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The Indians in the Lobby: Honest Language

Scott Palasik

I’m a big fan of the West Wing TV series from the early 2000s. I have probably watched all seven seasons straight at least five times. There is one episode titled “The Indians in the Lobby,”but in short, this is where one of my journeys of self-discovery began. 


Let me first state that I am part Native American. Originally from upstate New York, many of our areas are named after Native American tribes or groups. I grew up with stories of how my great-grandpa Joe married an Ottawa woman in the late 1800s. So you could say my life has always been associated with Native Americans.


Yet, the language I was taught in school and at home was the word “Indian.” Again, no judgment here, just stating facts.


Let’s come back to the episode of the West Wing titled “The Indians in Lobby.” I remember when I first saw this episode. Then, something inside me was jarred loose, never to be settled again. 


It was something I didn’t know at the time that would forever change how I saw my education and how I used language. Of course, I felt uncomfortable, but it turned out I was on the verge of self-discovery.


The episode takes place the day before Thanksgiving, where two Native Americans from the Munsee tribe. The two stand in the lobby of the White House, waiting to talk to someone about an application they submitted 15 years ago for acquiring some of their lands back. It takes the two all day until they finally receive a compromise they can be agreed upon, which includes a conversation with someone important the day after Thanksgiving. 


As I watched the episode, I was conscious of the growing unsettledness. It was not just one thing; it was many things. Here are just a few:

  • Sadness: The visual of these people waiting patiently for hours brought me sadness. The sadness intensified after guilt entered my heart as I thought about how they were made to wait for many, upon many, years for an answer about getting back land that was violently stolen from them. I don’t know what it feels like to have my culture pushed away and told to wait with no end in sight. As a predominantly white male, I felt pain for them.
  • Past Brutality: Although no one on the show was ever mean to these Native Americans, the idea that American culture was based on brutality toward Native Americans started to become clear and clear. 
  • Derogatory: For the first time in my life, it hit me that the word “Indian” was not a term that Native Americans chose for themselves. Christopher Columbus used the word to label the people he found when he landed in 1492. By itself, this is a disrespectful use of language and to Native Americans. 


Ever since the day I saw this episode, I’ve thought about the language I use. You see, the language we choose can start with how we address people. The behavior of correctly approaching people takes thought, compassion, and a lack of ego. 


Especially during Thanksgiving, we can attempt to learn a little more about the Native American culture. We can start by not calling them Indians. 


The term “Indian” was a word Christopher Columbus gave to the Native Americans in error. He thought he had reached South Asia. That means that the phrase, by its very nature, is a mistake. Why perpetuate an error? 


This has led me to take time to research new languages that might be more honest and accurate. You see, a shift in language can help us communicate more effectively with those around us. The more effective we can be with the language we choose, the more success we might find in our daily lives. 


Honest language, based on kindness, will always win the day. The language we use is extremely powerful with how we show others we care about them. 


Compassionate, empathetic, and caring language leads the way in discovering how to best connect with a variety of people. But, significantly, people we don’t know or that we differ from. 


Keep evolving. Learn to care for yourself and others. Be well, be you!


With compassion and kindness, 


Co-host of the "Act To Live Podcast"

Author of "Let’ Walk Together: The Act To Live Podcast Blog"

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About the blogger

Scott Palasik, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Scott values compassion and kindness toward himself and others. He values honesty and the power of creative expression. With these core values, Scott chose to pursue a life of helping others with communication disorders as a skilled Speech-Language Pathologist. 

As a person who stutters, Scott has seen the ups and downs of struggling with daily communication and what comes with trying to manage the negative perceptions both internally and externally about communication disorder. 

With 3C, Scott hopes to spread the idea that we can all support each other with education, collaboration of ideas, and to help us all build social capital for an accepting and caring community of communicators.

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