Indian Giver

In this post the other day, Nancy Richy, at The Elephant’s Trunk, mentioned someone who earned a reputation as an “Indian giver.” Nancy the said that she realized that the phrase “Indian giver” these days is “totally un-PC and not acceptable.”

That got me thinking about how the phrase “Indian giver” came about. The expression means one who gives a gift but later takes it back. It derives from the alleged practice of American Indians of taking back gifts from white settlers. Settlers did not understand that gift giving was central to Native American culture. When a gift was presented, it was done so with honor, and with the notion that the gift would be used and valued.

But, if the recipient of the gift did not use it, then that was viewed as disrespect, and the item was taken back, and likely given to someone else who would use it and appreciate it. The settlers, not understanding these aspects of the Native American culture, were, in turn, offended, and phrase Indian giver was born.

Which is interesting because historians would now agree that, where deceit was concerned, it was the settlers who were the front runners. Especially when it came to taking back lands granted to the Native American in peace treaties.

By the 1900s, the term Indian giver had made its way into the American vernacular, eventually used mostly as a schoolyard taunt, such as, “Teacher, Billy gave me the ball and now he wants it back! He’s being an Indian giver!”

Considering the roots of the term Indian giver, it is today considered offensive.

No wonder the Washington professional football team changed the team’s name from the “Redskins” to the “Commanders,” and the Cleveland Major League Baseball team changed its team’s name from the “Indians” to the “Guardians.”

36 thoughts on “Indian Giver

  1. Ron. September 8, 2022 / 4:16 pm

    I’d lost track; knew new names were in the making, hadn’t paid attention to the outcome. Thanks for the update.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Marilyn Armstrong September 8, 2022 / 9:06 pm

    I would have the the American government was the ultimate Indian giver. They gave them land and promised them support then took the land away and gave them nothing.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Marilyn Armstrong September 8, 2022 / 10:23 pm

        Sometimes being American feel like you need to offer an apology first before you say anything. But to be fair, everywhere the British made colonies, they treated the natives horribly — including Australia and Canada. Can we blame the British now that Charles III is on the throne?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Carol anne September 8, 2022 / 11:45 pm

    I had never heard of the term before now! Interesting though for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mister Bump UK September 9, 2022 / 12:15 am

    I think you can go to far with all this. You simply have to recognise that every phrase has a timestamp attached to it. “Indian giver” is perfectly acceptable in the context of 1900, or whenever it was. There are always two elements – the phrase itself, and a timeframe.
    It seems almost that by avoiding its use, we are trying to erase it from history. Pretending it never happened as opposed to consciously making an effort to be better.

    I have to say this is exactly the same issue as tearing down old statues. An attempt to pretend it never happened.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango September 9, 2022 / 7:00 am

      Statues are erected to honor the individuals they represent. Taking down a statue of someone who, say, was a traitor to his country, or who committed atrocities (e.g., slaughtered Native Americans) doesn’t erase those individuals from history. It removes the honor that is bestowed upon them in the form of a statue. Should statues of Hitler remain erected in Germany?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mister Bump UK September 9, 2022 / 7:46 am

        Absolutely. Perhaps if there were more evidence, there would be fewer holocaust-deniers?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fandango September 9, 2022 / 7:55 am

          Statues are erected to honor people whose deeds and life are worth honoring. Do you feel Hitler’s life deserves that honor?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Mister Bump UK September 9, 2022 / 8:12 am

            Yes. It is a mark of history that the Gerrman people honoured him, at that time. Doesn’t mean I honour him. Two things are patently different.
            More to the point, what makes you think you have the right to tear things down? Historically-speaking, your view is no more valid than theirs.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Fandango September 9, 2022 / 11:53 am

              So you think Hitler’s view of condoning genocide was equally as valid as mine of abhorring genocide?


            • Mister Bump UK September 9, 2022 / 1:39 pm

              Depends what you mean by valid. Just in terms of numbers, don’t forget he was elected Chancellor so, there would have been millions of people who broadly agreed with him. In fact the whole of Europe had pro-rata political parties at that time so his support probably ran into a hundred million.
              If you are asking whether I think he was right, then no I don’t. But I don’t believe I have the right to suppress information for future generations either.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Fandango September 9, 2022 / 1:58 pm

              But is removing a statue of Hitler the same as suppressing information about him?

              Liked by 1 person

            • Mister Bump UK September 9, 2022 / 11:34 pm

              Y, it’s clear that’s the only issue where we disagree. I see it absolutely akin to sweeping something under the carpet.
              If we remove all these reminders, I think it is only a matter of time before people start telling us it never happened.


            • Marleen September 11, 2022 / 1:00 pm

              In Germany, they have memories standing (such as some camps) for educational purposes. And we have our own Holocaust Memorial Museum in the United States. But I don’t think Germany have (or even allow) honoraries that one would just casually happen by in the process of living an everyday life. By contrast, I watched (this Labor Day just passed) a show about “ghosts” from the Reconstruction abandoned (wherein the losers sought to win a lying narrative after losing the traitorous war); one could, until very recently, literally trip over an old auction block (per selling of persons in slavery) when walking down the street to a restaurant.

              I wouldn’t edit an old work of fiction or the purported work of someone called a historian in the sense of covering up what they said (as if they spoke some other way in America about people of color, slavery, or indigenous background), but I would add an editorial note or footnote or the like in any redistributed publishing or at a display in a museum. Meanwhile, Timothy D. Snyder has done extensive work to show that The Holocaust itself (and mass death via Hitler and otherwise at the time) didn’t happen primarily in Germany. Sometimes, monuments can mainly miseducate as to what the scope and process involved in actual history.

              All that said, I think “Redskins” as nomenclature is worse than “Indians”* — as a ball team isn’t a negative thing and the word Indian mainly commemorates the ignorance of Columbus and his ilk. (Yet, I wouldn’t want to be named for a memory of the horrid Columbus.) As for red skin, the policy of our country was that one “drop” of “black” made a person eligible for slavery (black rather than native or anybody else). The goals were larger supply of exploited humans [whether mixed with white or with First Nations or with anyone] and fewer extant individuals by way of population remaining as displaced persons facing our consciences.

              Derision of peoples with lower percentages of Indigenous American heritage is a reminder of that morally conflicting (yet economically devious and manipulating) systemic approach to “manifest” destiny.

              *”Indian Giver” though should not be used, as some other terms also shouldn’t — to which I won’t undertake to allude. Additionally, it was awkward to have had the Cowboys (Dallas) contest the Indians. I arrived at the following, upon a search, just now:


              Cowboys and Indians at War on Thanksgiving Day

              GUEST AUTHOR UPDATED: SEP 12, 2018
              ORIGINAL: NOV 24, 2012

              Exalted in grade-school lore as the great coming together of Native peoples and Pilgrim settlers, Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. It’s the time when we as a nation gathered to appreciate and share what we have—food, fellowship, and football.

              While we all revere Thanksgiving as one of our sacred founding myths, and like to believe our country was built on this kind of cooperation, the truth is the real modern symbol of our national origins is football; the field where our shared myths and ambitions are played out and watched by millions. ~

              Liked by 2 people

            • Mister Bump UK September 11, 2022 / 1:25 pm

              Sorry, Marleen, your comment is too long. My eyesight is not good enough to read it.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Mister Bump UK September 11, 2022 / 1:33 pm

              If you pot something this long in a post, I can listen to it. But my reader can’t speak comments to me. They need to be short enough for my eyes to take them in. Sorry. I’m sure what you say is useful, but…


            • Marleen September 11, 2022 / 3:43 pm

              On the Holocaust topic, people find ways to be anywhere from disrespectful to in full denial just because they want to — even when memorials exist. This link to CNN has a (very short video) discussion per example of attitudinal insult from a “party” (Libertarians) who usually insinuate themselves into the U.S. Republican Party, because we function as a two party government.


              New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu tells CNN’s Dana Bash that

              “that should pretty much be the end of the Libertarian Party in New Hampshire”

              after the [NH Libertarian Party] tweeted “happy holidays” on the anniversary of Senator John McCain’s death and tweeted a mocking reference to the Holocaust.

              Source: CNN State of the Union

              Liked by 1 person

            • Marleen September 17, 2022 / 11:00 pm

              When I saw where this thing had stood, it was simply an eyesore and ick factor [there are photos at this link].



              … a 10-foot-tall monument that was a gift to the town from the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1928.

              Robinson last week told the INDY that the monument rankled him even when he was a child, before he understood what the Confederacy was all about…

              “There were segregated water fountains at the monument,” he says. “The bowl for white people is still standing. The bowl for Black people is rusted and the faucet is gone. That’s how little they cared about our people.”

              Indeed, the UNC library notes that during segregation, the memorial featured a “fountain with two drinking spouts, one for whites and one for non-whites. The fountain for non-whites has been removed, but its pedestal and spigot hole remain.”


              Liked by 1 person

          • Marleen September 12, 2022 / 10:45 am

            Sadly, there are more evil people than we are led to believe.

            The Nazis Next Door: How America Became A Safe Haven For Hitler’s Men · 7 years ago

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Nancy Richy September 9, 2022 / 2:46 am

    Thanks for the explanation. I was at a family reunion yesterday and was asked to read some of my latest work which in turn led to looking up the background of the term”Indian Giver”. In truth I was not totally comfortable using that phrase in my story, which was why I aded the parenthetical thought; but if it gets people curious and thinking and understanding and doing the right thing, then it was worth the risk. Appreciate your words, Fandango, and the history lesson. 👍🏼

    Liked by 1 person

  6. leigha66 September 15, 2022 / 9:29 am

    Interesting. I always thought it was more directed at us giving and taking back everything we had promised them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marleen September 17, 2022 / 5:03 pm

      You might want to start at 3:45 in. At about 6:15, the speaker says “Madison wrote the legislation that erected all of the departments.” (Of course, we have additional departments of the administrative branch, since, but the precident is there.) At 56/57 or 57-and-a-half, the speaking author postulates that Monroe is largely forgotten in the context of the Constitution because of the consensus of Founders wanting it that way for anyone who became “notorious” — and that he had entered into a “scandalous marriage” in his later years.

      Madison’s Gift: Five Partner-
      ships that Built America

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marleen September 17, 2022 / 6:30 pm

        Okay… Dolley.

        And… either I mis-apprehended, or the guest speaker at the Library of Congress wasn’t sufficiently clear (and, I’d presume, didn’t see it [a wedding of a daughter] as top priority for clarification):

        Liked by 1 person

    • Marleen September 17, 2022 / 6:37 pm

      The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the
      United States Constitution · 4 years ago

      Liked by 1 person

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