For decades, the world has seen the emergence of controversial terms used to refer to groups of people depending on their origin or place of domicile (Oberg, 2010). This move is a way of attaching communities to their location and making it clear to them and others that it is where they belong. However, some of these terms may sound offensive or inappropriate for the people in reference following the motive upon which they were generated (Mihesuah, 2009). For instance, ‘Aboriginal peoples’ is a term that has been used for decades to refer to the indigenous people who lived within the borders of Canada. ‘American Indians’ is a term that is used to define the original inhabitants of the American continent, mostly the upper part also known as North America (Oberg, 2010). They are also referred to as red Indians, which brings controversy as to how the name ‘Indian’ originated, whereas these people do not resemble the Indians of the Asian continent.
Referencing the term Indians to America’s inhabitants, the controversy revolves around the origin of the name and its purpose. According to the popular beliefs, the term appeared from the time of travel to America by Christopher Columbus, who claimed to have discovered the American continent. Supporters of this theory believe that Columbus was meant to travel to Asia, but, accidentally, he found himself in America. The travel to indies in Asia is what made people he met inherit the name Indians (Mihesuah, 2009). The other people believe that the name ‘Indian’ was derived from his entry in America, where he described the people he found as “una gente in Dios,” which meant “the people of God.”
This is an example of many controversies that revolve around the naming of communities and that has been carried from one generation to another without getting a comprehensive explanation. Indigenous people, Aboriginal people and Indians are names used to refer to people who lived in North America before globalization led to the emergence of mixed generations from diverse backgrounds. Looking at the bigger picture, the controversy gets intense when somebody tries to define the difference between Indians and indigenous people despite the fact that the names refer to the same people. The fact that the explanation for the names is different raises the question, “Which one does actually represent the people?”
The name ‘Indian’ is used by people who believe that they are genetically related to the Indian people of Asia, but there is no substantial reference to that claim (Oberg, 2010). The laws of Canada and the USA fully recognize the terms as definitions of the people. The term ‘indigenous’ can be applied in reference to anybody that has been existing in a locality for longest as compared to the others that came later. On the other hand, ‘Aboriginal’ is used to refer to somebody considered to have been the only in existence since the beginning. This is where the controversy appears, since defining the term ‘beginning’ in reference to people is difficult and ambiguous.
America has been in existence for thousands of years, even before Columbus sailed his way to discover it (Mihesuah, 2009). This makes it complex and challenging to devise a comprehensive definition of who was supposed to be the original inhabitants, since generations have changed and different groups of people have appeared. Canada and the USA seem to have different understanding on the issue, which name should be used to define the original inhabitants of the continent (Oberg, 2010). Canada chooses to use ‘Aboriginal’ to refer to those who were originally found within the borders of the country, while some of them consider ‘Indian’ to be more appropriate to use in reference to their origin and history.
In my understanding about the reference to the original inhabitants of the American continent, ‘Indian’ is a better choice, since the people feel more comfortable with it. This follows the embracing of the term by people in both North and South America as well as legal recognition of the term by the laws of the land. In Canada, three groups of people are recognized by the law: Indians, Métis, and Inuit meaning that there are other groups in existence (Oberg, 2010). However, most people like the term ‘Indian,’ since it tends to bring together diverse characteristics and does not portray any discrimination.
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One fundamental reason the term ‘Indian’ is more appropriate is the fact that the other two groups, Métis and Inuit, have mixed characteristics from the foreigners who came to America when the possibilities of trade appeared. Métis have a relationship with the first Europeans who sailed to America for exploration before the colonization was ignited (Mihesuah, 2009). Thus, one can infer that before the foreigners came, the Métis were purely Indians, the same case with the Inuit, who are only different due to location. The term ‘First Nations’ is the middle ground that defines those people who are neither Métis not Inuit, and probably who are pure Indians but not clearly defined.
In conclusion, it is important to consider that the controversies emanated from the fact that the continent is so big that people do not know who exactly lives in the other end. This makes the inhabitants of every region identify themselves based on things that they have seen or believed. The only uniting factor in the definitions is that all of them adhere to beliefs relating to the discovery of Christopher Columbus and can draw some reference from it. Following what all people seem to concur with, it is right to use the term ‘Indian’ to refer to them.