The mother of America’s favorite socialite Kim Kardashian has angered many folks with her recent use of the derogatory phrase ‘Indian giver.’ Kris Jenner appeared on Good Morning America last week to discuss the release of her new book and the recent news of her daughter’s premature divorce. When GMA host Lara Spencer asked Jenner if her daughter would be returning the $2 million wedding ring, Jenner responded “Well, I hate an Indian giver. Don’t you? I mean it’s a gift, so you know–keep your gift.”
The phrase ‘Indian giver’ refers to a person giving a gift, and then taking it back, or expecting something in return. It’s implication is that of impoliteness or unacceptable behavior. This phrase has shed a negative perception on American Indians.
Video courtesy of Youtube
Indian Country Today Media Network reports on the history of this phrase:
“An early reference to the term can be found in Thomas Hutchinson’s 1765 book The History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay: “An Indian gift is a proverbial expression, signifying a present for which an equivalent return is expected.”
But what it boils down to is misunderstandings. The Native Americans didn’t have money like the Europeans, they conducted trade using a barter system.” (source)
Offended by Jenner’s use of the term, Jacqueline Johnson Pata released a statement on behalf of the The National Congress of American Indians. Pata, executive director for the organization, said:
“The phrase ‘Indian giving’ is wrong and hurtful. The cultural values of Native Americans are based on giving unconditionally and empowering those around them. Instead this cultural value is forgotten when negative stereotyping of Native people occurs.” (source)
Simon Moya-Smith responded to an anonymous post about this very topic on his blog. Moya-Smith writes:
“Conversely, in the American Indian community, we see it differently. What you’d call “Indian Giving” we call “White Giving,” which is more historically accurate if you know your revisionist US history. If by chance you don’t, then I suggest you read Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen. It’s a literary remedy for those that suffer from the widespread American malady known as “Blind Patriotism,” as Loewen so aptly put it.” (source)
Moya-Smith continues by acknowledging the impact this benevolent racism is having on American society.
“Some Americans just don’t think twice, Anonymous, and that’s what it really boils down to. … They don’t think twice about degrading American Indians into caricature mascots. They don’t think twice about donning American Indian spiritual regalia as costumes on Halloween. … Jesus, they don’t think twice about lots of things, and especially antiquated colloquialisms that are deafeningly offensive.” (source)
The last time I heard the phrase ‘Indian giver’ I had to of been 7 years old. It was elementary school, and I was on the playground. I had no idea what the phrase meant, but I knew it was bad. After being told by adults that I shouldn’t say something like that, I stopped and I haven’t thought of it since. In the 15 years or so that have passed, I have never known a grown adult to use the term. I think beyond the fact that it is immature, it is very ignorant.
I find it quite ironic that American Indians bare the burden of this phrase when it more fittingly should be acquainted with colonialism. However, I think Kris Jenner’s mishap sparked an educational moment at an important time. November marks Native American Heritage Month, and with the controversial holiday of Thanksgiving just a few weeks away I think it provides an opportunity to discuss the historical challenges faced by this community. I have not yet read the book mentioned by Moya-Smith, but I will be looking into reading it soon. The lesson to be learned from all of this is language is not a childish game, because our words have power. In 2011, we must educate ourselves to be sensitive to the offensive phrases that are still being used today and make sure that we don’t use them tomorrow.
Please share your thoughts…
What was your reaction to Kris Jenner’s comment? What are some of the challenges that American Indians face when it comes to representation? What are ways that we can educate each other about offensive language?