Introduction & 1st question: American Indian or Native American?
Guests are drawn to the National Museum of the American Indian for a kaleidoscope of reasons and intentions. One is to experience Native cultures, an experience that is enhanced when visitors have an opportunity to speak with staff members face-to-face. People working at the museum’s welcome desk, as cultural interpreters, in visitor services, and at the resource center all serve on the front lines, meeting, greeting, and answering questions.
I am an American Indian and one of these liaisons for the museum. My name is Dennis Zotigh. I am Kiowa, Santee Dakota, and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. I grew up receiving cultural knowledge from both my maternal and paternal grandparents. My parents further made sure that I was well acquainted with first-hand knowledge of other, diverse tribal cultures and their aesthetics, across North America.
With this rich foundation, I became the director of an internationally known professional Native dance company and traveled to 26 countries representing American Indians. Recognizing my working knowledge, the Oklahoma Historical Society hired me to help develop the Indian gallery of the new Oklahoma History Center as a researcher and historian. While presenting a conference paper at the British Museum in London in 2004, I was approached by co-presenter, Terry Snowball, who’s now my colleague. Terry encouraged me to apply for the advisor position for the 2005 National Powwow. I got the job, and my personal Native history began a new chapter.
My experience both traveling abroad and speaking daily to guests who visit our museum has shown me that there is a worldwide fascination with Indian cultures. I believe in the philosophy that the only bad question is the one that is never asked. I’ve been asked the gamut of questions pertaining to Native culture, from the insulting (a good test for that theory) to the academic and cultural-specific.
Beginning with this blog, I’d like to share a series of questions that I’ve been asked, give my answers, and invite you to discuss, debate, and add your personal ideas and experiences.
The first question is, “What do we call you, American Indian or Native American?”
My answer? Ultimately, I would like to be referred to by my tribal names of Kiowa, Santee Dakota, and Ohkay Owingeh! Most Native people also appreciate being associated with their particular tribes. But I know this is difficult. In actuality, the reference of Native American vs. American Indian is largely generational. My grandparents and other Native elders first referred to themselves by their tribes, although I also heard them less frequently refer to themselves as American Indian. I refer to myself by my tribal affiliation first, but don’t mind being called Indian.
The generation younger than mine refers to themselves as Native Americans. Others have followed their politically correct identity. Were you born in the United States? If so, you are technically a native American, a label that literally describes anyone who was born in and remains a citizen of a country in North, South, or Central America.
"Indian" is the term used in federal law. It is also the official term used by major U.S. Indian agencies and organizations, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service, National Congress of the American Indians, National Indian Education Association, and National Museum of the American Indian. In modern usage, the legal term "Indian" usually means an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe (or one who is eligible to be enrolled in a federally recognized tribe).
Please comment and turn this blog into a conversation.