The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Indian Exonyms

In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie makes a clear point of referring to the people on the Spokane Reservation as "Indians." As the author, it is his personal choice to call his people whatever he wants, and Alexie has always referred to himself thusly. However, there is a long-standing dispute on what to call "Indians." Over the years, official terms have included Indian, Native American, American Indian, Indigenous, and First Peoples, as well as a number of outdated racist epithets that are no longer appropriate. Each of these terms has been deemed correct at some point over past three centuries, but many Indians still feel as though none of these terms correctly identify them.

It is a widely known fact that Christopher Columbus is responsible for the term "Indian" because when he came to the Americans in the 15th century, he believed that he had actually arrived in India. Americans continued to call members of these indigenous tribes "Indians" until the 1960s and 1970s, when the American government switched the official term to "Native American" in an attempt to be more respectful. However, this term has never been fully accepted. For example, Russell Means, a leader of the American Indian Movement, prefers the term "American Indian" because he feels that it speaks more to his cultural origins. 

Despite official decrees, much of the older terminology still remains in wide use across the United States. According to an article on, "A 1995 Census Bureau survey that asked indigenous Americans their preferences for names (the last such survey done by the bureau) found that 49 percent preferred the term Indian, 37 percent Native American, and 3.6 percent "some other name." About 5 percent expressed no preference."

Even so, more and more indigenous peoples are beginning to eschew these broad and generalized terms altogether. As different nations work to reclaim their cultures and strengthen their communities, they are frequently choosing to refer to themselves according to their specific tribes. People from the Sioux tribe have a different language and customs from the Cherokee, Navajo, or Lakota tribes, and they do not want to be lumped into one overarching identity based on the archaic perceptions of early European settlers.