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Racialicious explores Michael Steele, “Honest Injun” and “Injun” in children’s books:

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – published in 1876, where “evil is embodied in the treacherous figure of Injun Joe,” (p. x of the intro to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Signet Classic book published in 2002) and in the oath used several times by characters.

Seems to me, in my cursory study of the phrase, that it may have been coined by Twain. In the entry on “Injun,” the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists Twain as the first person to use “Injun.” It also lists several other noted writers who used “Honest Injun.” Some are George Bernard Shaw in 1896 and James Joyce (in Ulysses) in 1922.

And you can find “Injun” in new books, like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly, published in 2009. It appears twice in Kelly’s book, on page 135 and 251. In both instances, it is used as an oath. Here’s the relevant excerpt on page 135?

“Double-Injun-blood-brothers-swear-to-die-promise?”

“Double Injun.”

“It doesn’t count unless you say the whole thing,” he said.

“Saaaam.”

“Okay, okay, okay. But say it, huh?”

“Double Injun blood brothers swear to die,” I said. “Now leave me alone.”

Kelly used it again on page 251:

She swore the deepest double-Injun-blood-brothers oath for me.

I have not read Kelly’s book, so I have no idea what the two characters in the exchange are talking about. The novel is set in 1899 and the oath was in use by then. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is getting a lot of buzz this year. There’s a lot of people hoping it’ll get one of the top prizes (the Newberry Medal).

Given that attention, I hope that teachers are taking the opportunity to talk with students about that word, “Injun.” Read more…

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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