DEAR ABBY: How "white" of you! When "A Proud Shoshone" in Wisconsin asked about the origin of the term "Indian giver," you went to the printed reference books. Why didn't you ask a tribal elder?
Our elders have taught us that the term described Native actions in a negative light because whites did not understand them. (There are more than 500 tribes, so a blanket statement or description is impossible and inaccurate.)
In some tribes, if someone admired something, the owner gave it to the admirer. If good will existed, a Native would give a gift to a person. If something happened to destroy that good will or friendship, the Native would take back the gift.
It was a basic, simple act, totally misunderstood by the Europeans, who thought it was terrible and made it more than it truly was. -- A PROUD CHEROKEE/COLVILLE
DEAR PROUD CHEROKEE: You are not the only person who took me to task for printing the Henry Holt Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins' definition of the term "Indian giver." I got a bale of mail on the subject. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: The term "Indian giver" has to do with honor. Indians were great gift givers. If the person receiving the gift did something that was dishonorable or otherwise brought shame, the giver could ask for the gift to be returned. The giver did not want to be guilty by association. -- LACY R. BETHEA JR., TUCSON, ARIZ.