Loud & Clear: Listeners react to coverage of American Indian mascots bill

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In a regular segment called "Loud and Clear," Colorado Matters shares feedback from listeners about our coverage.

Recently host Ryan Warner interviewed state Rep. Joe Salazar, who wants schools with mascots like Indians, Chiefs, or Redskins to get approval to keep using them. In the conversation, Salazar used the term “American Indian” to describe the group of people his bill is meant to honor. Warner used both that term and “Native American.”

Listener Ken Knowles, of Boulder, emailed to say he didn’t appreciate that. He wrote that “It felt awkward,” as if Warner thought he knew better what term was correct. Knowles said he wished Warner “had been more courteous to Mr. Salazar by adopting his terminology.”

Knowles’ feedback prompted an inquiry to an expert on the subject. George Tinker is professor of American Indian Cultures and Religious Traditions at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He's also a member of the Wazhazhe Nation and says he most often uses the term “American Indian,” mainly out of habit.

“I’m not sure what other choice we have [besides Indians]. And in fact the key resistance movement of the past half-century has been the American Indian Movement.”

That doesn’t mean Tinker likes the term. He says it comes from the 1400’s and Christopher Columbus’ mistake upon arriving in North America. Columbus thought he’d landed in the East Indies.

Yet Tinker says that while “American Indian” isn’t a great term, "Native American" isn’t any better.

“It was not Indians but white folk in the 70s who decided it might be more politically correct to call us Native Americans, [but] that’s just another colonizer name.”

Yet Tinker does use the term from time to time, he says. He also uses aboriginal, indigenous, or native. And he prefers to refer to people as Arapahoe, Ute, or Cheyenne, for instance. But he recommends steering clear of the term “tribe.”

“We tend to avoid the word 'tribal' unless we are talking about tribal government but that’s a U.S. government creation. The word 'tribe' is a medieval term that is not an honorific in any way, shape or form. Intended to project an image of Indian people as 'less than,' 'not civilized,' 'wild,' 'savage,' 'tribal.'"

Instead, Tinker says, use "nation."

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