The Indian went walkin’ ‘round and sat upon the hill to watch the sun go down / But he couldn’t find his people, he got up and walked away / And he sat beside the fire, and gave out a sigh / We’re all forgotten now / Where is my tomahawk? / My days are gone / Where is my tent? / Where is my planting ground? / Where is my land? / This reservation’s wrong / Who’s this white man? – written by John Michael Talbot and Terry Nolan Talbot, recorded by Mason Proffit.
The honest answer to the provocative question “Where are Indians from?” is “not from India.” Of course, I’m referring to the India near the Indian Ocean, and I’m referring to people whose roots go back to, or before, the 15th Century.
The area that we call India today consists of several hundred different historical kingdoms lumped into the name Bharat. I can argue in favor of the name Sindhu, which got corrupted into the name Indus. The fact is, Bharat was the unofficial united states of India. Or Hindustan, another faux name. If each individual kingdom that composed India were separate today, there would be some 600 more tables at the United Nations.
There’s a lot more I can say about all this, but the point is, India wasn’t commonly or exclusively called India until the British decided it should be. That was way back in the 17th Century, or about a century or so after Christopher Columbus’s death. So, when he talked about Indians, who was he talking about?
This may come as a surprise to some of you. When Columbus and his peeps named the Indians “Indians,” that was not because he thought he was in India, which, as I just noted, wasn’t called India. However, if you told that to the members of the American Indian Movement, you’d be robbing them of one of their best jokes: how Columbus was so stupid he thought he was in India. Bharat. Hindustan. I dunno, maybe Cleveland.
So I’ve got some bad news for my many politically correct friends. You folks are all full of shit. The fact is, Indians have every right to be called Indians, and to be proud of that.
So what did Columbus call them? According to Shannon Thunderbird, in his prattlings to and before the Spanish monarchy he referred the locals as “Los Niños de la Endeo” or, as we say here in the New World, the Children of God. Endeo easily corrupts into Indian.
To my ear, Children of God sounds like a compliment. If so, that’s a bit odd because Columbus, an Italian expatriate living in Spain, was as good at chopping Indians’ heads off as he was bad at sailing by the stars.
None of this contradicts about 450 years of horror, torture and death visited upon Indians of all tribes by those who defined themselves as Americans. The depths of these acts of democide, terrorism and genocide were as formidable as any in history. Between the Americans, the Spanish, and the British, over 15 million Indians were slaughtered, many from the imposition of “European diseases” such as blankets maliciously laced with smallpox.
“America” comes from Amerigo Vespucci, an explorer and financier who, like Columbus, was born in Italy but moved to Spain. It was he who theorized they weren’t in any part of Asia. He’s the dude who came up with the phrase “the New World.” Like Columbus, Vespucci also never set foot in North America – let alone what we call the United States of America. He worked for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, particularly in the slave trade.
So… what should respectful Americans call Indians?
Well, how about this. Maybe we should try calling them by their given names. That must be the right thing to do. It’s certainly the way the white folk handle it with each other.
(I would like to thank The Firesign Theater for inspiring our headline, and Mason Proffit for inspiring me.)