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Desert Diary


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Words are strange things that tend to shape thought. Or at least they do if you don't stop to consider them. Take the term, "Native Americans". We all know who is meant; that it refers to the peoples of the Americas that were here when the Europeans arrived. Yet, the term is deceptive. After all, I'm a native American—without the word native being capitalized, of course. Having been born in America, I'm obviously a native, along with many millions of others not recognized as such.

Now you might object and point out that I'm the offspring of immigrants. True enough. But, of course, so are the Native Americans. They, like the Europeans, arrived in the Americas from elsewhere. The main difference between Native Americans—that's a capitalized "native"—and native American—non-capitalized "native"—is merely the time of entry, the difference between less than about 500 years and more than 500 years. Obviously, we aren't going to get anywhere beating this dead horse. So maybe we'd best just go back to American Indian. After all, that term is perfectly clear. Right?
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.