December Issue of the San Juan Star

The past few weeks, I have asked many friends, family members, strangers, and you, my readers, to ask me questions – generally about Natives. I understand, some questions may be hard to ask in person, maybe it’s not the right time, or maybe you just never had a chance to ask these questions. I am here to clarify what I know. My goal here is to share my knowledge, and my network of family/friends/relatives’ knowledge, by honoring my ancestors in clarifying the truth – not misinformation.
And I would also like to invite you to review my new blog, just for this. I will only print the “Ask a Native” column a few times. For ongoing questions, please visit

So here are some of the questions I received…

How to Address Natives?

Personally, I believe it is a matter of preference to the Native one is talking to. I do know that the word ‘Indians’ is commonly less tolerated among the Natives that I have encountered – it has the stigma of Columbus ‘discovering’ or mistaking the Native people of the territory of being people of India. (This story that Columbus named Native People “Indians” because he thought they were in India, is incorrect – India was known as “Hindustan” at the time.) In the late 20th century, some American public figures suggested that the origin of the term was not from a confusion with India, but from the Spanish expression En Dios, meaning “in God,” or a similar one in Italian. More information can be found online about this issue.

When you analyze the verbiage, if the people residing on ‘Turtle Island’ were here before colonizers (Turtle Island being what we know as the Americas); What were the people that were originally there called? I just respect the word “Native.”
“When I use the word “Native,” I am referring to the original inhabitants of the Americas, who are also known as Native Americans, American Indians, First Nations, First Peoples, and Indigenous Peoples.”

Indigenous is also a commonly respected term used around Native people. Indigenous Peoples of “_____”. First Nations, Aboriginals, Original people of Turtle Island… though some do prefer American Indian (for that was the first term used to describe us once Turtle Island became known as ‘America’).

Some Native people don’t like any of these words, and prefer to just be known as a member of their tribe – ie, “I am Diné.” (A Navajo individual from the tribe of the Diné)

So I say – there is no “one answer” to this question. Please do be respectful when you are addressing a Native, maybe asking them, if you were to be announcing them in some fashion. (I do find it presumptive and rude when someone announces me as being an Indian – yet that is my preference, I’m just sharing my perspective- same thing when someone claims that I live on a reservation- which I do NOT, I live on trust land… but that is another discussion ^_^)

If you really are Native, don’t you receive federal/government money?

NO! Contrary to popular belief, Natives do not receive payments from the federal government simply because they have Native blood. Funds distributed to a person of Native descent may represent mineral lease income on property that is held in trust by the United States or compensation for lands taken in connection with governmental projects. Some Native tribes receive benefits from the federal government in fulfillment of treaty obligations or for the extraction of tribal natural resources — a percentage of which may be distributed as per capita payments among the tribe’s membership. And only if a tribe is federally recognized. Only tribes who maintain a legal relationship to the U.S. government through binding treaties, acts of Congress, executive orders, etc., are officially “recognized” by the federal government. Once “recognized,” a tribe has a legal relationship with the United States. There are currently more than 550 federally recognized tribes in the United States, over 100 State Recognized, including some 220 village groups in Alaska. However, there are still hundreds of unrecognized tribes undergoing the lengthy and tedious process of applying for federal recognition. Some sources say that there are over 1000 Native American tribes in the US, I don’t doubt it (I would venture to say there are quite a bit more.)

A map of California of native tribal territories - precontact

Pre-contact Tribal Territories

Do all American Indians and Alaska Natives speak a single traditional language?

No. American Indians and Alaska Natives come from a multitude of different cultures with diverse languages, and for thousands of years used oral tradition to pass down familial and cultural information among generations of tribal members. Some tribes, even if widely scattered, belong to the same linguistic families. Common means of communicating between tribes allowed trade routes and political alliances to flourish. As contact between Indians and non-Indians grew, so did the necessity of learning of new languages. Even into the 20th century, many American Indians and Alaska Natives were bi- or multilingual from learning to speak their own language and English, French, Russian, or Spanish, or even another tribal language.
It has been reported that at the end of the 15th century over 300 American Indian and Alaska Native languages were spoken. Today, fewer than 200 tribal languages are still viable, with some having been translated into written form. English, however, has become the predominant language in the home, school, and workplace. Those tribes who can still do so are working to preserve their languages and create new speakers from among their tribal populations. Cited from the Bureau of Indian Affairs

While Native language use is not as widespread as it once was, some Native people still use their language every day. The most widely spoken Native language in the United States is the Navajo or Diné language, with over 170,000 reported speakers in 2007, 2.9 percent of whom were monolingual with no knowledge of English.” [Cited from Wikipedia:

Have you seen REEL INJUN the documentary?



I love that documentary, I recommend it to everyone, and I wish I could make it mandatory in schools. If you have not seen it, please, try. Plot summary: REEL INJUN:a documentary about the history of the depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood films. Native American and Aboriginal peoples have long played a part in Hollywood filmmaking, but the picture presented of them was not always flattering or accurate. Most westerns of Hollywood’s Golden Age presented “Indians” as either ruthless savages with no sense of honor or fools who were lost without the help of the white man. (Adding insult to injury, they were usually played by white actors in makeup.) However, as issues of Native American rights came to the forefront in the 1960s, more filmmakers stepped forward to offer a more positive and thoughtful portrayal of Aboriginal characters on screen, and Native American performers were given a greater opportunity to present the story of their people in television and the movies.