Kemosabe Not Racist Term

Who Was That Masked Man? (Reuters)

“Kemosabe,” the name given to the Lone Ranger by his friend Tonto in the 1950s TV western, is not a racist term, a Canadian court has found. The ruling was delivered by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal last week in a case involving a native Canadian woman who complained that the manager of the store where she worked had created a poisoned environment by calling her kemosabe. The manager of the second-hand sports store, in Sydney, Nova Scotia, argued kemosabe was a term he used to address customers as well as employees.

The court ruling confirmed a earlier decision by a Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission board of inquiry. That decision was made after the board spent a full shift watching “Lone Ranger” reruns.
The board found that at the start of their relationship, Tonto, a native American, had recognized the injured Lone Ranger as the man who had saved his life years before, and started calling him kemosabe. “When asked what it meant, Tonto responded ‘trusty friend,'” the board found. “Both the Lone Ranger and Tonto treat one another with respect…At no time during the episodes is the term kemosabe ever used in a demeaning or derogatory manner.” The board found, however, that while Tonto was always treated with respect, the long-running U.S. TV series treated other native American characters in a demeaning manner.

Aren’t you all glad that the election is over, so that we can focus on more important things?

FILED UNDER: Environment, Law and the Courts, Popular Culture, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ok — well, there is a legitimate story that several of the Lone Ranger writers were Indians (feathers not dots), and the word Kemosabe is a derivative of “quien no sabe,” which translates as “you don’t understand.”

    So every time the Lone Ranger spoke to Tonto (translation = “dumb”), what Tonto constantly did was to remind the white man that he didn’t truly understand what was going on.

    But I think you have to go to grad school for at least 8 years to understand such nuance.

  2. Eric says:

    “What you mean “we,” White Man?