Ili estas Indiĝinaj Amerikanoj, ne Indianoj!

Last night, I unintentionally got into a heated discussion regarding the use of the term “Indian” to refer to what we now call Native Americans, or First Nations Peoples. The term, “Indian,” dates back to the days of Columbus’ accidental “discovery” of islands in the Caribbean. He thought he had reached India, and so he referred to the native peoples he met as “Indians.”

It is not accurate to call the indigenous peoples of the Americas, “Indians,” as they are not at all related culturally or ethnically to the peoples of South Asia: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc. In fact, the term is now considered offensive by many in the United States and Canada.

The Esperanto word for “Native Americans in the United States” is “Indianoj.” Now, this is because Esperanto originated in the late 19th century, and the term “Indian” was still in common use. (See the Vikipedio entry on the subject; in Esperanto.) My query to the Duolingo Esperanto Learners group was about using more accurate and less offensive terms to refer to the entire group of indigenous peoples of the Americas:

I have read in several places that the Esperanto name for Native Americans (aka First Nations Peoples in Canada) is “Indianoj.” I understand that since the days of Columbus, people have referred to Native Americans as “Indians,” but that is seen as offensive in our day and age. Not to mention that it is a complete mistake, as Columbus thought he had arrived in India and not a continent between Europe and Asia. The peoples he encountered had been living in North America for millennia.

To that end, is there any movement within Esperanto to change the name to something less offensive, and more accurate?

Would it be unacceptable to refer to them as “Indiĝinaj Amerikanoj” or “Unuaj Naciaj Popoloj”? While “Indianoj” may be correct in Esperanto, it feels wrong for me to use it.

The better responses I received are from Lee Miller (one of the group’s moderators and Esperanto experts) as follows:

I don’t think there’s any “movement”, but I do think “indiĝenoj” is probably more frequently used now than “Indianoj”. But all languages struggle with socially appropriate terminology–it’s not a unique Esperanto problem.

“Indianoj” in Esperanto doesn’t carry any negative connotation, and is clearly distinct from “hindoj” or “baratanoj” used for people from India. The word “indiĝeno(j)” is also in use in Esperanto.

Despite Lee’s assurance that “Indianoj” has no negative connotation in Esperanto, I do not wish to use the term. It may have its basis in history, but that basis was founded on mistaken identity and does not accurately describe the indigenous peoples of the Americas. In its place, I will use the term “Indiĝenaj Amerikanoj.”

Am I stepping beyond the bounds of the Esperantujo? Frankly, I could care less. No, I am not being flippant, I am simply standing my ground and refusing to refer to a group with a name that *IS* considered derogatory in modern English (despite what some in the discussion had to say,) as it should be in all languages. I am more concerned with accuracy than I am with sticking with tradition for tradition’s sake.

What do you think about this topic? How do you refer to Native Americans when speaking Esperanto?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s