, Assyria destroyed the kingdom of Israel. The defeated Israelites then endured three fates:

1. One group was taken captive to Assyria, the so-called 10 Lost Tribes, with part of that group, particularly the chariot force, being incorporated into the Assyrian army.
2. A second group fled the country and became refugees in Judah.
3. The third Israelite group remained on the land in Israel as a remnant people or Indigenous.

After the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, the refugee group and the Judeans went through their own division into exile in the Diaspora, refugees such as to Egypt, or remaining on the land. In fact the biblical term for the remnant population is “people of the land,” a very Indigenous-sounding designation.

The Assyrians not only moved people out of the country conquered, they also move replacement settlers into the now depopulated country as part of their settler colonialism policy. In 716 BCE, the relocated people into the former kingdom of Israel included Arabs. In the archaeological record, this 716 BCE forced settlement is the first known instance of the Arab people living in what would later be called Palestine named after the non-Semitic Philistine people.

What happened to this mix of Indigenous Israelite people and the resettled peoples including the Arabs? Best guess is that they intermarried and became known later as Samaritans. These Samaritans continue to live on the land to this very day as a small remnant population.

People probably are more familiar with the Arab settler colonialism which occurred 1400 years later in the 7th century AD. That settler colonialism occurred throughout the Middle East from modern Iraq to Morocco. In its wake various remnant populations have survived struggling to maintain their language and culture. They include the following peoples who trace their presence in the land to prior to Arab settler colonialism although there has been intermarriage:

Palestinian Samaritans
Palestinian Jews
Palestinian Christians
Lebanese Christians
Iraqi Assyrians (Christians)
Egyptian Copts

In a print-article entitled “The Trap of Loyalty” on the Syrian Alawites, Robert F. Worth of the New York Times quotes two people he interviewed as follows:

“We are Mesopotamian, not Arabic. We don’t want to be Arabic.”
“It’s like your riots in Detroit in 1967. They [the Syrian rebels] are like losers ⸺ not good people. Like blacks in the U.S.A.”

These rebels referred to as “barbarians” were mainly the Sunni people who were leading the rebellion. It’s astonishing to witness when the eyes of the world are upon us, what exactly they see and remember. It also is a reminder that the putdown of the “other” as “savages” is not limited to white people and Indians as will be shown again below when the subject turns to the Celtic people.

Arab settler colonialism like Bantu settler colonialism falls outside the normal purview of Indigenous studies as a politically-correct doctrine but within the purview of Indigenous studies as an academic discipline.


When the scene shifts to Europe, one finds the same dilemma – how to reconcile Indigenous studies as a politically-correct doctrine versus developing it into academic discipline where white people can be both the victim and the perpetrator of settler colonialism.

Shortly after I read the “Exchange” in the journal of the American Historical Association which initiated this thread of blogs, I read an article in Archaeology, the magazine of the Archaeological Institute of America (I am president of the Westchester NY chapter) entitled “Resisting Rome: How a Celtic tribe fought to defend their Iberian homeland against the emperor’s legions.”

The article was about an archaeological excavation of a site that had resisted Rome and then was destroyed. The Cantabrian people were described by Roman writers as “savage, uncivilized, and overwhelming belligerent in nature.” In other words, they were depicted in the standard terms people have been using for thousands of years to denigrate the proverbial “Other.” This terminology has nothing to do with race, ethnicity, or any other characteristic except that the people are the enemy other and are shown as subhuman.

The Hun versus Lady Liberty (Recruiting Poster

This famous recruiting poster from World War I shows the German Huns as barbarians of the first order in response to the atrocities they committed in Belgium. In the world at large, Indians were not first or only people to be called savages.

The victimization of the Celtic people first by Rome and then by the English falls within the guidelines for “Indigenous” people. One may observe the English royal plantations established in Ireland in the map above. This colonization including the area now known as Northern Island fits the definition. One critical difference between Israel and Ireland and the American Indian peoples is that the first two now are independent political entities whereas the third have reservations.

Here we may observe the challenge facing Indigenous studies with settler colonialism. Is its primary purpose to be an academic discipline where it can be applied globally in both the past and present to all peoples of the earth? Or is its primary purpose to be a weapon in the culture wars deployed against white people especially Americans and English? Is it possible for (some) scholars to prefer the former while (some) scholars and woke general public to prefer the other?

This issue came to a crux in the Exchange in the journal of the American Historical Association that started this thread. In a review of the book Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War by Lisa Brooks, reviewer David Silverman commented on her “speculative demonizations of the English” in contrast to her downplaying of intra-Indian violence [for the treatment of violence see the blog Violence and Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS)]. In an academic context, Silverman well may be right in his observation but in a politically-correct context he is exactly wrong. As a warrior in the culture wars, Brooks did what she is supposed to do. She even garnered acclaimed for her prowess as a warrior in defending her people and castigating the enemy white people.

Oh, you think I have crossed some line here, do you? Then take Columbus Day. Suppose you decide to topple his statue and rename the day. What name would you use? Would you call it “Indian Heritage Day”? No! Of course not! But why not? Indians are the people whose heritage is being celebrated. They don’t object to the term. They were called that for centuries. Why erase it? Why “Disappear” the Indian?

The answer is simple. How many white people would rally to the cause on behalf of “Indian Heritage Day”? Try “Zero.” Indian is a name. It has no moral connotations. It exists independently of any other people. By contrast, Indigenous is not a name but a part of a relationship. It takes two. There were no Indigenous people in what became the United States before the arrival of white people according to the definition. To be Indigenous requires a dominant people who victimized you. You can be an Indian before the arrival of the white people but you can’t become Indigenous until after they do.

To be Indigenous implies that you were here first which means another people came here second. It means the land belongs to you, and that white people need to repent America’s second original sin. White people will rally to that call. White people have rallied to that cause of the Indigenous in a way they would not for Indians. At least some white people have. For others that call is a mircroaggression that alienates them from wanting to consider the legitimate concerns of the Indian people. So what. Who cares what they think. Those “Other” people are backward.

Africans Are Not Indigenous: Is That Racist?

Where everybody knows and uses your name ('Cheers' Credit: NBC)

To fully understand the term “Indigenous,” one needs to examine not only when the term is used but when it is not. This blog is a continuation of an analysis based on an “Exchange: which was published in the journal of the American Historical Association (AHA) [Violence and Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) and Native American and Indigenous Studies: Another Culture Wars Episode]. The more I thought about the issues directly raised in that exchange as reported in two previous blogs, the more I realized there were larger issues which extended beyond what was covered there. As part of this ongoing effort, I now turn to the apparent double standard in the non-use of the term in reference to Africans.


As I mentioned in the previous blogs, I was involved with a local group formed in Westchester County, New York, as part of the 1619 quadricentennial. In the first meeting I inquired about the beginning of slavery in the County. During the course of events, I learned about an event in 1685 in the Town of Rye where I live involving the bringing ashore of nine “Angolans” to help build what became the Upper Mills, now Philipsburg Manor, on the other side of the County.

In my investigation of this event, I began to read about the African side of that event. To the best of knowledge, at no point in any of the articles and books that I read did a scholar refer to any of the African peoples involved as or use the word “Indigenous.” True, I was not looking for it at the time so I may simply not have noticed it. Also many of the readings were from the pre-Politically-Correct era of scholarship so at that time the only word used was “indigenous” in its traditional meaning.

As far as I can tell, African scholars follow the same path as European scholars. They routinely refer to the peoples, countries, kingdoms, and empires they are studying by their names. Actually, Indian scholars frequently do as well. But sometimes as brought out in the initial blog, the term “Indigenous” trumps all other considerations. Then the name of the Indian people practically disappears, a modern variation in the longstanding practice of the “Disappearing Indian.”

This contrast between the treatment of Indian and African can be seen in an event that occurred right as I was reading the “Exchange” in the AHA journal. The incident involves a statue in front of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The statue has Teddy Roosevelt on a horse flanked by two males, one African and the other Indian. All three figures are physically fit. The standing figures represent areas where Roosevelt had visited and are unnamed.

While I am not an expert in such things, the Indian appears to be a Northern Plains Indian. Scholars are familiar with the Plains Indians by that name. I reported on them in two previous blogs: the 2020 annual conference of another history organization, the Organizations of American Historians (see the blogs The Organization of American Historians (OAH) Conference: What Would Have Been Presented? and  Organization of American Historians Conference: II). While scholars can differentiate among Indians just as they do among Europeans, the general public has more of a tendency to lump all Indians together whereas they do differentiate between Nordic and Mediterranean white people.

In the press coverage of the statue, the reporting differed. The African figure to the right was always, as in every single time I read about or heard about it, referred to as an African. By contrast, the Indian initially was routinely designated as “Indigenous.” Africans are not Indigenous, Indians are. Over time, the Indian more and more was called a “Native American.”

A striking difference in treatment of African and Indian occurred on September 22, 2020, in the print edition of The New York Times. It would not have been as noticeable online. There was a contrast in the treatment on pages 8 and 9 respectively meaning when you held the paper up you could see both pages. The headline on the right side (page 9) was “Journalist Covering Indigenous Rallies Is Arrested.” The article repeatedly used the word “Indigenous” to refer to the protesters, the reporters, and the issues. In third column of the four-column article, the arrested reporter is identified as Haudenosaunee member of the Oneida Bear Clan. In the second column, another arrested reporter was identified as a member of Mohawk Turtle Clan.

The article on the left side (page 8) tells a different story. The subtitle is “Congolese Activist Sees Relics as Colonial Loot.” The opening sentence identifies the activist as Congolese. Throughout the article about the museum artifacts under question, they are referred to as African. There is no mention of “Indigenous.” Museums are African, artifacts are African, and people are African and/or Congolese. Africans are not indigenous, Indians are.

Can you tell where this person is from? The headline is: “A Lawman Carrying Indigenous Roots and a John Wayne Style” (10/12/20 NYT).  Want a hint?

And along with the tangibility of the physical environment, there’s the authentic feel of the [TV] shows depiction of the lives of the Indigenous characters, who make up the majority of the cast. That’s no surprise, given that both directors, and three of the five writers of the season’s six episodes are Indigenous themselves.

Give up? It’s Australia and the people are identified as Aborigines. This goes back the question I asked in the first blog of this thread: what is the value added of calling people “Indigenous” instead of using their names?

Barack Obama is Luo.

Joe Biden is Irish.

Kamala Harris is Jamaican-Indian or South Asian.

Evo Morales is Bolivia’s first Indigenous president (NYT 10/18/20).

Don’t Indians have proper-noun names? Didn’t they say that is what they preferred to be called?


This difference in treatment between Africans and Indians is known to scholars. In 2017 in the American Quarterly, Robert D. G. Kelley wrote an article “The Rest of Us: Rethinking Settler and Native.” Kelley takes issue with the way certain politically-correct terms have been defined and used in settler colonial studies. He calls to task the racism in the usage: “it presumes that indigenous people exist only in the Americas and Australasia. African indigenity is erased in this formulation through linguistic slight of hand.” He criticizes Patrick Wolfe, an intellectual giant and leader figure in the burgeoning field of settler colonial studies for having “settler colonialism on the African continent” fall outside the purview: Wolfe “eliminates the settler from African history.” He even takes settler colonialism to task for ignoring when it occurred in Europe among white people! (The subject of my next blog.)

The racism in settler colonialism is exposed in a 1966 article from the time before the concept even existed. The article by Roland Oliver in the Journal of African History is entitled “The Problem of Bantu Expansion.” The author was exploring the origins of the Bantu-speaking people of some 70 million who occupied most of Africa south of the Equator. Since the Bantu were not indigenous to the lands they now occupied, the question has been raised how did their language spread there? The traditional explanation has been through migration and conquest. Oliver cites one expert who pictured the event as hordes of invaders fanning out over the southern half of the continent as hordes of Zulu warriors had done in the 19th century. He notes similarity of some of the analogies used by scholars to what happened with European settlement in North America and Australia in case you didn’t make the connection.

Oliver explores the expansion of the Bantu from their homeland in one part of Africa in the northern woodlands south to other parts of Africa. They were aided in this effort with superior technology in iron that could be used for weapons, in hunting, and in fishing. As Oliver wrote:

…in was here in the southern woodland belt, that they achieved their first, main population increase. It was here that they established a bridgehead comparable to the bridgehead established by the European settlers on the Atlantic coast of North America…Their obvious success over against any earlier hunting, gathering and tenuously vegecultural peoples whom they found in this region would be more adequately explained by their possession of a rudimentary iron technology and a knowledge of cereal agriculture which enable them to take over…

Oliver refers to the “colonization” of the land by the Bantu as they spread across it. He noted the continued existence of “remnant populations.” Overall, it was “an unending sequence of migration, conquest and absorption.”

In an article entitled “Western Bantu Expansion” by Jan Vansina in the Journal of African History (1984), he asked about what happened to the “autochthones” before the Bantu expansion:

All the former languages spoken by these hunters and gathers have disappeared and most of their populations have been absorbed. How did this happen?

One answer was demography. The new settlers just kept coming and coming and their farm populations just kept growing and growing. The new crops and metal technology prevailed. Some oral traditions tell of wars but the bottom line is clear: Bantu settler colonialism displaced and overwhelmed the “Indigenous” people who are now a remnant.

These African-related articles highland the double standard in the treatment of Africans and Indians. Africans have retained their proper-noun names. Indians do still have proper noun names:

“Contact tracing saves Apache lives” (article title on 10/21/20 in my local paper from the Arizona Republic)

but the need to politically correct leads to some convoluted combinations:

Democratic Assembly nominee Marccela Mitaynes is asked by an interviewer:

“For you, as an immigrant, Indigenous Peruvian woman of color, what does it mean to have your voice represented in state government?” (City & State New York, 7/27/20).

Way to cover all your bases and check all the politically correct boxes. Notice that her “Indigenous” people in Peru are not named. In her answer, she spoke on behalf of “immigrants” and left the other identifiers out.

What can be concluded from all this?

1. “Remnant” is a better term than “Indigenous.”
2. Africans have “remnant” peoples too.
3. Same-race settler colonialism exists.
4. Indians should be referred to by their names.
5. The “Disappearing Indian” syndrome still exists when people aren’t called who they are.

This thread continues with an exploration of what happens where settler colonialism and “Indigenous” occur with white people when they can’t be called that.

“Indigenous” versus “Indian”: What Word Should Be Used?

This blog is a continuation of a study deriving from an “Exchange” in the journal of the American Historical Association. The title of the Exchange is “Living with the Past: Thoughts on Community Collaboration and Difficult History in Native American and Indigenous Studies.” It consisted of a review of two books on King Philips War (1676) and one organization, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA).

The first blog I wrote on this Exchange addressed the critique of and the defense of the NAISA and its scholarship by the participants (Native American and Indigenous Studies: Another Culture Wars Episode).

The second blog on this Exchange, Violence and Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS), focused on the subject of violence in one of the two reviewed books. For whatever reason, the author of that book did not participate in the Exchange while the author of the other book did. The absence of the author’s participation meant the accusations about the shortcomings in the scholarship were not refuted.

In this blog, I wish to address a topic not included in the Exchange but implicit in it. This has to do with the terminology used by the scholars, specifically the words “Indigenous” and “Indian.” In many instances the author has no choice – the reference is to an organization, conference, book or article title which has the word “Indigenous” or “Indian” in it. I did not scrutinize the Exchange to differentiate between when the use of a term was the author’s choice or not. In 32+ pages of the journal, the word “Indigenous” was used 110 times. In the same space the word “Indian” was used 34 times. This roughly 3:1 ratio is not a scientific experiment. I suspect many of the 34 times the word “Indian” was used in the Exchange was because the author had no choice, for example if one was referring to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian or the American Indian Quarterly. The question I have, in baseball terms, is what is the value added in the use of “Indigenous” over “Indian”? What is the reason for the change?


Speaking of the NMAI, I had the opportunity to participate in three online presentations by the NMAI since I read the Exchange. In all three instances, an immediate question raised or anticipated was what to call “Indians.” Since many of the participants were teachers and the NMAI specifically was reaching out to the education community in these programs, the urgency and immediacy of this question suggests that teachers do not want to commit a politically incorrect faux pas and be hauled off before the Thought Police by a white parent of a white student claiming insensitive and disrespectful language is being used in the classroom.

The NMAI is well aware of the situation. It even has prepared a “cheat’ sheet teachers can use. In general terms the Indian and white instructors in these sessions say that the people prefer to be called who are they are whatever that particular tribe or nation name happens to be. This makes sense.  One says Japanese-American about an American citizen of Japanese descent for instance. When referring to people collectively, say not to Polish-Americans but to all Americans of European descent, then the preferred terms according to the NMAI are American Indian, Indian, Native American, or Native which can be used interchangeably.

NMAI is aware that the term “Native” can be problematic. The reason is Americans born in the United States are native Americans as well (see If You Are a Native New Yorker, Are You a Native American?: The Weaponization of “Native” and the Culture Wars). In fact, since I started writing this blog I have come across multiple attestations of people being referred to as native New Yorkers or of a particular borough. True, one person’s ancestors can have been a Native American earlier than when your immigrant ancestors first had a child born in the United States, but one’s “nativeness” is determined at your birth, not by you parents or distant ancestors. At some level the NMAI may be aware that privileging one group as more “Native American” than another group can be a micro aggression to a non-Indian person born in America.

Strangely enough, the term “Indigenous” did not come up in these sessions as a suggested name for Indians. For more on this topic see Warrior, R., “Indian,” in B. Burgett and G. Hendler (eds.), Keywords for American Cultural Studies (2014). Personally, I think “Turtle Island people” or “Turtle-Island-Americans” would be a more respectful name. It draws on the actual Indian culture without privileging it.


The question remains what is the value added of the term “Indigenous” instead of “Indian”? One may also add what the purpose was in the invention of the term in the first place?

Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England is a book by Jean O’Brien who participated in the Exchange. The description of the book is:

Across nineteenth-century New England, antiquarians and community leaders wrote hundreds of local histories about the founding and growth of their cities and towns. Ranging from pamphlets to multivolume treatments, these narratives shared a preoccupation with establishing the region as the cradle of an Anglo-Saxon nation and the center of a modern American culture. They also insisted, often in mournful tones, that New England’s original inhabitants, the Indians, had become extinct, even though many Indians still lived in the very towns being chronicled. This book argues that local histories became a primary means by which European Americans asserted their own modernity while denying it to Indian peoples. Erasing and then memorializing Indian peoples also served a more pragmatic colonial goal: refuting Indian claims to land and rights. Drawing on more than six hundred local histories from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island written between 1820 and 1880, as well as censuses, monuments, and accounts of historical pageants and commemorations, the book explores how these narratives inculcated the myth of Indian extinction, a myth that has stubbornly remained in the American consciousness. (Bold added)

In the book there are no uses of the term “Indigenous” and 7 examples of “indigenous.” That suggests to me the usage is based on the traditional meaning as native to a place. Exactly when “indigenous” shifted to being “Indigenous,” I don’t know. The book also uses the term “Indian” approximately 1500 times. Evidently there was no problem in the Indian author using the term “Indian” and no obligation to use “Indigenous.”

On the book jacket, Philip J. Deloria, who also was part of the Exchange, wrote:

Driven by a creative reading of hundreds of local histories, Jean M. O’Brien’s Firsting and Lasting reinvigorates the old question of the ‘vanishing Indian‘ in surprising ways, taking readers into the contradictions surrounding race and modernity, and offering an ur-history of the politics of tribal termination, dual citizenship, and cultural politics.

Deloria is the author of the three books Playing Indian, Indians in Unexpected Places, and Becoming Mary Sully: Toward an American Indian Abstract.

The book jacket description of the book is:

In Firsting and Lasting, Jean M. O’Brien argues that local histories became a primary means by which European Americans asserted their own modernity while denying it to Indian peoples. Erasing and then memorializing Indian peoples also served a more pragmatic colonial goal: refuting Indian claims to land and rights. Drawing on more than six hundred local histories from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island written between 1820 and 1880, as well as censuses, monuments, and accounts of historical pageants and commemorations, O’Brien explores how these narratives inculcated the myth of Indian extinction, a myth that has stubbornly remained in the American consciousness.

 This description provides a constructive basis for individual historical societies in both the three states mentioned and elsewhere to examine how the Indian stories in their own communities have been dismissed, ignored or erased. That is consistent with my previously stated view that historical societies should tell the story of their land from Ice Age to Global Warming. The identification of the Indian history would seem to be a productive undertaking although I doubt most individual historical societies have the resources to do so or that there sufficient number of experts who can be consulted to help them.


Unfortunately, local historical societies may not have gotten the message that it is acceptable to investigate the Indian history in their own community. Here is one example.

“Village Erasing ‘Indian’” was the front page headline of an article in The Freemans Journal, Cooperstown, New York. It seems that a Village trustee noticed the wording on a history marker at Council Rock, an Indian meeting place where the Susquehanna River flows out of Otsego Lake. The resident was shocked to see the text was: “Council Rock: Famous Meeting Place of the Indians.” The Trustee was aghast saying:

“I was shocked that I hadn’t noticed it previously. The sign refers to Native Americans as ‘Indians.’ It’s racially insensitive and incorrect, and it needs to be updated.”

That outrage sparked another Trustee to voice concern about another sign about the Indian Grave a few blocks from the meeting.

The first Trustee expressed concern about “this moment of social awareness and racial awareness” in the United States and called for contacting the New York State Department of Education responsible for state history markers. It was felt that the village needed to get out ahead of the “problem.”

A more intelligent Trustee commented that the “we shouldn’t assume what is politically correct or culturally correct. We need to do our due diligence.” This comment demonstrates the elevation of politically correct standards as the basis for rendering a decision. Think about that for a moment. A village government acknowledged that it was obligated to comply with politically correct standards even though Indians have expressed no objection to the term. The only issue for the village was the determination of what those standards was.

The reporter concluded the article with the droll comment that “The Indian Hunter” statue, the most famous statue in the village, was not mentioned during the deliberations.

As one might expect, the June 22, 2020, meeting led to a community response on the newspaper’s website. Here are some salient remarks.

1. One resident expressed the notion that to be truly sensitive to Native Americans meant returning the lands in Cooperstown taken from them. He suggested starting with the lakefront homes of one Trustee and the mother of a second Trustee.
2. One anonymous resident went to the NMAI website showing the information reported above. It noted the acceptability of the term “Indian” and the preference to call Indians by their tribal name.
3. A third resident responded to the oversight of not mentioning the Indian hunter statue. After all, hunting depicts Native Americans in a stereotypical appearance that could offend someone. [Apparently hunters are an offensive image to Indians. Indeed it is hard to image any culture anywhere at any time having a hunter as a hero.] This person went on to call for the removal of the statue of James Fenimore Cooper and changing the names of Fenimore Park, Fenimore Museum, and Cooperstown itself. After all, who knows what might be offensive to someone in the future. Ironically this article appeared in the local paper [yes, one still exists in Cooperstown] right next to right my blog Schuyler Owned People: Should Schuylerville Change Its Name? which the paper had published. This resident may have been speaking tongue-in-cheek as the comment ended: “Better to take it all down and change all the names. George Orwell would be proud.”
4. One resident was rather upset. “Who in the hell said ‘Indian’ is racist? No white person has that right? And it if was offensive, don’t you think it would have been changed years ago.”

The reference may also have to a previous village project which involved working with Mohawks and Oneidas where the issue of “Indian” hadn’t been raised.

The answer to the resident’s question about who determined the word Indian is racist would seem to be white people, not all white people, just some white people as this editorial states in discussing a related issue on the use of the term “Native American.”

Native American vs. American Indian: Political correctness dishonors traditional chiefs of old

This editorial by the Native Sun News Editorial Board (Sioux) in Rapid City, South Dakota began with that question and an answer.

Who decided for us that we should be called “Native Americans?”

It was the mainstream media of course….

The activist Russell Means preferred the name American Indian. He would say that just as you have Mexican Americans, African Americans, or Asian Americans, you should have American Indians….

During the activist days of the 1960s and 70s the U. S. Government responded to the activists’ protests by proposing the term “Native American.” And so the anti-government activists decided to accept the name Native American, a name suggested by the United States Government, a government that they despised. Say what?

That sad part of this entire fiasco is that so many of the so-called “elitist Indians” have allowed themselves to be bullied into using the name “Native Americans” and even “Native” by a white media that seems to have set the agenda for what we should be called. [The questions then to be asked is why did these white people did this and since whites are the dominant culture, what can Indians do to resist?]

One elderly Lakota man from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation said recently, “If some Indians want to be called Native Americans or Natives, let them be called that, but I was born an Indian and I shall die an Indian. [This comment matches the words of Marc Lacey, the National editor of The New York Times: My father was born a Negro. Then he was black. Late in life, much to his discomfort, he became an African-American (John Lewis and “the Sad Demise and Eventual Extinction of the American Negro”: Erasing History).

So if you travel to any Indian reservation out west you will soon discover that nearly all of the indigenous people refer to themselves as “Indian,” especially the elders who are still fluent in their Indian language. As Chief Oliver Red Cloud said a few years before he died, “I am Lakota and I am Indian.”

As an Indian newspaper we must be very careful that what we call ourselves is not dictated to us by the white media. We have been Indians for a few hundred years and the name carries our history. Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Little Wound (Read their quotes) all called themselves “Indian” and they said it with pride. Should we dishonor them by saying they were wrong?

Political correctness be damned: We will use “Indian” if and when we choose. We will not be intimidated by the politically correct bunch or the white media.

The question raised by the teachers and the debate in Cooperstown suggest if Indians have not been intimidated by the politically correct, then non-Indians have. That still leaves open the question of the value added by using the term “Indigenous” instead of Indian.

To be continued.