Make Native Americans Project More Inclusive: Should this become the official wikitree policy?

+3 votes
899 views

See https://www.wikitree.com/index.php?title=Space:Naming_the_original_people_of_the_United_States&public=1

[Moderator edit of title to reflect more accurately the proposal in question]

in Policy and Style by Anonymous D G2G6 Mach 1 (18.4k points)
edited by Jillaine Smith
Scott, I'm sad and sorry you are not interested enough to click but interested enough to comment.
SD, I noticed your comment about "no more throwing "sioux" on the profile because someone heard "Sitting Bull" was sioux.

I would just like to give a quick response to this.  Genealogically we are dealing with different time periods, and in many many documents, sometimes all that can be found about a specific person may be just that. ie: Sioux, Saulteaux, Chippewa(y)(an), Mohawk, without any band/ tribe, etc &/ or just things like "sauvage/sauvagese/ vagabond/ squaw/ and other not so nice terminologies.. BUT these terms help to verify that the person of the profile wasn't of --- "European-standards" according to those time period records.  Showing these things within a Bio maybe the only way initially to at least allow for some kind of doubt that the person(s) in question were Ndn/N8v, especially if the book, or available record from say a "journal" refers to the person this way, and no baptism/ birth for said person(s) hasn't been found.

I for one, don't want to see these things removed, as they represent how these ancestors were "spoken of or about" it gives insight in to the ways...others saw them or interacted with them.  This is to me huge in respect to the histories they had to endure.

As for Changing Native American to "American Indian/Native Peoples.  I think this would be a great change.  I've never liked "NA"  to me as you said.. anyone born in the US is ...NA.
One way to deal with the use of terms that are no longer considered appropriate or accurate but were used during the time period is to quote (and cite) the documents or records that used those terms so that it is clear that we are referencing how others described them but not describing them generally as, say, Sioux, when we know they were a member of a more specific group.
your use of the term 'Indian' is offensive. Please stop.
Can we close this discussion?  

There is no single collective term that all tribal members and descendants of tribal members will agree on.  

Some people have very strong feelings about one term or another which cannot be resolved.

I think far more people are like me:

I think of my ancestors as Indians and they probably referred to themselves collectively as indians when engaged with non-tribal people (traders, settlers, government officials, etc.).  As individual citizens we use (and they used) the names of our tribes to describe ourselves.  

I use “Native Americans” and “American Indians” interchangeably.  I’m not fond of either one, but I know people will know what group I am referencing.

Catherine Trewin, why does it offend you if I use the term my grandmother preferred to be called?  The same term the community used in place of my father's name?  The same term used at the pow wows I attend?  When I started this discussion I understood and acknowledged that some prefer Native American.  I did not suggest we end its use altogether; I suggested we expand our use of terms to include people who have a different preference.  Why is this offensive?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFGzAs2sSFY

Kathie Forbes - your comment - There is no single collective term that all tribal members and descendants of tribal members will agree on.  Some people have very strong feelings about one term or another which cannot be resolved.

I think you are perhaps right that with hundreds of groups, there is no single collective term to use.  Perhaps it would be better  to have smaller/narrower projects in which people can work using their research and knowledge of a particular tribe.  I don't have answers for American Indians/Native Americans of the southwest or southeast or northwest.  I can only speak of the people I know - my own ancestors.  And I can contribute with the knowledge of the people I have researched (have any real knowledge of) - American Indians/Native Americans who resided at one time in what is now Minnesota.  I truly believe it would be better to have smaller/narrower projects.  How can anyone be an expert in all tribes?

No one is expected to be.  There are sub-projects for individual tribes, but they aren’t really active.  There just aren’t many people on Wikitree with knowledge of any tribes.  The Native Americans project is an umbrella, but especially in the case of profiles for mythical people and people from historical tribes (i.e. no longer in existence) there is no one else to manage things.

One thought to be considered is why "There just aren’t many people on Wikitree with knowledge of any tribes."  Is it possible any of the current projects/policies/guidelines keep people with knowledge away?  Could it be one reason among many?

No, I don’t think Wikitree itself discourages people who know about tribes.  I just don’t think Wikitree - or any public genealogy site - is a good place for tribal genealogy, if there even is such a thing, so why would people use it?  Genealogy in the sense of who descended from whom is not a concept that makes sense for many - probably most - tribes prior to the last part of the 19th century.  It’s one more thing imposed on tribal people by white society.  Western-style nuclear families with long-lasting monogamous marriages are frequently the exception rather than the rule and even mentioning dead people by name was a taboo for many tribes.  For the Cherokee (and many other tribes) only members of your clan were considered relatives.  

  I don’t need Wikitree to find or learn about my Indian ancestors, I know who they were. I think that’s probably true for most people who are tribal citizens or people who have or had living relatives who were tribal citizens.  

What most people seem to want from a public genealogy site is a place that will confirm their family story or identify the person who contributed that 0.7% “Native DNA” they found at Gedmatch.  And a a result, most of what gets posted here - and on Ancestry, FamilySearch, Geni, etc. - about “Indians” is Internet junk, profiles for famous people copied from Wikipedia or bad 19th century books, or wishful thinking.

7 Answers

+4 votes
Maybe we need to invent a new term
by Anonymous Johnston G2G6 Mach 1 (14.8k points)
edited by Anonymous Johnston
No.  People have been making up terms for Indians for too long.  It is time American Indians name themselves.
"Indian" was a name given to the First Peoples by white men, by mistake.

Yes - we're telling American Indians they are not American Indians.  My grandmother self-identified as an Indian.

Please watch this video:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFGzAs2sSFY&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR2jkJFgB54vPC51gffCSrPFL9vBuGZJrAAvbz0plDBdPUaHiW8OzirbysY

S.D., the video is about the Indian Health Board; please explain the relationship between the video and your proposal.
My video is an example which clearly shows Indians who have a preference for anything other than "Native American" since that language is not used even one time in the video.  It is a fairly recent video.  It is not an historic look at people talking about themselves.  For some of us, it is exhausting to be continually "educated" that "'Indian' was a name given to the First Peoples by white men, by mistake."
+6 votes
Ask those who Identify as NA/AI or indigenous people - most will call themselves the people, in their language
by Navarro Mariott G2G6 Pilot (147k points)
Yes - I agree.  But what term will you give to refer to all NA/AI people as a whole which will be understood?
I am non-NA/AI/IP and I understand "The People".
Okay.
First Peoples -- makes it pretty clear, I think.  Not political, not racist, not based on a 400-year old mistake.  Simply descriptive - in their original languages, most name themselves as "the people" -- adding the First People makes it even more clear.
+8 votes

For technical reasons a database needs to have fewer options not more.  As WikiTree is an online database, adding another option will make keeping a clean house very difficult.

For personal reasons, I dislike Indian and American Indian.  The ancestors of the Euopean part of me mis-labeled the native/aboriginal peoples they encountered.  The Aboriginal part of me is Chata (Choctaw) and not Native American, American Indian, or just Indian.

If there were to be a change of "label" by adding another term, 'aboriginal' would be the most appropriate, strictly speaking, by definition of the word: Merriam-Webster 'of or relating to the people who have been in a region from the earliest time'

My conclusion, keep the Native American database label for purely technical pragmatism.  Then, in the narrative of the biography for the profile you create, use whatever descriptor you feel is most appropriate: Aboriginal, Native American, American Indian, Indian, Your Tribe.  In the end words are words and don't change who anyone is on the inside.

by Ronald Prentice G2G6 (8.6k points)
edited by Ronald Prentice

S.D., 

As the project page explains, "The Native Americans Project, as named, covers the lower 48 states of the current United States plus Alaska." 

Your proposal seeks a project name to replace "Native Americans," not a re-scoping of the project itself.

As for the rest of the Americas, there are:

Are parentheses possible in a project name?  "Native Peoples (American Indians)"

It would then be First Peoples United States similar to First Nations Canada.  Canada is also in America, just not the US.

Good point, Morgan; you're right; it would need to be "First Peoples United States" although I can also perceive the horrid irony in that and a number of people really really not wanting that.  What it means is that the project covers First Peoples who lived within the geographical boundaries of what is currently the United States. 

the word aboriginal actually means NOT original (compare to abnormal - ab changes the meaning of the root word)

Anonymous - 

Please check your information, it is incorrect in this case. The modern English word 'Aboriginal' comes from the Latin 'ab origine' meaning "from the very beginning, from the source or origin" and is used widely in anthropological circles and media to indicate the original inhabitants of a location i.e. Wikipedia: Aboriginal Australians.

I can only tell you that the use of Native American has NEVER been accepted by ALL American Indians.  It has - of course - been accepted by some.  Complaints are often from white people or Native Peoples who had been TAUGHT they could not use American Indian.  I cannot tell you how many times I have been "educated" not to use Indian.  Frequently - still - people with no knowledge try to "educate" me.  My kids' teachers have insisted on using Native American exclusively because that is what their teacher training taught them.  I'm sorry the terms weren't thoroughly researched when the project was created.  The AP Style Guide - back when I was in college in the early 1980s - had already moved back from Native American to American Indian.  They now use a mix of terms.  I ask all again to look to the people who do it professionally . . .

Look at how people who do it for a living talk about our original nations and people:  https://americanindian.si.edu/  At our national museum - National Museum of the American Indian - on the About and Mission pages, you will see a mix of terminology.  It includes Native culture, Native voices, Native peoples, and American Indian.  What you don't find is Native American.  If you were born in the U.S., you are native to this country.

My preferred solution specifically to the Native Americans project name would be American Indians/Native Peoples or a version of that - Native Peoples (American Indians) or American Indians (Native Peoples).

S D ~

I agree, the term 'Native American' is not universally accepted or adopted.  Neither has the term 'American Indian(s)', it has merely been used longer.  You will find as many offended by one as the other.  I personally find both labels offensive for all the reasons you state about the former term.

However, in this singular aspect of the WikiTree project, I am indifferent to either term.  I will participate and make my best effort to honor my ancestors with the profiles I manage for them.  It will have no effect on who they were or who I am because either of these labels are used for this WikiTree project name.
Ronald, I'm glad for you that your indifference makes it possible for you to work in this space.

Ronald, perhaps I misunderstood what you meant by, "However, in this singular aspect of the WikiTree project, I am indifferent to either term.  I will participate and make my best effort to honor my ancestors with the profiles I manage for them.  It will have no effect on who they were or who I am because either of these labels are used for this WikiTree project name."

+4 votes
Just a remark from a total outsider from the other side of the Atlantic.

In France it's illegal to categorize people by their ethnic origin, so all this question would be moot here. That does not mean French people in everyday life don't categorize themselves and the others, in more or less pleasant terms. But none of those categories are allowed in any kind of data base.

When I discovered, years ago, that in the US census forms you had to declare an ethnic origin (not sure it's still true), I was shocked.

If WikiTree pretends to the universality of the human family, as asserted in its charter and mission, we should get rid of all such categories.

And BTW, just a question (I don't use categories myself, basically). What is the use of such categories which does not amount to ethnic discrimination? Are there similar categories for other origins, like Afro-American, Asian ... whatever?
by Bernard Vatant G2G6 Mach 5 (55.8k points)
Yes I live in France but I have no decent bedtime :-)
OK, to address your next point (and I thought about saying this before):

If a person has African origins, or Asian, or many others, for example, they are obvious, or at least partly obvious (when people meet in person, or often from photographs).  I agree that people can't always be neatly categorized.  However, I think it is useful for the census to try.  

And on a personal basis, if for no other reason, we really need to become more forthright about ethnicity and origin if we are to do genealogy!
Also, on a personal note:

You probably know that the U.S. census is under way now.  I got the notice to reply on-line, so I logged in and filled out the questionnaire.  I am totally "white," by the way, of northern European origin.  When it asked about my ethnicity, I filled in "English, German, Dutch, Irish..."  The website terminated my reply and said I would receive a paper form later.  I don't know what I was supposed to say that would have been acceptable!  There were no default options.
How interesting, Julie - I listed all eight of my nations of origin (which include European and American Indian nations), and nine for my kids.  I had no problem.  The system took them all!
Thanks.  I was hoping someone would comment.  I couldn't tell why my input was terminated.  Maybe it was some unrelated fluke.
That U.S. Census question seems to trip many people up. It may be one reason why the self-response rate is much lower than the Census Bureau was hoping for. Many of us do not identify with any one ancestral nationality, largely because we have thoroughly mixed national backgrounds. After discussion, my husband and I both decided on "Northern European." I talked with another woman who decided on "Western European."

In decades past, the answers to previous versions of that question have been the sources of cute, but essentially meaningless, media articles about the percentages of the population who identify as German-American versus Irish-American, etc.

I read an article that led me to believe that an underlying purpose for the question is to determine numbers of people who are likely to be subject to adverse discrimination because of the way other people perceive them. For example, there are people in or from Puerto Rico or from India who may classify themselves as "white" although others might perceive them as "brown." After reading that, I concluded that the underlying purpose of the question would be served by the answers we ended up providing (yes, at my house we are unmistakably white, boring as that may be).

@Julie (sorry late answer, just saw  this) "If a person has African origins, or Asian, or many others, for example, they are obvious, or at least partly obvious"

As a French, someone you would call "Afro-American", of whom ancestors have for six generations dwelt in, say, Atlanta, my first categorization could be "Well, he's a dyed-in-the-wool American!".  On the other hand, a South African of "white" ascendancy, of whom ancestors have dwelt in Johannesburg over five generations is a dyed-in-the-wool African.cheeky

You're right, of course.  When Ellen posted and brought this thread back, I was reminded of my comments.  I wish I'd never said half that stuff (but I don't like to delete things later and make the discussion confusing for others).  No one needs to know about my inability to follow instructions and complete my census form!  

What I did want to say was that I think identifying ethnicities on the census is useful and there is no malign intent, and that when we do genealogy, we need to be forthright about identifying origins.
Don't scold yourself, Julie. I studied the Census instructions. They did not clearly indicate that they were not expecting to accommodate a list of all of our ancestors' national origins.
Ha ha!  It was more rambling and irrelevance that I was sorry for.  As for the census, it is a poorly designed form if it terminates instead of providing for error correction.  That is why I rarely complete on-line questionnaires, because that sort of failing is common.  Although, I don't know for sure what happened with the census.  It could have been some random other problem in my case.
+8 votes

I've been scouring the g2g archives for the origins of this project on wikitree. It was set up in 2014. It was originally called "American Indians Project" but as reported by its project leader at the time:

"we had initially called the project American Indians but had so many complaints that we changed it to Native Americans, which was the universal suggestion. You would not believe how much work that was so we did not do that lightly.  The comments we had included that it was offensive, and most importantly, inaccurate. Since America was not India, they were never and still aren't Indians. "

See the whole thread here:

https://www.wikitree.com/g2g/110425/who-is-interested-in-a-native-american-project

What I take away is a fear that no one name is going to satisfy everyone and very strong feelings exist on both sides of the issue. 

by Jillaine Smith G2G6 Pilot (781k points)
No matter what name is chosen some people will object.  “Indians” has been used since 1492, “Native Americans” at least since the beginning of the 20th century.  We can discuss semantics forever, but it really just comes down to personal history and preference.  A new name won’t change that.

"no one [answer] is going to satisfy everyone and very strong feelings exist on both sides of the issue."

Jillaine, that seems to describe everything about WikiTree!

So Kathie and Julie, what do we tell a new volunteer who has a lot of interest and energy but says they can't participate in our project because of its name?
Tell them exactly what you said above.

I can only tell you that the use of Native American has NEVER been accepted by ALL American Indians.  It has - of course - been accepted by some.  I wonder if you determined if the complaints you received in the past were from white people or Native Peoples who had been TAUGHT they could not use American Indian or if the complaints were actually from people with knowledge of the subject.  I cannot tell you how many times I have been "educated" not to use Indian.  Frequently - still - people with no knowledge try to "educate" me.  My kids' teachers have insisted on using Native American exclusively because that is what their teacher training taught them.  I'm sorry it wasn't thoroughly researched when you changed it the last time.  The AP Style Guide - back when I was in college in the early 1980s - had already moved back from Native American to American Indian.  They now use a mix of terms.  I ask you again to look to the people who do it professionally . . .

Look at how people who do it for a living talk about our original nations and people:  https://americanindian.si.edu/  At our national museum - National Museum of the American Indian - on the About and Mission pages, you will see a mix of terminology.  It includes Native culture, Native voices, Native peoples, and American Indian.  What you don't find is Native American.  If you were born in the U.S., you are native to this country.

My preferred solution specifically to the Native Americans project name would be American Indians/Native Peoples or a version of that - Native Peoples (American Indians) or American Indians (Native Peoples).

The important thing is not what the project is called, but working to ensure that all the profiles for American Indian/Native Americans/Alaskan Natives 1) are for real people who were (or are) members of an actual tribe; 2) are historically accurate and documented; and 3) as much as possible use accurate names and appropriate terminology.

I think it’s a much more serious problem that there are profiles for mythical people, profiles based solely on a family story (especially when facts and actual documentation make those stories impossible), biographies based on outdated publications from the 19th century or just copied from Wikipedia, and often a complete lack of cultural sensitivity.
S D, in my opinion, there is too much intransigence on WikiTree, and it gets in the way of much that we want to do.

If you can't live with the term WikiTree has chosen, which as Jillaine says is the majority choice, then maybe you will choose not to participate.  It will be your loss as well as all of ours.

This is my opinion and in no way do I speak for Jillaine or the project or WikiTree as a whole.

I read the old feed that Jillaine linked and found this exchange:

Could you explain to me why you find Native American demeaning? I am asking seriously. I feel exactly the opposite and my reasoning is that any name containing "indian" is a misnomer that goes all the way back to Columbus' mistaken identification of the people he found on his voyages as 'indian' because he thought he had sailed all the way around the world. Not trying to argue. Just trying to understand.
Brian,  In answer to your question.. NOTE:  This is just MY OPINION and FEELINGS...

   The term Native American was coined during the civil rights movement and was just a label placed on our American Indians to make it politically correct.. just like African American.  They didn't ask the tribes what they wanted to be called - just decided this was politically correct. As such it's demeaning. It strips away the dignity and respect of the American Indian and is designed to make "us" feel better.

   In addition, a Native American is anyone born inside the American borders -- including Central Americans and South Americans.. This is demeaning to our American Indians -- it's like saying they are nothing special.

   These proud people have been called American Indians for hundreds of years - they fought, died and lived as American Indians.  They entered into treaties - which were violated as American Indians. Regardless of the fact that Columbus named them Indians because he thought in was in India -- this is the label they have been referred to for years.  You can't just erase history.

   When a person refers to someone as an American Indian - you know exactly who they are referring to; a mental image of a proud man standing beside or sitting on his horse in full Indian dress. You can picture the feathers in the chiefs headband and know that he is leading braves that are willing to fight and die for their way of life, family and land. This is an American Indian.

   The younger American Indians have grown up being referred to as Native Americans and have been taught they should feel ashamed of their heritage and thus prefer to use the term Native American.  Now the older ancestors - they prefered the label they fought, died and won freedom as: An American Indian.

   I could go on -- but this should provide you the answer.  American Indians were  persecuted, enslaved, abused, violated and yet fought on -- they won their freedom as American Indians - not as Native Americans.  When you use the term American Indian - it puts the country first -- the only people to have their country first.  

   This to me is why Native American is demeaning - it strips away the dignity, reduces the atrocities commited and just serves to make those that did these things feel better.

   In my opinion, American Indians are a Great Pround People and should be given the respect and dignity of being called the term they fought and died as -- regardless of how it makes the rest of us feel.

Terri
Julie, it seems that the intransigence is on your part, and you have an unwillingness to understand that terms of identity cut deep for some communities.  (I would prefer to let you know this in a private message, but when I clicked on your profiie link, I could not find a link to private message to you.  I'm sorry if it was right in front of my face.)
Well, to use an old expression, "I don't have a dog in this fight."  

Among the many things that I find shocking about the statement that you have posted above is that you seem to be saying that U.S. Indians find it insulting to be grouped with Central American and South American Native Americans.  Why?  Look at the migration patterns.  Didn't they all have the same origins?

As far as I know, if there was ever a time that labels would not have been assigned by the majority population with no say from those so labeled, it would have been during the civil rights movement.

You complain about the term Native Americans because it includes the word "American," but the same exact word occurs in the term "American Indian."
Julie - the long post just above your comment did not contain my words.  It was a re-post of an old feed which Jillaine suggested I look at.  My thoughts about why I prefer the term American Indian are completely different.
Kathy Forbes, I am the person who sat in the research library and transcribed the handwritten notes of a person who frequently ate dinner with Thaóyate Dúta.  I am the person who when suggesting categories for Dakota and Ojibwe bands included scholarly sources.  I don't see much of that in the opinions flying around here.
I see now that I'm flagged above, although since my main point was about contentiousness on WikiTree, it seems rather ironic!
0 votes

Look at how people who do it for a living talk about our original nations and people:  https://americanindian.si.edu/  At our national museum - National Museum of the American Indian - on the About and Mission pages, you will see a mix of terminology.  It includes Native culture, Native voices, Native peoples, and American Indian.  What you don't find is Native American.  If you were born in the U.S., you are native to this country.

My preferred solution specifically to the Native Americans project name would be American Indians/Native Peoples or a version of that - Native Peoples (American Indians) or American Indians (Native Peoples).

by Anonymous D G2G6 Mach 1 (18.4k points)
S.D., I'm not sure why you keep repeating the same statements you've already made.

The fact is that for every person who doesn't like "Native American" there is another person who feels as strongly against "American Indian."

I have updated the project page to be more inclusive. Updating other aspects of the project will take longer, but know that this whole exchange has made me pay closer attention to the language we use in the project.

For example, I am now looking at the project template to see how we can make it more focused on the tribe and less focused on "Native American".
Jillaine, mostly, I don't know how this works.  People post without seeming to have considered what has already been posted in another area.  So - it seemed prudent to ensure a reply was made after each answer.  How is consensus made in this process?  Who has the authority to decide what the new project name is?

S.D., 

First off, there is clearly no consensus. In the proposals I've seen before at WikiTree, there needs to be far more agreement than what we've seen here, before a decision for change is reached and a change is made.

As I wrote above, your concerns have been noted, and I have started implementing language changes that I hope will create more room for inclusiveness.  It won't happen all at once.  We're all volunteers here, and I still have a full time job doing something else.

I am sorry if this is insufficient for you and you are unable to participate in the project due to its name.

Jillaine, I wasn't being accusatory.  Those were real questions from somebody who doesn't understand how this process works.

If no consensus is needed, what was the point in the exercise of having me post here?  I never wanted to.  I started by messaging you privately about changing the project name.  I never wanted to put myself or anyone else through this.
I didn't say you were being accusatory. I read real questions. I gave real answers, none of which conveyed that consensus wasn't needed.

You made a request of me through email and I told you what the process was for proposing changes. A process required of anyone here, myself included.

So I'm confused as to whether or not consensus in needed.

"First off, there is clearly no consensus. . . . and I have started implementing language changes . . . "

and

"I gave real answers, none of which conveyed that consensus wasn't needed."

Do you see why I am confused?  

No I don't.

There was, in the responses above, no consensus reached in support of your proposal.

Making minor language changes on the project page is not the same as changing the project name. It is my effort to do what I can do to make the language about the project more inclusive.
+1 vote
interesting thread, following
by Patty LaPlante G2G6 Mach 6 (63.4k points)

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