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Linda Grover: There is beauty, meaning in the many names of native people

Here in Onigamiising, from time to time, I am asked what is the appropriate name to call the indigenous people of North America. There is more than one answer to the question, and not all of us answer it in the same way. Many people, both Indian ...

Here in Onigamiising, from time to time, I am asked what is the appropriate name to call the indigenous people of North America.

There is more than one answer to the question, and not all of us answer it in the same way.

Many people, both Indian and non-Indian, use the term "Native American." Most current written material and articles use the term "American Indian." Some of us indigenous North Americans prefer one term, some prefer the other.

There is beauty in the Ojibwe word "Anishinaabe" which, depending on the context, can refer to Ojibwe people or inclusively to all

indigenous people. What I've heard is that the literal translation is "spontaneous (hu)man" created by the Great Spirit and then lowered gently to the Earth, where gifts and blessings of life and sustenance were provided. We Anishinaabeg were created to live thankful and generous lives.

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Listening to myself, I hear "American Indian" as well as "Anishinaabe." And I hear myself say "Indian" a lot, a holdover from the 1950s and 1960s, my growing-up years. That would make me an indigenous North American who often refers to herself by the same nationality as people in a country on the other side of the world.

How did we come to be called Indians?

One story that many have heard is that Christopher Columbus, when he landed on the island of Hispaniola in the Bahamas, mistakenly thought that he was in India, and that the people who greeted him were thus Indians.

Another story, that I first heard from Dakota elder and educator Dave Larsen, is that Columbus was met at the shore by the people of the island, who hospitably shared their food and resources. He wrote in his diary of their gentle generosity and peaceful ways, of a society governed by a standard of goodness that he thought was much like the godliness of European Christians. He noted that they lived "en Dios," in God.

Intrigued by the complexities of the Italian explorer who precipitated such changes in the world, I thought I would like to see the Columbus diaries with my own eyes. I was able to find a book that contained copies of his written entries, along with some English translations. What was the link between his admiration of the natives and the actions that led to their destruction?

His handwriting, although the words were not English, looked not different from yours or mine.

I learned that Columbus, like other explorers of the time, was skilled in the use of navigational instruments, in calculating distances and positions and knowledgeable about the positions of the stars in the Far East. He wrote that he was certain that he could not possibly have reached India, and yet they were approaching land. It had to be India -- what else could it be? And yet it wasn't India; it couldn't be.

He did, indeed, write about the gentle people who lived "en Dios." He seemed to admire them; at the same time he speculated that such gentle people would make suitable slave labor for the harvesting of the riches in the new world.

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Today the Taino people, who Columbus called Indians for reasons of which we will never be completely certain, continue to exist, but the island they called Guanahani is Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Anishinaabe, American Indian, Indian, Native American. Native. Shinnobie. Niijii. When we speak the words or think them, we remember and acknowledge those who lived before us, those who survived and those who didn't. May we live with the thankfulness and generosity of spirit for which we were created.

Monthly columnist Linda LeGarde Grover is a professor of American Indian studies at UMD and a member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

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