SALT LAKE CITY - "Anasazi," the word for prehistoric Four Corners inhabitants that today adorns everything from a sign shop in Moab to a Colorado motel to a New Mexico beauty pageant, appears to have joined the ranks of the politically incorrect.
From a Navajo word that literally means "ancestral enemies," the term always has bothered the Hopi and other Pueblo tribes who claim to be descendants of the Anasazi.
"It's what the Navajos called the Hopi and other Pueblo people, the `enemy of old,' and we feel that sort of interpretation is very derogatory, since the Hopi religion doesn't call anyone an enemy," says Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Tribe Cultural Preservation Office.
Hopis have lobbied to abolish the word and persuaded some agencies, like Mesa Verde National Park, to adopt terms such as "ancestral puebloans" to describe the early Four Corners civilization rather than Anasazi.
Not everyone is eager to switch, however.
"We've been told we should maybe use the word `Hisatsinom,' instead of Anasazi, and that's a Hopi word that I, as a Navajo, don't use," says Irv Francisco, a ranger at Navajo National Monument near Kayenta, Ariz. "It's my language, not theirs, and Anasazi is our own form we use to refer to these people." Words fall out of favor
The word debate goes beyond Anasazi. Around the Southwest, a handful of common, psuedo-archaeological terms are falling out of favor.
A Four Corners field guide to endangered words:
-- "Primitive," because it connotes no skills, and "these people could do things to survive out here that we've long since forgotten," says Art Hutchinson, superintendent of Hovenweep National Monument.
-- "Ruins," because "people expect them to be ruined," says Butch Wilson of Chaco Culture National Historic Park. "We have 500,000 square feet of pueblo structure that needs to be repaired, and if you use the term ruins to a congressman, they ask, `Well, isn't it supposed to molder away?' "
-- "Ancient," since "it implies a lack of continuity," says Cortez, Colo., author Ian Thompson, who has written about Southwestern archaeology and cultures for 30 years. "I no longer refer to ancient Pueblo Indians, but I will write about ancient dwellings or ancient communities that are no longer inhabited."
Unlike generally recognized offensive terms such as "redskin" and "squaw," this new course in sensitivity training has many Anglos - and American Indians - debating the limits of cultural accommodation. Even the phrase "rock art," used in countless guide books to describe the prehistoric pictographs unique to this part of the country, is being discouraged by Hopi leaders.
"I understand the Anasazi thing, but then I heard the complaint that we shouldn't use `rock art' because it means there's some kind of interpretation going on that we as non-Hopis should not be engaging in," says Dale Davidson, archaeologist with the Bureau of Land Management in Monticello. "My first reaction was, `Hey, we're not saying `rock crap.' We're being honorific, we're admiring it as artwork."
Not just art
But Hopis say viewing panels of petroglyphs as simply art shows a lack of understanding of the native culture that produced them.
"I tried to see if the Hopi had a term that was equal to the English word `art' and we don't," says Kuwanwisiwma. "These symbols are the story of our people and by calling it art the Hopi simply feel you've taken something very important and relegated it to something less important. It's like calling the Bible a good story."
The debate about culturally sensitive terminology has gathered momentum since two additions to federal policy: Passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in 1990, which allowed tribes to take possession of cultural items from museum collections, and a 1994 executive order by President Clinton, ordering federal agencies to conduct business "in a knowledgeable, sensitive manner respectful of tribal rights and sovereignty."
"American Indians have historically been excluded from the scientific examination of their past," says state archaeologist Kevin Jones of the Utah Division of History. "A sense of `us and them' has dominated studies of the American Indian. Now they are trying to have some influence on how their history is interpreted."
While most researchers welcome the fresh perspective, Jones says the situation can create conflicts.
"As scientists, we are wary of any cultural group trying to dictate how we write about their past," he says. "How I would write about myself is different than how you would write about me."
Also behind the Hopi push to discourage the use of "Anasazi" is the long-standing feud over land and reservation boundaries between the Hopi and Navajo, a fight that harbors deep-seated animosities.
"This gets down to Navajos usurping Hopi and Puebloan traditions as their own, from pottery and weaving to social and religious views," says Hopi Kuwanwisiwma, whose reservation is surrounded by the Navajo Nation.