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Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part III- The Meaning of “Indigenous”

This blog is the third in a series of five about the issue of Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The first one Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: A Lose-Lose War arose due to some recent state decisions to “dump” or “ditch” Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ day. The second Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part II – Columbus and America examined the place of Columbus and Columbia in American history. This blog will examine the use of the word “indigenous.”  In the following blogs, I will address how this war happened and suggest what we should do about it.

The following items about the meaning of “indigenous” are the product of reading the newspaper daily. In my case it is the New York Times. These examples are not the result of internet searches or exhaustive research. They derive from current events provided one pays attention. Dates are from the print editions


Who are these “Indigenous” people? The article does identify them but the title is telling. In the previous blog I mentioned the Italians, Irish, and Germans in America. Can you imagine an article about filmmakers from any of these people that did not identify them by name in the title? Or by black people? Instead, “Indigenous” is treated as a capitalized proper noun as if it were the name of the people. It conveys the message that there is a global people called Indigenous as if they are a single people.

Where in the world are these Indigenous people located anyway? Are they Indigenous Canadians? Indigenous Americans? Indigenous Mexicans? Indigenous Peruvians? I exclude Europe because rarely if ever are white people referred to as Indigenous. That exclusion is part of the weaponization of the term. In fact white people, non-capitalized, are separate from Indigenous people in the article. As it turns out in this instance the Indigenous people are in Australia.

How do Indigenous people live? According to this article, Indigenous life is one of “hunting, fishing, lounging in the stunning and rugged landscape, interacting with condescending local [white, one presumes] bureaucrats.” Keep in mind the pre-technology description of the people living a Paleolithic life. That description of a simpler life also is part of the weaponization of the term to be addressed in the next blog.


Once again the Indigenous people are Australians but this time on islands. They are very small islands compared to the main island of Australia. These islands are threatened by the rising seas due to global warming. According to a lawyer involved in seeking to resolve this situation on behalf of the Indigenous people:

“If Indigenous people are disposed of their homelands, then they can’t continue to practice their culture.”

It should be comforting to know that if we non-Indigenous people are disposed of our homelands we still will be able to practice our culture.


Given that Indigenous people are located globally except for Europe, one might think that to perpetrate a genocide against them would require a global action. However, that is not the case. Putting the inconsistency aside, what is striking about the article is the reference to the people attending the announcement of an inquiry into these killings:

Most in the audience were in traditional Indigenous dress and held red flowers in remembrance of the women.

They did not wear traditional Irish dress or Greek dress or Ukrainian dress but an Indigenous dress worn by all Indigenous people.


In this instance, the title identifies the person as a Mohawk and not as an Indigenous person. The article does recount the use of indigenous (non-capitalized) languages. It lauds the “contributions of indigenous soldiers in World War II.” The obituary reads like a composite. Part of it seems to have been written in pre-politically correct times when American Indians were referred to by their proper noun names. Four different tribes are mentioned in the article. Another reads as if the word “Indian” in the original obituary subsequently was cleansed and replaced by “indigenous.” I cannot prove that but it is an odd mixture of the traditional and the politically correct.

Suppose now you were an historian thousands of years from now and came across these articles. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to include that all Indigenous people wore the same traditional clothes, practiced hunting, fishing, spoke the same or similar languages, and were condescended to by presumably white bureaucrats? Australia, islands, Canada, United States, it’s all the same. They are all Indigenous. How would you they are different? Don’t these descriptions remind you of the phrase “if you’ve seen one Indigenous people, you’ve seen them all”? Doesn’t the depiction of these people remind you of two-dimensional Disney characters?  Isn’t the condescension of the politically correct white people abhorrent and degrading?

Let’s turn to some more explosive political situations.


In this situation, the indigenous peoples are Indians. They practice the Hindu religion. They are in conflict with the non-indigenous Moslems. One Muslim complained of the treatment.

“I could be lynched right now and nobody would do anything about it. My government doesn’t even consider me Indian. How can that be when my ancestors have lived here hundreds of years?”

These foreigners will never belong in India. They can never become indigenous. They will always be the outsiders to the native Indians who have superior numbers and power unlike the American Indians. This foreigner fears being lynched by the indigenous people. As nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked:

“Who attempted to defame our 5,000-years-old culture? Who brought the word Hindu terrorism? Who committed the sin of labeling Hindus as terrorists?”

As one supporter said:

“[I]f Hindus can come together and Muslims can be defeated, then India can regain its past glory.”

India is not looking to an imaginary Wikanda or to the Paleolithic past. These indigenous people of 5,000 years are looking to defeat the non-indigenous foreigners in this world. Since this newspaper article was written, Modi won his re-election by a huge amount. Score one for the Indigenous people over the outsiders.


This article recounts the plight of the Muslim Rohingya. They have been displaced by Myanmar Buddhists. According to Wikipedia,

Myanmar law does not recognize the ethnic minority as one of the eight “national indigenous races”.

Score two for the Indigenous people over the outsider.


This op-ed piece followed the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka. According to the Sri Lanka Moslem author:

Sri Lankan Muslims trace our roots back to the Arab traders and Sufi mystics who brought Islam to Sri Lanka in the seventh century.

That doesn’t cut it. Whether it was the hundreds of years cited in the Indian article above or 1300 years here those time frames do not make you a native. You are not indigenous to Sri Lanka. You will always be an outsider and never will belong there.

The reference to the Arabs and the seventh century is a reminder that Arabs are scarcely indigenous anywhere. Loosely speaking they originated in the area where Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan come together. They are not indigenous to Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and most of the those four countries. Thanks to the camel they began to expand outwards as traders, mercenaries, and guides beginning in the 9th century BCE, over 1500 years before Mohammed.  Some Arabs were forcibly resettled by the non-Arab Assyrians. The big push occurred in the seventh century when the Arabs conquered much of the Middle East and imposed their religion on the locals. Sounds like Spain in the Western Hemisphere doesn’t it?  Christian Lebanese sometimes identify as non-Arab Phoenicians who were in the land before the Arabs. A recent article on DNA analysis DNA from Medieval Crusader Skeletons Suggests Surprising Diversity concludes:

Today’s Lebanese people are clearly descended from the people who have lived in the area since the Bronze Age, with little trace of the temporary European invaders.

That Bronze Age ended roughly 2000 years before the Arab invasions. The Arabs are indigenous only to a small area of the lands they occupy today.

Consider this final example from op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof (“The Missing Element to Beat Poverty” [May 30, 2019]). He describes his visit to Paraguay. While there he encounters indigenous people. He chooses not to capitalize the word unlike the reporters for the newspaper. He writes about the economic hardships these people face and likens it to the plight of indigenous people around the world from America to Australia. Now suppose this woman he met emigrated to the United States, would she still be indigenous? Or since she was from Paraguay would she be classified as Hispanic? When indigenous people are repressed by non-indigenous people in Latin America, how should they be classified when both of them come to America?

That very issue was raised in “The Brutal Math of Asylum” (March 10, 2019). The article describes another woman who:

was part of the Garifuna community, descendants of enslaved Africans and Indigenous Central Americans [in Honduras].  

Notice the reporter capitalizes Indigenous. So what is this person if she is granted asylum in America? Is she still Indigenous even though she no longer lives in her homeland? Is she Hispanic because she is from Central America even though she seems to have no European ancestry? Is she African American even though she was not part of the middle passage to the United States (like Obama and Harris)?

In a previous blog not sent to the history community, I wrote: How the Politically-Correct Helped Elect Donald Trump… 2016

The issue of American Indians bears further analysis. In the United States there are Indian nations or tribes. Demographically they are categorized separately from other peoples. What about Indian peoples from south of the American border. How are they classified? Consider this letter from my local paper (2/15/19) entitled “I’m not Latin:”

Let me start off this letter by saying that I’m not Latin nor am I Hispanic, Latino, Spanish, or Latin American. These wildly misleading terms for Spanish-speaking Americans are implicative of European colonization and its culturally-corrosive ethos. My family heritage is that of the Quechua peoples of Ecuador, and many Spanish-speaking individuals I’ve encountered find offense in being subjected to a label that misconstrues their ethnicity (i.e., “Latin”). I consider myself an Indigenous Americano, so don’t call me or my Central and South American neighbors “Latin” or any of the misguided aforementioned labels.

When I was growing up I don’t recall hearing the word “indigenous” often. Peoples usually had real names. Sometimes they were their own names, sometimes they were the names others applied to them – Indians, Asians, Egyptians, etc. Now these Eurocentric names are to be banished from polite conversation. People are to be referred to as Indigenous no matter where they are in the world. The word “Indigenous” has now been weaponized by some white Americans in the culture wars against other white Americans and imposed on people who had names for themselves and never used the word “Indigenous.” The result is a simpleminded, superficial, bogus term that produces strange results when removed from the American context that created it. Why did the politically correct unleash this weapon?

To be continued.

New York State Indian Paths through History

Indian Nations in New York (Wikipedia)

The diminished status of local and state history in New York extends to the first human settlers here as well. First contact between the European colonists and the Indian Nation inhabitants famously begins with Henry Hudson sailing the river the river that flows both ways that now bears his name. Over the course of the next two centuries, from the Hudson to the Erie Canal, the Indian Nations played an important role in the history of the colony and the state. By the time James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 first published in 1826, that world had vanished: the Canal was completed, New Yorkers had forgotten about the Oneida Nation’s participation in the American Revolution as our allies, and William Johnson had been dead for decades. As one might sing/ask at the end of a musical, “Who will tell their/our story?”

Nearly two centuries later, the Indian Nations are still here. They exist in a vastly different environment and are probably best known for their casinos. They still are viewed as two-dimensional beings although since values have changed sometimes that makes them superior beings as one with nature instead of savages antithetical to civilized beings. Perhaps one day they will become three dimensional and not the victim of stereotypes.

At the annual conference of the Association of Public Historians on New York State (APHNYS) last September in Liverpool, I chose to participate in the field excursion to the nearby Skanonh Lodge Great Law Peace Center. It is part of the Onondaga Nation, the tribe that was at the geographical center of the Haudenosaunee people. Similar centers exist along the Mohawk Valley for other members of the confederation.

During the tour, I asked our tour leader, who is a reader of my posts, about the collaborative efforts with the other facilities. Unfortunately, his reply was negative. Each facility does its own thing.

During past Teacherhostels/Historyhostels, we have visited various sites in the eastern half of the Mohawk Valley related to the Haudenosaunee:

Fenimore Art/Farmers’ Museum
Indian Castle Church
Iroquois Museum
Johnson Hall State Historic Site
Old Fort Johnson
Old Stone Fort
Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs.

The extension to the western half never materialized. I did scout out the Oriskany Battlefield and Fort Stanwix but never put the pieces together for a program.

Last January, I was an invited guest of the Oneida Nation to participate in workshop at Turning Stone Resort. The purpose of the meeting was to help prepare a grant application to the NEH to produce a documentary on the very Battle of Oriskany. By further coincidence. I previously had been contacted by the Oneida County Historical Society in partnership with the National Park Service which manages the sites of Oriskany and Fort Stanwix (in Rome) about being involved in planning for the 240th anniversary in 2017. I suggested that they along with the New York State site in Little Falls for General Nicholas Herkimer be invited to the Oneida program which they were. Herkimer had bled to death from injuries sustained in the battle. The American general was part of the Palatine settlement in the Mohawk Valley. These Germans too are a forgotten part of American history. By coincidence, the Oneida are popular performers in Germany but the connection with the Palatines in the Mohawk Valley has not been developed.

In a recent newsletter from HISTORIC LEWISTON NEWS, there was an announcement about an upcoming lecture by Neil Patterson, Sr., Tuscarora Council, on “Little Known Facts in Tuscarora History.” The description of the talk is:

Much of the local Tuscarora history has been written by white people, with little or no input from the Tuscaroras.  As in any culture, Native American oral traditions run deep and are sometimes reluctantly shared.

The speaker is from the Sand Turtle Clan and a member of the governing Tuscarora Council.  He worked as a consultant during the construction of the new Tuscarora Nation House. He has been the coordinator of the Tuscarora Nation Picnic & Field Days for over 30 years.  In 2009, he began a four-year collaboration with the Historical Association of Lewiston and the Village and Town of Lewiston to complete the Tuscarora Heroes Monument in time to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the heroic actions by Nation in saving the lives of local Lewiston settlers.

So here we have an example of another new facility on behalf of one of the Haudenosaunee nations.

I have not been to Ganondagan, the Seneca site near Rochester.

I am not familiar with the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca.

The places mentioned here are not meant to be exhaustive. They suggest the geographic range of possibilities in constructing a Haudenosaunee Path through History in the event anyone should want to do so. The list does not include museums in New York City and Albany which also tell the story.

I would be remiss in this post if I did not mention the North Country. Besides the Fort William Henry, we had the opportunity in a Teacherhostel/Historyhostel to hear Rick Salazar, an Abenaki storyteller, talk with us on Mount Defiance near Fort Ticonderoga.  As he was talking a storm moved across Lake Champlain. It was possible to see the comparatively sharp lines between the storm and the sunlight as it traversed the lake. There were moments when we could see sunlight on either side of the storm. It was truly a wondrous sight as it quickly passed. The scene provided a perfect venue to hear about the Abenaki culture. Naturally, I claimed to have arranged for this special effect as part of the program and for no additional charge. I don’t think anyone believed me.

Finally, the Iroquois and the Women’s Right movement were part of the discussion in the plenary address of Sally Roesch Wagner at the second Women’s Suffrage Centennial Conference. In response to my recent post on that conference, Doug George-Kanentiio, a member of the Mohawk Nation, author of Iroquois Culture and Commentary, and vice president of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge, sent me an article from the Washington Post on that subject. Doug periodically sends me emails in response to my blogs. One was an educator’s guide to the Sullivan-Clinton campaign prepared by Robert Spiegelman. I confess that I don’t know what the status is in the new k-12 social studies guidelines for teaching that campaign. But just as 2017 marks the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Oriskany so 2019 will mark the 240th anniversary of the Sullivan-Clinton campaign. These are opportunities to create culturally enriching programs that bring people to the actual locations of where people in history lived and events occurred and to hear about them in mentally-challenging ways which stimulate thinking.

I regret not having visited the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge in Syracuse when I attended the APHNYS conference in nearby Liverpool. According to its website:

The Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge (HIIK) was established on February 19, 2011. The Institute is the fulfillment of a dream first envisioned by the Oneida leader Shenandoah 200 years ago: his wish was to provide a place of learning where the essence of Native knowledge would be shared with the world in a school of higher learning.

A group of contemporary scholars, educators and community leaders have renewed the vision. The group consisted of delegates from the member nations of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois) Confederacy…They were there to do what they could to preserve the culture and traditions of the Haudenosaunee as distinct Native peoples while making available specific instances of our ancestral knowledge to anyone who has a desire to live in harmony with the earth by protecting the rights of those yet to be born onto the seventh generation. Named after one of the creators of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy over 800 years ago, the HIIK will work in partnership with Syracuse University to offer degrees…from a distinct Native perspective in an inclusive curriculum designed by aboriginal knowledge keepers and unique among all institutions of higher learning in North America.

As you can see from this post so far, there are a lot of opportunities and a lot of pieces to be put together to create Haudenosaunee Paths through History. Back then Palatines, Dutch, French, and English weren’t just white people, they were different tribes and nations in their own right; the same applies to the various Indian Nations that are lumped together today. The story of William Johnson attempting to keep the peace among a vast multitude of differentiated peoples is part of the story of New York and American history. The story of James Fenimore Cooper writing when New York had become the Empire State and Johnson’s world was barely a memory also is part of the story of New York and American history. While no venue exists to bring the players together, while there is no leadership from the state, and while there is no funding, one still can envision the possibilities of creating Haudenosaunee Paths through History despite the obstacles to doing so.