The Obama campaign uses a term I’ve never heard before to woo one demographic. Looking online, I see now the term is used elsewhere, but I’m still surprised a major campaign is using such a rare term in its outreach efforts, especially when there is ongoing debate over which term is most appropriate and appreciated by the group it refers to.
I’m ignorant of many concerns in the debate, but the term First Americans seems to be largely equivalent to Native Americans, with only slight differences. It avoids “Indian,” which many find offensive (but which some Native Americans/American Indians prefer to retain), and the potential confusion of Native American vs. native American. (Original American and Indigenous American are other similar terms that have failed to catch on.) But the only other advantage I see to First American over the more commonly used Native American comes from little-thought-about meanings of the adjectives: “native” may be seen as subtly offensive, suggesting a racist and colonial legacy that rarely respected native peoples or cultures. And by saying that Native Americans are not only native to this land, but also that they were the first ones here, goes further in extending the honor of their history.
Of course, our nation could better honor those here before the colonists by doing what Canada did two days ago, and what Australia did earlier this year. And I know they’re just a sports team, but the Redskins need to catch up to the NCAA–fast.
(I should also note that the issue of how to treat indigenous people today is much more important here in Peru, and throughout Latin America, where indigenous populations are very large and still very oppressed. I haven’t had enough personal experience here regarding race relations to have any insights.)
My take on all this is ignorant and my opinion is therefore irrelevant. If someone with knowledge of these issues stumbles upon this and cares to fill me in about any of it, I would be grateful.
2 thoughts on “First Americans”
blogging from Australia. I came across the Obama link the other day for the ‘First Americans’. A quick glance reveals that he intends to appoint a First American Indian to cabinet (not sure of the details as yet) and an important point on the site is that he recognises the diversity and pluralism of First American identities and how this is important in the formulation of policy.
It might also have to do with the general debate over NAGPRA and the term Native American, which as a result of the Kennewick Man case is no longer a given for being the “first” people to the Americas. First Americans leaves the field wide open to other peoples possibly arriving in the Americas before Native Americans.