For years, history textbooks, Hollywood films, and works of frontier fiction have instilled in the average American's mind the names of the Native American tribes that have populated the continent of North America for centuries. The only problem with this is the fact that the majority of these names are incorrect.
In a show of ethnocentricity that is congruent with historical data about most large societies, the indigenous tribes of America often times refered to themselves with a word in their language which meant "we the people," since they often saw themselves, the same as many cultures, as being the pinnacle of human existence.
What follows are examples of well known Native American tribe names, where these names actually came from, and what the true tribe designation actually is.
Navajo is a word associated with this nomadic people by the sedentary Tewa Pueblo Indians. Historians differ on what the word actually meant, but it was likely either "thieves" or "takers from the fields." The Navajo people actually refered to themselves as the Dine, which meant "we the people."
The Apache also originally refered to their tribe as the Dine. They were given the name Apache by the neighboring Zuni tribes. Apache, in the Zuni language, meant "enemies."
Papagos, a tribe found in southern Arizona, were given their name by the Pima Indians. Papagos means "bean-eaters." The Pima, on the other hand, were called as such by Spanish explorers. Pima means "I don't know," which is apparently the answer they gave the explorers when asked in Spanish what their name was. The Pima are actually called Tohono O'otam, or "desert people." Unlike many Native American tribes, the Tohono O'otam do not accept their alternate name, and to this day prefer to be known by their true tribe designation.
Other examples include the Inuit of Canada and Alaska which means, three guesses here...that's right, "we the people." The name of Eskimo commonly given to them was a designation given to them by the Cree. Eskimo means "those who eat raw flesh." The Sioux tribes refer to themselves as Dakotas or Lakotas, which meant "allies" or simply, "people," but their enemies, the Ojibwes (also read Chippewas) named them Nadouwesioux, which meant "little snakes." Interestingly enough, it was the French that shortened the name to just "Sioux."
Not all alternate tribe names are derogatory. The Lenape Indians, found on the east coast of America, were renamed the Delawares by British settlers, after the British war hero Lord De La Ware. Even Columbus refering to the native Arawaks of the Caribbean as "Indians" wasn't derogatory, since he indeed thought that he had found the East Indies.
As I mentioned above, few Native American tribes today do anything to change public knowledge about their true names. Two of the most well known tribes mentioned, the Apache and the Navajo, accept their new designations and do not press to be called Dine.
Source: Lies Across America. by James W. Loewen ISBN-0684870673