Why are white Westerners describing themselves as “indigenous” peoples?

I protest the recent and expanding use of “indigenous” to describe white Western majority peoples, as Rick Darby used it innocently and in passing in another thread. Yes, in the simplest sense “indigenous” means “originating where it is found,” and therefore could, I suppose, be used to describe the British, since the white British population goes back to the Neolithic. But the word would not apply to white Americans, the earliest ancestors of whom came to this continent 400 years ago.

But there is a larger problem with “indigenous.” It doesn’t just mean native to a location. It also implies people in their original, undeveloped state. Traditionally, we never thought of a people in a developed society, with complex institutions and a national state, as “indigenous,” even if their ancestors had lived in that land for 10,000 years.

Further, indigenous is typically used by outside people who are studying or protecting some tribal group.

For majority whites to call themselves “indigenous” is exactly like whites asking for their “rights” under multiculturalism. It is an admission of surrender to multiculturalism, whites’ transformation of themselves into just another minority group needing protection, rather than being and asserting themselves as the leading and dominant people of our respective countries.

Western peoples thus gratuitously diminish and weaken themselves by referring to themselves as indigenous. As a self-description of white Westerners it is incorrect, unnecessary, demoralizing, and defeatist.

I intended to make these points a couple of weeks ago in an article I began drafting on Fjordman’s essay calling for “Western Indigenous People’s Rights,” but hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

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Rick Darby replies:

I take your point about “indigenous,” but I’m at sea trying to find another single word to characterize Americans whose ancestry in this country goes back at least several generations. We need an expression that doesn’t gratuitously insult recently nationalized Americans, whether we believe they should have been admitted or not. We don’t want to limit it to whites or people of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic ancestry, and certainly most Jews are indi—oops, are whatever the word is.

Surely there is a distinction between people whose family history is connected with American history and culture (regardless of their personal politics) and others who are American mainly in the legal sense. So how can we refer to them without going into a complicated and tangential discussion each time the issue arises?

LA replies:

Well, how did we get by for the last 200 years without the word “indigenous”? Don’t you remember the expression “Old Stock American”? That’s infinitely better than “indigenous.” It implies founding people, not just “people on the land from time immemorial, living in tribal villages.”

And there are other appropriate and familiar expressions too, which will soon come to me.

Bill Carpenter writes:

“Historical peoples” is one expression you were searching for.

LA replies:


Isn’t it amazing that all of sudden, Westerners feel they have to refer to themselves by a term that was always used for native, tribal people?

Mr. Carpenter replies:

Quite disgraceful. The only modern Europeans I know of who can claim to be indigenous in the normal sense are the Basques.

LA replies:

The Brits seem to go out of their way to make themselves into nothing. They now even spell the the word “west,” as in “western civilization,” in lower case. They’re so wimpy they won’t even capitalize the name of their own civilization. Next they’ll be spelling Britain as “britain.”

It’s as though British understatement and desire not to be offensive, which used to be among their distinguishing virtues, have metastasized into a full blown desire for non-existence.

Mr. Carpenter replies:

Very sad, as they (and through them we) have most accomplished political history of all. All squandered now. Someone there needs to start blowing on the embers.

LA writes:

Over at Reflecting Light, I reply to a commenter who thinks I’m undermining the Brits by criticizing their fashionable description of themselves as “indigenous.”

Bill Carpener replies:

That is pathetic. Indigenous people are those discovered in a place by an explorer with superior mobility. The heirs of the British empire, the descendants of Norman, Saxon, Roman, and Celtic invaders, should not see themselves as indigenes.

LA replies:


Paul Mulshine of the Newark Star Ledger writes:

The word Rick Darby is looking for is “aboriginal,” which simply means “from the origin.” It is often incorrectly applied to just one set of aboriginal people, the Australians, but it was in fact used as a generic term that became specific.

By the way, among the PC crowd Down Under it’s considered unacceptable to call these people “Aborigines.” “Aboriginal” is now the preferred PC term.

And they of course abhor the slang term that appears in Rolf Harris’s song “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” which is “Abbos.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 02, 2008 04:04 PM | Send

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