Kris Jenner uses the term "Indian Giver"

November 3, 2011 — 19 Comments

(It’s a two-post day! omg!)

I just saw this on my Facebook feed and felt the need to share. So for those of you who don’t spend 90% of your day reading celebrity gossip blogs (I’m incriminating myself here), Kim Kardashian got married 75 days ago. Her wedding cost anywhere from $10-20 million dollars. She filed for divorce 3 days ago. Now people are speculating whether or not she’ll give Kris Humphries (the ex-hubbs) the ring back. And here’s what Kim’s mom, also named Kris (that’s creepy, right?) had to say about it:

“I hate an Indian giver. It’s a gift, you know.”

This was on Good Morning America, if you were wondering. Awesome, Kris Jenner. Thanks for that. Here’s the video clip, the “Indian Giver” line is at 2:58:

There’s no real consensus on the etymology of the term “Indian Giver” on the internets, but I thought this was a good summary (source here):

Meaning: 
One who gives a gift but later takes it back.
Origin:
Indian giver derives from the alleged practise of American Indians of taking back gifts from white settlers. It is more likely that the settlers wrongly interpreted the Indians’ loans to them as gifts. This term, which is certainly American, may have been coined to denigrate of the native race. Historians would now agree that, where deceit was concerned, it was the settlers who were the front runners. It isn’t uncommon, and it could be argued that it is customary, for the conquering race to attempt to justify their invasion by dismissing the conquered as dishonest and stupid.

The phrase is quite early in the history of the the USA. Thomas Hutchinson described the term as proverbial as early as 1765, in his 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.”

Basically, I think we can all agree that it’s probably not the best term to use to describe a negative act, considering it stereotypes Indians as deceitful and un-generous (not generous?), which, if you’ve ever been in a Native community, is about the farthest thing from the truth. Ever heard of giveaways? or Potlatches?

The Kardashians don’t exactly have an awesome track record with sensitivity towards Native issues. Khloe wore a headdress a few months ago, twice, and for Dancing with the Stars on Halloween, Kourtney (and Mason, her son) wore Indian costumes. Though they claim Native heritage (vomit).

Annoying, right? Also annoying is that currently on Google news there are over 40 articles with “Indian Giver” in the headline. /headdesk

USA Today: Kris Jenner on Kim’s Ring ‘I hate an Indian giver’

Adrienne K.

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  • Rachel Kantstopdaphunk

    I always thought a more appropriate term should be ‘white man giver’ but perhaps, rather than being based on treaties which are later broken, which is what i assumed…this phrase may actually indicate an exchange of gifts, which is common to plenty of cultures, including white culture, as a ritualistic manner in which to cement a friendship.

  • http://twitter.com/brtalk Brad Talk

    I think this blog is interesting. Although I don’t doubt your sincerity, I have to politely disagree with your victimization of Native peoples. Yes there are negative stereotypes against us but why don’t you work toward helping us improve our condition without trying to emphasize the fact that we are victims? “Indian” was a term employed in Britain that pertaining to people from India. I think you should do more research on the etymology of the term before making claims that result in fabricated stereotypes of your own. And just as an aside, what is wrong with the Kardashians claiming that they are native? We don’t ask you for your Certificate of Indian Blood before we read your content!

    • Adrienne_K

      Hi Brad. So I don’t normally take the time to respond individually to commenters, but I saw that you go to Harvard (I’m sitting in HUNAP right now–have I ever met you?), so I thought, why not.

      I just wrote a long post discussing how I approach things on this blog, and a little about how I’m “working toward helping us improve our condition without trying to emphasize the fact that we are victims” (your words) through my research and work: http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2011/11/lets-debrief-what-happened-with.html, hope that answers that part of your question.

      I also feel strongly that calling out these daily microagressions and instances of racism pushes back against the dominant discourse and, in turn, serves as a means of empowerment for Native peoples. So I don’t see it as furthering our victimization. at all. In fact I see it as doing the exact opposite.

      As far as the “etymology” of the term “Indian”–I was unaware of the fact the term comes from India. Wow. Thank you! (/sarcasm) The sources I found online (including the one quoted above) all said the term “Indian Giver” is definitely an American phrase, dating back to the 1700′s. In fact, the quote I used above says (in case you didn’t read it): “This term, which is certainly American…”.

      Finally, the Kardashian sisters claim “3%” Indian heritage from a DNA test. I feel comfortable calling them out, because anyone who is connected to their Native community would know that wearing a sacred headdress as “dress up” is simply unacceptable.

      and that’s all I’ve got. But I will say that it really hurts me when people, especially fellow Natives, accuse me of not working towards the betterment of Indian Country. Come by my office in HUNAP sometime, and I’ll tell you all about my work.

      • Athenah2so4

        Well-spoken! As a commentary on the “3%” DNA thing, that’s idiotic. There are no magical “Indian genes”, just alleles that are more or less common in varying populations (not lecturing you, just addressing how stupid the Kardashians’ statement is). That said, aren’t the Kardashians of Armenian descent? You would think they would understand why peoples subjected to attempted genocide might want to qavoid being dehumanized. Yeesh.

    • Polenth Blake

      I’m from the UK, and had never heard of ‘Indian givers’ until the internet. There isn’t a stereotype of Indians (from India) taking back gifts. Or of Native Americans doing so for that matter. It’s very much a US stereotype and phrase. Though even if that wasn’t the case, I’m not sure why victimising people from India would make it better. It’s clearly intended as an insult to the named group.

    • Rachel Kantstopdaphunk

      Think of it this way, if every single time some bs appropriation happens, its documented, then its more likely that eventually the culprits are going to think about stopping. There are lots of different kinds of cultural appropriations which are met LOUDLY with ‘thats not ok and heres why’ Its not a way of saying boohoo poor me im a victim, its a way to say ‘heres why that isnt cool with me’ its an attempt to change what is and isnt considered ok. you can see this from other communities of color, queer and trans folk too. one way to insist on being treated like humans, is to protest when we arent. frankly, its pretty effective. urban outfitters was selling ‘navajo patterned’ FLASKS in its store last week. the irony alone was nearly enough to kill me. but they didnt understand (or more likely, care) that this appropriates indigenous culture and isnt ok. so folks talked about it and wrote letters and they pulled it. yeah its a small victory, but its a victory. at some point, someone has to change the norms. when UO prints bs racist t-shirts (which they like to do at random every few years) the community effected always calls them on it. eventually, they’ll either figure out how not to offend people, or they’ll go out of business. either way, its a win-win.

    • http://twitter.com/sephirajo Johanna Roberts

      The term Indian was a British one, however the phrase is very American. Could’ve plugged that one into google to find it out. ;)

  • BarbaraBackyard

    I could be wrong, but I remember a story from Oregon that the settlers were given/or traded horses by the native folks and when the settlers were observed being harsh and brutal to the horses the native people went took the horses back.

  • http://twitter.com/btweenthelinesf BetweenTheLinesSF

    The fact that she also claims that they somehow didn’t make any money off of the whole ($10 million) wedding (they didn’t pay for) makes this even more vomitious. Racist terms like this are, unfortunately, very prevalent. Getting “gypped” or “jewed” out of something are also good/horrible examples.

  • Andrew Etcitty

    Ya’a’teeh, Brad Talk –

    The struggle to overcome all obstacles indigenous/aboriginal people face while participating in the dominant society is not limited to a single or select group of issues at once, it’s a fight on all fronts all day, every day. Among the multitudes of problems we encounter, some people choose decolonization or food sovereignty. Thankfully there are those who choose to focus their spare time on Native Appropriations. To address these issues we have to explain or prove their origin and explain how we may correct or overcome them as amicably as possible.

    Also, your point about the etymological origin of “Indian Giver” appears to be incomplete to the point where I think you’re trolling for responses. A simple search would have supplied you with a well researched and, more importantly, cited reference point:

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=America

    “An Indian gift is a proverbial expression, signifying a present for which an equivalent return is expected. [Thomas Hutchinson, "History of Massachusetts Bay," 1765]”

    That’s from a site maintained by this guy:
    http://www.etymonline.com/columns/bio.htm

    I see nothing wrong with the Kardashian’s claiming to be part indigenous/aboriginal, but I do take issue with it if they’re using it as an excuse to dress “indian” without any respect or relevance to their claim of indigenous ancestry, That would be like me, a Diné person, dressing in traditional Ojibwe clothing without any regard to the cultural significance of the symbolism their style of dress represents in their society. That would be disrespectful and offensive not only to the Ojibwe, but to my people as well because I am a reflection of them.

  • Mary Stewart Ritchie

    Seems more likely to me to mean any object, which the White settlers wanted back was gifted TO the Native Americans, hence, an Indian Gift (meaning a gift given to an Indian) FROM the Indian Giver ( Reference to white person). Not a reference to the Indian, but to “White” people.

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t it clear what White Man did to the Native Americans (Indians)? They are the ones who gave to the “Indians” and took back. For example: Treaties, Rights, Promises and Land.
    WHITE MAN IS THE “INDIAN GIVER!!”

    Native 24/7

  • littleocean

    I’m with Mary. I’ve thought for a long time that the phrase referred to the white men who broke their deals with the indians. But I’m sure not many people think about it that way.

    • http://twitter.com/sephirajo Johanna Roberts

      I always thought that was it too.

  • TeddyKnot1

    I never knew that Indian Giver had any negative connotations – I always thought that it meant the whites gave things to the Indians (land) and then took it back.

  • Neasa Seneca

    My father always said the term Indian giver came from the practice of expecting a gift in return, when the two cutures would meet, in regards to some issue, as a sign of respect and peaceful relations. Therefore it only pertained to American Indian/White relations, and not intratribal relations. But it is a racist term and should be ceased to be used, much like Indian summer or “off the reservation,” which I find particularly offensive.

  • Nicole Tripp

    “Ever heard of giveaways? or Potlatches?”

    Orrrrr saving the white race from certain death when they bounced onto a new continent and had no idea wtf they were doing?

  • http://nijireiki.livejournal.com genevievelopez

    1. Kris Jenner is stupid.
    2. I’ve definitely heard “Indian giver,” but only from White people, and only in the context of “someone gave me something and now wants it back.” From my (admittedly contextual) understanding, I figured that was in reference to “treaties” over land “sales” from indigenous peoples to settling Europeans/Euro-Americans.
    3. I know engagement rings are considered promissory gifts (if you break off a wedding beforehand, whoever gave the ring gets it back from the giftee), but I assume that afterwards that would depend on the divorce settlement/prenup or lack thereof?
    4. Which is also Kim Kardashian’s business and not her mother’s?
    5. …Kris Jenner is stupid.

  • Kendi

    On a side note, I have been wondering about the etymology of terms such as “Indian summer” – I can only assume it’s an American term, but how wrong is it to say? What about foods that are called things like “Indian ice cream,” “Indian cheese,” and “Indian corn” by the general populace? Are these okay because they refer to the food? I obviously don’t think the incorrect usage of ‘Indian’ is okay at all, but what would they say instead?