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The Origin Of North American Aboriginal "Indian" Names

The question is often asked of Canadian “Aboriginal Indian” names as to “What’s in a name?”

What are the origin, origins and derivations of many of North American and North American Canadian Aboriginal names?

It all started with Christopher Columbus. The Italian explorer first landed on what is now known as Puerto Rick and legend has it that he mistook the Caribbean islands for the continent of India. Thus the inhabitants of Puerto Rico, the Caribbean islands and later all of America came to be known and called “Indians”.

What is rather amazing that in 1492 the area of India itself was not even officially known as India? Imagine if Columbus had been searching for a quick route for the riches of Turkey or China?

Another theory holds that Columbus was so impressed by the “physical and spiritual “ beauty of the Taino people pf Puerto Rico that Columbus proclaimed they must have been made form the body the body of God ( “du corposes in Deo”)

From the “in Deo” may well have come the term “Indian”.

“Native Americans” have also been called “Indians” ever since.

In a way the name stuck. However what did the original inhabitants of the America’s call themselves in their own traditions? It seemed that no one had taken to time or energy to find out. The Dakota, Lakota and Nakota Nations (allied nations differentiated primarily because one group uses the word “Da” in their language whereas another employed “La” and the last “Na”) all became lumped as the “Sioux”.

There was no word for “Sioux” in the Dakota language. Dakota itself translated as “friend” or “ally” in the Dakota language. In a similar manner “Anishnabe” means “the people” in the Ojibwe language.

A similar pattern befell the Inuit in the north of Canada. Europeans have called them “Eskimos” which basically means “raw fish eaters” in the Inuit language. The term “Eskimo” was not what they Inuit called or thought of themselves.

In reality Inuit all have individually very complex names with which they honour their friends, friends, and relatives and “people who have come before them”. Believe it or not the Agents of the Government of Canada could not spell or pronounce these self described and declared descriptive and honorific names and titles.

The real names of the Inuit people were replaced in official means with letters and numbers. For example those Inuit (or Eskimos) living east of the MacKenzie River were called: E’s”. Those living west of the MacKenzie River were labeled :W”.

Thus came names of individuals Inuit as E5-770 or W4-432

Similarly the Canadian Aboriginals of a geographic area may well be called after the names of the early settlers in a given area. For example if an area called “Red Sucker Lake” is used as an example- it seems that most of the people in this community go by the last names of “Harper “ or “McDougall”.

It seemed that determined the actual names of the local inhabitants was too difficult or time consuming ( or both) for the agents sent by the Canadian Government to distribute treaty payments , Instead of the writing out the local Cree Aboriginal native names . Instead the local inhabitants were randomly assigned the last name of the two Canadian Government agents that were sent as administrators to distribute these treaty payments. In this case the names of the two assigned Canadian Government Indian Agent Administrators were “Harper “and “McDougall”.

And thus patterns continued.

Submitted by:

Kerry A. Francis

Kerry A. Francis - http://www.fishlakemanitobanarrows.com http://www.sellyourmanitobacottage.com




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