Someone made a comment recently in which the term “Indian giver” was used. When I looked up the meaning of this expression, just to be sure, it was just what I had always thought: “a person who gives a gift (literally or figuratively) and later wants it back, or something equivalent in return.” I wasn’t sure, however, why this expression applied to Indians.
It seems that the original expression had to do with a gift for which an equivalent was expected in return, which is probably a fair representation of the Native American mindset. I would like to point out, however, that Native Americans are not the only ones in the world who think this way. When I was in Japan, I got to the point where I dreaded receiving a gift from a Japanese, knowing that something would be expected in return. I don’t necessarily think it’s bad to think this way, but I confess that I didn’t like feeling obligated.
This was just one of many cultural misunderstandings between the Europeans and the Indians. Apparently, Europeans thought they were being given gifts, while the Native Americans thought they were simply engaged in a barter transaction.
Still, I sometimes wonder how people can blame Indians for “Indian giving” when we have done the same to them, many times over, in spades. The U.S. government made many treaties with various tribes of Indians, most of which the government later saw fit to renege on. How many times were the tribes told that their homeland was being taken for the use of the white settlers, and that they would be given other land in another location? The tribes were obliged to travel long distances, and many died on the way to their new lands. Then the government saw fit to take away those lands, either due to pressure from white settlers for more land or because of the discovery of gold or other natural resources.
Who were the Indian givers, then? Just saying…