This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Why Arizona's Indigenous Peoples Day isn't called Native American Day


Although I'm a stickler for facts, I'm inclined to often use the phrase "I know what you mean". That is, I'm not going to argue small details of syntax. So if you describe someone as being a Native American, I know what you mean - it's a person who is descended from the tribes of people who lived in America before the arrival of Columbus.

But in reality, the definition of being a native just means that a person was born somewhere. I'm a native American, because I was born in America. In Minneapolis, to be precise. If I had been born in Italy, I'd be a native Italian. That's really what the word "native" means.

And that's just one of the problems with the word "native". It also carries some historically-unflattering connotations, which as "going native" or "the natives are friendly". OK, I'll stop now, you see what I mean.

So while Native American is OK, Indigenous Peoples is much more dignified. And it applies to anywhere in the world where there is the culture of people who go back to before the time of the discoveries of the 15th Century.

The story of mankind is one of continuous conquest. After a long time, the edges get blurred. Speaking for myself, I'm sure that my ancestors in Britain would have deeply resented the intrusion of the Romans. And they probably resented being called "Britains", as it was a name given to them by their conquerers. I don't know what they called themselves, but my best guess is that they were "the people."

If you're interested in the story of the tribes in the place now known as Arizona, my recommendation is to read about the Pimas, the Maricopas, and the Apaches. There are books that were written when Geronimo was still alive. It's a very complex story, and if you want to begin to understand, like I'm trying to, you'll invest the time and effort. It's one way of showing respect.

Image at the top of this post: Maricopa Chief Cotoc and his wife in 1916


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