Tonight, on the reality TV series The Real Housewives of New York City, LuAnn de Lesseps will use the term “Indian.” According to reports, this will greatly upset Carole Radziwill, who says that the term is racist, and tells LuAnn that “anyone over the third grade knows not to say ‘Indian.'”
We here at Indian Country Today Media Network beg to differ. Although there are a variety of opinions throughout Indian country as to which term—Native American or American Indian—is preferable, this debate seems to concern non-Natives more than culturally-committed members and descendants of specific nations. Certainly one would be hard pressed to find too many who would go so far as to call the word Indian “racist.” An ancient misnomer? Sure.
Unfortunately, it seems there are plenty of non-Indians who feel they know better. It’s not just Carole Radziwill—an article at Examiner.com about the spat uses the headline “‘Real Housewives’ LuAnn makes racist remark and upsets cast members.” Within the text, the word Indian is simply called a “racist remark,” and the article says without explanation that “In fact, using the word ‘Indian’ is politically incorrect.” Examiner cites RadarOnline.com as its source—there, the word “racist” is put in quotation marks in the headline, but the article presents as fact that the word Indian is “a racially insensitive faux pas.”
This is not to say that LuAnn, who says on her website she was raised by “her Algonquin father and a French mother”, doesn’t commit any “racially insensitive faux pas.” The “woo-woo-woo-woo-woo” she lets out while patting her mouth with her hand wasn’t a good idea.
But it’s a wonder that nobody asks the Indians how they feel about “Indian.” Perhaps it would even be a good topic for our own column, “Ask N NDN,” written by Sonny Skyhawk. The topic might even make for a good panel discussion at the upcoming Santa Fe Indian Market or a lecture series at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
Should any Real Housewives fans or political-correctness enthusiasts really want to address the Indigenous people of Turtle Island in their preferred manner, our advice is: Find out their tribal affiliation. The Lakota love to be called Lakota; the Apache love to be called Apache; the Choctaw love to be called Choctaw, for a simple reason: It’s what they are.