This reading is available in two formats: standard and Spanish. Please select the version you wish to read using the dropdown below.

How does it feel to be called by a name you did not choose for yourself? Over time, people have used a long list of names for the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, but those words have rarely been what they would call themselves.

The power and meaning of labels comes not only from the choice of words but also from how those words are said. Niin, an Anishinaabe woman of both Cree and Ojibway descent, talked in an interview about the first time in her childhood when someone called her an “Indian.”

I’m not sure whether I was in grade one or in grade two; actually I think it was in kindergarten, because my Mom was home at that time. I remember being outside for recess. You know, everyone was running around, playing in the middle of the field. All of a sudden I stopped because I realized that a few of the kids who were in my classroom had formed a circle around me. They were going around and around the circle and I realized I was in the middle of this circle. I was trying to figure out what the heck is going on here? They were saying something and I started listening to them. They were saying “Indian, Indian, Indian.” And I was like what? I really didn’t understand myself, first and foremost, as an “Indian.” Right in the middle of when they were doing that, the bell rang and everybody just turned toward the door and started walking in. I remember looking down on the ground wondering, what are they talking about Indian, Indian, Indian? I don’t even know how that circle formed in the first place. I didn’t catch it. It just seemed all of a sudden they were all around me and I just stopped, looking at them all. The bell rang right away. I just remember putting my head down, walking, looking at the grass, I was really thinking about, what was that all about? I didn’t even remember it by the time we got to the door. Except for when I got home I asked my Mom.

I remember when I went home, my mother was standing at the counter. She was baking something or other but she was working at the counter and I just walked up to her and I was watching what she was doing. I remember my chin barely touched the counter and I was watching her. I said, “Mom, what am I?” And she looked down at me and said really fast, “Were people asking you what you were?” I said, “Yes, they were calling me Indian.” She said, “Tell them you’re Canadian.” I couldn’t really figure out why she was sounding so stern and kind of angry. I just thought okay and I turned around but I remember that afternoon really clearly. I think why it stuck in my mind so much is because they were in a circle ridiculing me. And I don’t even know. I didn’t even take offence because I didn’t know what they were doing. Even though they were calling me Indian, I was still going yeah, so what? So it always puzzled me about why, why they were calling me Indian. And because I didn’t really feel any different from them, even though I knew my skin was darker, my hair was brown, and I had a shinier face. I really didn’t feel any different from them or feel I was different from them.

I just felt we were all just kids. I think that’s when I started learning that there were different kinds of people. I knew that there were different kinds of people by just looking and seeing like different looking people but not people who are different from one another. 1

Citations

  • 1  Mary Young, Pimatisiwin: Walking in a Good Way, a Narrative Inquiry into Language as Identity (Manitoba: The Prolific Group, 2005), 47–48. Reproduced by permission from Pemmican Publishers.

    Las Palabras Importan

    ¿Qué siente una persona cuando la llaman por un nombre que no eligió para usted? A lo largo del tiempo, las personas han utilizado una amplia lista de nombres para referirse a los pueblos indígenas de las Américas, pero tales palabras casi nunca han sido las que ellos usarían para referirse a sí mismos.

    El poder y el significado de las etiquetas no solo proceden de la elección de las palabras, sino también de la forma como se dicen. Niin, una mujer anishinaabe, descendiente de las tribus Cree y Ojibwa, habló en una entrevista sobre la primera vez que alguien la llamó “india” cuando era una niña.

    No estoy segura si estaba en primero o en segundo grado; en realidad, creo que estaba en el kínder porque en esa época mi mamá estaba en casa. Recuerdo que estaba afuera en el recreo. Ya saben, todos corrían alrededor, jugando en medio del campo. De repente me detuve porque me di cuenta que algunos de los niños de mi clase habían formado un círculo a mi alrededor; ellos caminaban en círculo y yo estaba en el centro de ese círculo. Trataba de entender lo que estaba pasando. Ellos estaban diciendo algo, así que empecé a escucharlos. Decían: “India, india, india”. Pero yo no entendía nada. A decir verdad, yo no me veía a mí misma, en primer lugar, como una “india”. Justo en el momento en que hacían eso, sonó la campana y todos se voltearon hacia la puerta y comenzaron a entrar. Recuerdo que miré al piso, preguntándome: ¿A qué se refieren con india, india, india? Para empezar, ni siquiera sé cómo se formó ese círculo. No me di cuenta; de repente todos me rodearon, así que me detuve y los observé. La campana sonó justo en ese instante. Solo recuerdo que agaché la cabeza, caminé y, mirando el césped, me preguntaba: ¿qué había sido todo eso? Ni siquiera recuerdo en qué momento llegamos a la puerta. Solo que al llegar a casa, le pregunté a mi mamá.

    Recuerdo cuando regresé a casa, mi madre estaba de pie junto al mesón. Estaba horneando algo, o eso parecía porque estaba haciendo algo en el mesón de la cocina; caminé hacia ella mientras observaba lo que hacía. Recuerdo que mi barbilla apenas llegaba a la altura del mesón y que yo la observaba. Le dije: “Mamá, ¿qué soy?; y ella me miró desde arriba y rápidamente me dijo: “¿La gente te ha estado preguntando qué eres?”; yo le dije: “Sí, me han llamado india”. Ella respondió: “Diles que eres canadiense”. A decir verdad, no podía entender por qué sonaba tan seria y algo enojada. Pensé que estaba bien y me di vuelta, sin embargo, recuerdo esa tarde claramente. Creo que la razón por la que esto quedó tan grabado en mi mente es porque ellos hicieron un círculo para ridiculizarme. Y yo ni siquiera lo sabía. No me sentía ofendida porque ni siquiera sabía lo que hacían. Aunque me llamaban india, yo pensaba: “Sí, ¿y qué?”; así que siempre me desconcertó la razón por la que me llamaban india. Porque no me sentía diferente a ellos, aunque sabía que mi piel era más oscura, mi cabello marrón y mi rostro más resplandeciente. En realidad, no percibía ninguna diferencia ni me sentía diferente a ellos. Sentía que todos éramos simplemente niños. Creo que, en ese momento, empecé a aprender que existían diferentes tipos de personas. Sabía que había diferentes tipos de personas al mirarlas y percibirlas como personas de aspecto diferente; mas no como personas que son diferentes entre sí.1

    Citations

    • 1 : Mary Young, Pimatisiwin: Walking in a Good Way, a Narrative Inquiry into Language as Identity (Manitoba: The Prolific Group, 2005), 47–48. Reproducido con autorización de Pemmican Publishers.

    Connection Questions

    1. What do you think the word Indian meant to the kids in Niin’s class? What factors might have shaped her classmates’ understanding of the word?
    2. Why do you think Niin’s mother told Niin she was Canadian? What did she want Niin to understand about herself?
    3. Considering the rest of the story, what might Niin’s mother have wanted Niin’s classmates to learn?
    4. Do you have a memory of becoming aware of differences? If so, what was it? 

    Related Content

    Reading
    Bullying & Ostracism

    Finding Confidence

    A young woman describes her journey overcoming an inner bully and a fear of being different as she accepted herself as gay (Spanish available).

    Reading

    The Danger of a Single Story

    Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie challenges us to consider the power of stories to influence identity, shape stereotypes, and build paths to empathy (Spanish available).

    Reading
    Holocaust

    A Commandant’s View

    Get insight into how a commander at a Nazi death camp viewed his victims and coped with his actions (Spanish available).

    Search Our Global Collection

    Everything you need to get started teaching your students about racism, antisemitism and prejudice.