This is a subject that I have always pushed to the back of my mind. These recent days have now pushed it to the forefront and I am forced to think about it since there is talk about changing the name of the Washington Redskins. By the way, I am a long time football fan. I have such sweet memories of watching the Dallas Cowboys play against the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving Day during the early 1970s – Staubach versus Kilmer and Jurgensen.
The people who Europeans first met on this continent were called “Indians”. Now we call them Native Americans. Why did we call them Indians? This is my understanding from memory.
Columbus originally planed to sail along a constant latitudinal line from Spain to Asia. The only problem was that the North American continent was in the way. Also, navigational technology of that day relied on the North Star – which was assumed to stay in the same place in the sky and did not move, a good reference point.
The problem is that the North Star actually moves in a small circle because the earth’s rotation wobbles a bit. That little wobble caused Columbus to veer South. Since he was not expecting the North American continent, he thought he was in India. Thus, the natives were called Indians. Wrong. The islands in the Caribbean were called the West Indies. Wrong. I can see how Columbus could get it wrong since India and the West Indies are on the same latitudinal line.
Now come the English explorers and they call American Indians, the Red Man. OMG. How wrong can you get? Science tells us that there are only 3 races on earth: white, black, and yellow (oriental). The scientific names are Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid. Note that these were the classifications when I studied in the university. The academics might have changed this.
We know from science that the original Indians of North America migrated thousands of years ago from Northeastern Asia. They came here via the Bering Strait. They were not red, they were yellow. So, strike 2, because they were not Indian and they were not red.
So, we are smarter than our ancestors. We call the original people of North America, Native Americans. Wrong. That term implies, original Americans. Do we really know that no one else was here when the Asiatic people started migrating to this continent? I have 24 credit hours of college Spanish and we studied this subject quite a lot. I do not think that question has even been asked. It appears that we assume that the Asians just populated empty land.
After the Civil Rights Act, we tried to change all this and started calling Indians, Native Americans. Wrong. Native means that you were born in a certain area or you are from a certain area. My last name is Basque. My roots are from Mexico. I was born in the USA. I am now native to North America. I cannot trace my roots to the Basque country. Anyone born here is a Native American.
I think we should call “Native Americans” what they call themselves: Sioux, Cherokee, Apache, etc. My family comes from Mexico but I am not going to learn the ancient Aztec language to be more Mexican. Apaches and Sioux do not live in teepees nor use tomahawks anymore; rather, they drive cars and use computers, just like anyone else. All the old phraseologies are just irrelevant. By the way, Mexico in Spanish is actually pronounced Mejico. It used to be spelled that way but when Mexico gained independence they changed the spelling by replacing the “j” with an “x”. The pronunciation did not change but the “x” more accurately reflects the pronunciation per the Aztecs.
So now they tell me that people do not want professional teams to be called things like Indians, Redskins, nor Braves. I am told that the new attitude is to erase the mistakes of the past. I say, “Will Not Happen”. World history is such a tangled mess of contradictions that it is impossible to somehow straighten or correct it.
Everyone has made mistakes in history. We cannot accelerate to near the speed of light and find a fold in the time-space continuum that will allow us to travel back in time and correct the mistakes. Sometimes I feel like people are trying to do something great by correcting history. I guess that is easier than getting a PhD or developing a patent, or discovering the great archeological find in some dark and remote jungle. If you want to be great, try being a Jesuit priest in India; or go to a country that is a military dictatorship and fight for human rights; or live among the USA homeless and help them get food, clothing, medical attention, and jobs.