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C h a p t e r I I I The New Indians “Indian” was an invented term. Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., in his classic book, The White Man’s Indian, made the case that the term “Indies” was already in use by the time Columbus made his voyage to find King Prester John and that it was given generally to those lands east of the Indus River, except for China and other known nations. The Indies, according to Berkhofer, “was the broadest designation available for all of the area he [Columbus] claimed under royal patent.”1 Los Indios, in Spanish, then, was the generic term invented to designate those human beings living in those lands. Following the Spanish lead, the English developed the term “Indian”; the French invented Indien, and the Germans Indianer. On the other hand, “Indies” might stem from the Latin In Deus or In Dei and could have been the Western academic term used in medieval Europe for uninhabited or vaguely known lands that were simply understood to be “in the hands of God.” In any case, Indians of course did not think of themselves as “Indians .” As Berkhofer related: If the term Indian and the images and conceptual categories that go along with that collective designation for the Native Americans are White inventions, then the first question becomes one already old in  when an unnamed tribesman asked Massachusetts missionary John Eliot: “Why do you call us Indians?”2 *final holm pages 5/18/05 4:29 PM Page 50 Indians thought of themselves as belonging to distinct groups having mutually unintelligible languages, specific territories, and special relations with the deities of a particular place. Members of tribes called themselves “the people” or “the people of” a specific territory or deity. There were early reports of Indians referring to themselves in speeches as “Red Men,” thereby implying that Indians classified themselves according to racial categories or physical appearance; but this notion is dubious at best. The term “red” might have carried a large number of connotations in the various tribal languages: “red” may have been associated with a paint color, a direction, or possibly blood or fire or the sun. And it is not too unreasonable to suppose that the person who did the translating at the time simply used the term “red” without explaining what it actually meant. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine Indians thinking in racial categories, especially in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, because Indians were adopting and assimilating nonIndian captives in fairly large numbers without apparent concern for skin color. Not only that, but Native Americans varied widely in skin color: some were darker, some were lighter. None, of course, were or are crimson or magenta. In the seventeenth century, however, Native Americans from different tribes began to think of themselves as sharing common interests , particularly as those interests related to the invading Europeans. “Pan-Indian” political coalitions began to emerge, as did religious movements. This is a relatively common occurrence in colonial situations . Anthropologists Neil L. Whitehead and R. Brian Ferguson have argued that “both the transformation and intensification of war, as well as the formation of tribes, result from complex interactions” in what they call the “tribal zone.” This zone “begins . . . where central authority makes contact with peoples it does not rule.”Traditional indigenous groups experienced the introduction of new technologies, animals, diseases , plants, and philosophies even before colonizers appeared in their midst. These changes disrupted existing systems and social relationships , thus “fostering new alliances and creating new kinds of conflicts .” The creation of new alliances, even new tribes, was a reaction to Western European imperialism.3 To be sure, Native American nations, empires, and confederacies were in existence prior to the coming of white settlers. But the confed- — The New Indians — — 51 — *final holm pages 5/18/05 4:29 PM Page 51 eracies and nations were brought together, like the Iroquois and Creek Nations, because of their linguistic ties. Native American empires, such as Powhatan’s of Virginia and the Aztecs of central Mexico, were hegemonic rather than colonial in nature. Subjected peoples paid tribute to these “empires” but were not forced to undergo cultural change or evacuate their lands. Whatever the case, Pan-Indian politics and Pan-Indian coalitions began to be forged in warfare with whites. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Native Americans certainly knew that whites viewed them as a racial group. As distinct peoples, they were necessarily sovereign , but the power...


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