Two years ago, I completed two articles of interviews with 11 prominent figures throughout the nation on the subject of indigenous self-identification and references. I asked, “What do you prefer to be called? Native, Native American, Indian, Indigenous, by your tribal affiliation?” etc.
I’ve found in these interviews, there’s no one answer and just as diverse and rich we are in culture so were the answers. I continue to find that we’re empowered to name ourselves in our indigenous languages and we proudly reject colonial terms.
So here it goes again, the people speak and we listen.
Debbie Nez-Manuel (Diné) from Klagetoh, Arizona. She’s Tséńjíkiní, born for the Tse'nabah ł nii; her maternal grandfather is Tsi’najinnii and her paternal grandfather is from Tábaahá. Manuel is co-founder and director of the Morning Star Leaders, Inc.
Debbie says she prefers to call herself, “Diné.” Debbie says her views of how to identify and refer to herself evolved throughout her lifetime. Born in the 1970s, the common term was ‘Navajo’ and this influenced her. She explored the meaning of being Navajo or Diné in her adolescence through the traditional rite of passage for young women, the kinaaldá ceremony. She’s also influenced by her grandparents who emphasized, “You are of the people. Nothing less, nothing more.” In college Debbie grappled with names such as American Indian or Indian but she said these terms are complex and she feels most comfortable with identifying as a Diné woman.
Ryan Red Corn (Osage) is co-owner at Buffalo Nickel Creative and a member of the comedy group, The 1491s.
When I asked Ryan what he preferred to call himself he said, “That's easy, I’m Osage or Wazhazhi”. When he meets new people, he will introduce himself as this and people will often look at him confused because they don't know what Osage or Wazhazhi is. He said, “It’s not my fault people don't know what Native tribes are, or that Native American’s exist”. He believes in Native nationalism and that Native people should call themselves by their traditional names or in their own languages and not falter to societal pressures to identify as a homogenous group. Follow Ryan on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Deidre Whiteman (Meskwaki, Dakota, Hidatsa, and Anishinaabe) is from Devils Lake, ND and Davenport, Iowa. She works in the field of education and plays traditional Lacrosse.
Deidre prefers to refer to herself as Meskwaki and/or Dakota and as an Indigenous person. When she can, she will introduce herself in Dakota. As a Dakota language learner she’s feels more connected to the land and her ancestors when speaking the language. When she’s around friends and family she’ll usually use terms such as ‘Natives’ or ‘Ndns.’ When she’s among a non-Native crowd, she will use ‘American Indian’ or ‘Native American.’ She said that growing up she was taught to say each of her tribes and to be proud of each one of them. She says she recognizes that not everyone in the larger population know Natives exist.
Shining Soul, Phoenix based hip-hop trio made up of emcee Liaizion, emcee Bronze Candidate, and DJ Refleksin. This Native and Xicano trio upholds the values of hip-hop while shedding light on the issues such as the criminalization and militarization of indigenous and immigrant communities.
Alex Soto aka MC Liaizion (Tohono O'odham) is from the community of Komkch'ed e Wah'osithk (Sells, AZ). He prefers to be called by his tribal name, Tohono O’odham, before any other terms. He feels comfortable using terms such as Native or Indigenous as blanket terms. He also says he doesn’t have a problem with people using terms such as Native American or American Indian as general terms but his primary choices would be Indigenous and Native. Alex explained, it bothers him when people refer to his nation as T.O. (acronyms commonly for Tohono O’odham). Alex sees this as laziness in that people don't want to take the time to pronounce Tohono O’odham. He says he will at times give a pass to other Natives but wants everyone to step up and call the Tohono O’odham Nation what they are exactly. Follow Alex on Instagram and Twitter
Lawrence Martinez Jr., aka DJ REFLEKSHIN (Diné), born and raised in Shiprock, NM is a DJ and apart of DJ Collective Fader Manners and is one-third of the Hip-hop group Shining Soul. Crew affiliations are Kutta Kai, Furious Styles, and Coolin Out Crew. Lawrence identifies and prefers to be named as Diné, commonly known as Navajo. When he introduces himself he will introduce himself as such and most people will ask, “Are you Navajo?” He will agree, as he understands this is a common term but he will then inform that he prefers to use the term Diné. Lawrence also says he feels comfortable using Native and/or tribal but it depends on the situation and whose asking. He understands that not everyone thinks or feels the way he does about using his Indigenous tribal affiliation and he says, “All I can do is just try to teach and educate on how to interact and reference Natives.” Follow DJ REFLEKSHIN on Instragram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Franco Habre a.k.a. Bronze Candidate (Xicano) from Phoenix, Arizona (La Phoeniquera/Akimel O’odham Territory) is an emcee and also 1/3 to the Shining Soul hip hop group. Although Franco doesn’t identify with a federally or state recognized tribe, I wanted to give him the opportunity to tell us how he identifies himself. Franco said he prefers to identify as Xicano. He said the ‘x’ signifies “fluidity and shifts in the definition of having roots from Mexico but being generations removed from my traditional home lands while living in an American experience.” Franco says in Spanish there’s a popular saying, “Ni de aqui ni de alla,” which translates to “I’m not from here, nor am I from there.” He says, “This expression hones in on the dynamics of living in social and cultural duality and remarks on how folks from the global south who have settled in the U.S. live in limbo in regards to having a home base.” Franco rejects the term Hispanic. He says it’s historically used to create a class society and is a colonial blanket term. He says the term is “used against brown people from the global south to mold them for assimilation into 'American society' and to immobilize and reduce their innate indigenous agencies.” Follow Franco on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook
Vanessa Nosie (Chiricahua Apache) a member of the Apache Stronghold and the Spirit of the Mountain Runners to protect Oak Flat and Mount Graham. She’s an advisor for a multi-tribal youth program, Native Youth Unite based out of Chandler, Arizona.
Vanessa says she prefers to introduce herself in her Indigenous language, Inee [The people] or otherwise known as Apache. She will introduce herself with her first clan, Istinaniye [Old people standing], then by her tribal affiliation, Inee, and then by her tribal band – Bendokahe. When talking to groups or non-Natives, Vanessa will use the blanket term “indigenous” to describe herself and other Native people. She said she doesn’t like to use the terms Native American or American Indian because as she stated, “We were here before America was established. It wasn’t America before settlers came in and created their government.” She also says that the term ‘Indian’ refers to a historical time and “is a run off from the days of Columbus.” Vanessa says she’s comfortable with the term Apache but she prefers to use her own language.
Amanda Blackhorse, Diné, is a mother and activist. Follow her on Twitter @blackhorse_a. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.