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NPR: The history behind the 'Don't be an Indian giver' phrase

Filed Under: Sports
More on: stereotypes
     

Exploring the history behind the "Indian giver" phrase:
The concept of an "Indian gift" or an "Indian giver" traces its roots back to at least the 1700s. In his 1765 , "Thomas Hutchinson defined an Indian gift as a present "for which an equivalent return is expected."

During their legendary journey West in 1804, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark often encountered Indians over the course of their travels. The picture the pair paints of Indians and their culture was not pretty. Lewis and Clark frequently suspected Indians of either stealing their belongings or plotting to do so. Gifts in particular, as Thomas P. Slaughter points out in his book Exploring Lewis and Clark: Reflections on Men and Wilderness, frequently created problems for the explorers.

Slaughter writes that in one instance, a group of Indians offered Lewis and Clark some roots, which the explorers rejected because they felt that "[the Indians'] expectation for those presents of a few roots is three or four times their real worth." Turning down the gift, however, insulted their hosts and led Lewis and Clark to label the Indians "forward and impertinent, and thievish," in their journals.

But what Lewis and Clark viewed as impertinence may just have been author David Wilton argues in his 2004 book Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends that the concept of an "Indian gift" arose when white settlers :

Get the Story:
The History Behind The Phrase 'Don't Be An Indian Giver' (NPR 9/2)


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