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The Native American name controversy is a dispute over the acceptable terminology of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and to the broad subsets thereof, such as those living in a specific country or sharing certain cultural attributes.

People have used many English words or phrases for indigenous peoples, often in an attempt to be more culturally specific, or to avoid terms widely considered to be outdated, inaccurate, or racist. Some terms in use are Native Americans, Original Americans, First Peoples, First Nations, and Indigenous Peoples of America. Indian remains in use among Native Americans, especially as an in-group usage, but in wider usage it is often qualified, as in American Indians, Amerindians, and Amerinds.

Many prefer to avoid a pan-Indian naming, and identify as their particular Nation, Tribe or Band (e.g.: Lakota, Seneca, Cheyenne).

In an attempt to recognize indigenous peoples of the United States and their primacy of tenure in the nation, the US Government began using the term "Native American" during the latter half of the 20th century.

None of the alternatives is accepted by all indigenous peoples. Typically each name has a particular audience, political or cultural connotation, and regional acceptance.



Generalized arguments about any naming convention

  • sentimental attachment to a previous name (example: "Indian" is a name many elders were raised with, and their families may continue to use the term the elders are familiar with);
  • the feeling that a term is quaint or pejorative, as for Eskimo;
  • the notion that a name was provided by an outsider and not the individual Tribe or Indian people at large (The argument that Indian came from Columbus; though some argue it derives from "en dios" (God's people); Nez Perce is a French word; "Native American" was coined by the US Government);
  • the name is inherently racist, or has over time acquired racist overtones;
  • the name was assigned by an "occupying" and oppressive government or exploration;[1]
  • the name is too inclusive or not inclusive enough of all indigenous people, so does not effectively convey the "group" intended. (Aboriginal is often first associated with Australian Aborigines, Indigenous is used by the UN to indicate all tribal peoples around the world. Native American does not generally include Canadians and Mexicans);
  • reluctance of individual Nations to be referred to by a collective, "racial" name; and
  • suggestion that a universal/collective name reinforces the erroneous stereotypes of "a" single Native American culture, with one type of Indian, one religion, one set of beliefs and one language.

Specific arguments about particular names

  • At the United Nations Conference on Indians in the Americas, representatives of many Nations and tribes collectively decided to call themselves "American Indians".[1]
  • The general connection of "Indian" to India, an error in naming from the earliest contact.
  • Application of the name "American" to people not from the United States. (Names such as "Native Canadian" are explicitly used by Canadian tribes to change that ambiguity).
  • Specific application of a more generalized term like "Native", which by definition suggests that anyone born within a country is a "Native" of that country, thus creating legal and social arguments over what "Native" means in any context.
  • Conflict with prior legal definitions, as well as legal definitions from different countries (such as Aboriginal and its use in Australia).
  • Political and legal implications of the name, as with Native or Nation.

Further complications arise when translating names between different languages, since even words that are closely related linguistically may have different cultural meanings in the respective speaker communities. "The People", "First People", "Human Beings" and "Original People" are the most common translations for various Indigenous American tribes. [2]

In some countries, certain broad names have been defined by law, such as First Nations and Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Even in those cases, there may be lingering debates on whether certain groups fit the legal definition or not, or whether the name or its definition are adequate.

Endonyms and exonyms

Where controversy exists over the naming of a group of people, one solution is to use the name preferred by the people. However, this principle applies poorly to large multi-ethnic groups, since different sub-groups often have incompatible preferences. Moreover, every natural language has traditionally ignored this principle, exerting its privilege to invent its own ethnic terms for other peoples. Speakers of the English language are no exception, and use terms such as Germans, Dutch, and Albanians, disregarding the self-appellations and preferences of those subjects (Deutsche, Nederlanders, and Shqiptarët). Not surprisingly, English names for the pre-Columbian Americans were largely assigned by tradition. They are not always accepted by the peoples themselves.

Meanings of basic terms

A major source of confusion and controversy is that many of the words that are or could be used in naming those peoples are inherently ambiguous or inappropriate.


The use of term Indian for the natives of the Americas originated with Christopher Columbus, who mistakenly believed that the Antilles were the islands of the Indian Ocean, known to Europeans as the Indies, which he had hoped to reach by sailing west across the Atlantic. Even though Columbus' mistake was soon recognized, the name stuck, and for centuries the native people of the Americas were collectively called Indians. Despite this, Indian activist Russell Means interprets the term as deriving not from a confusion with India but from a Spanish expression En Dios, meaning "in God".[3]

2. Of or pertaining to the aborigines, or Indians, of America; as, Indian wars; the Indian tomahawk. [1913 Webster]

2. One of the aboriginal inhabitants of America;– so called originally from the supposed identity of America with India. [1913 Webster][4]

The American Heritage Dictionary excludes "Eskimos, Aleuts, and Inuit" from Indian in an American context.[5]

The 2006 Associated Press Stylebook recommends use of the term American Indian and reserves Native American only for direct quotations and names of organizations. In the past, the neologism Amerind was suggested to eliminate confusion.

The terms "Indian" and "American Indian" are used by the U.S. government as standard descriptors. There is a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), for example. Similarly, the Smithsonian's new National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC (2004), uses the older term, as does its quarterly full-color publication, American Indian.[6]

In Canada, although all governments are now careful to use the terms First Nations (for "Indians") and aboriginals (First Nations, plus Métis and Inuit), the federal ministerial portfolio in charge of their affairs is the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, and "Indian Reserve" is still a legal land description. Some First Nations also use "Indian Band" in their official names.

While still in use in parts of Europe, the usage "Red Indian" is offensive to many, and archaic in the United States and Canada.

In Mexico, the use of "indio" is offensive to some, and sometimes a cause of dispute.


The meaning of American has two common meanings: while it may refer to the Americas in general (meaning 1), it often refers specifically (therefore not exclusively) to the United States of America and its territories (meaning 2).[4] Further,

A native of America;– originally applied to the aboriginal inhabitants, but now applied to the descendants of Europeans born in America, and especially to the citizens of the United States. [1913 Webster][4]

WordNet gives the primary meaning as the U.S., the secondary as the language, and the tertiary as the Americas.[7]

Merriam-Webster gives (1) an American Indian of the Americas; (2) an inhabitant of the Americas, native or not; (3) a U.S. citizen; and (4) the language.[8] The American Heritage Dictionary gives three meanings as Merriam-Webster, without "an American Indian".[5]


The word "native" (from Latin natus meaning "born") has often been applied to ethnic groups to mean "a group who lived in some place before the arrival of other groups"; in this context, specifically, "before the arrival of the Europeans".

However, a more specific meaning of "native" is "born in," and thus the term native American or native of the Americas could be applicable to anyone born in the Americas or in United States. The word probably acquired the other (ethno-historical) sense in the early years of European naval exploration and colonial expansion, when the "natives"—the people "born in" the foreign countries—were indeed non-Europeans.

Expressions such as native-born may be used to further qualify that the intended meaning is the common one (i.e., "born in or originating from a given place"), and not the formal, specific designation (i.e., "Native" in the sense of belonging to an identified indigenous group), if the context does not otherwise make this distinction clear. Whether such nicety of definition justifies a tautologous neologism only time will tell.

Furthermore, in the United States the expression "Native American" has acquired a specific technical and legal meaning, which is discussed in a later section. In principle this narrower sense is indicated by capitalizing the word "Native". However, one must be aware that this typographical detail is easily lost on careless readers, and of course ineffective in speech.

The term "Native American" as a sort of disfranchisement applies to most people born in the United States after 1776. For example, a living person born in the United States whose great-great grandparents were all born in Europe would be neither Native American nor Native European.

The word "native" can also have political implications, since "native" ethnic groups may lay claim to specific rights not available to the "non-native" groups who arrived later. These rights can include historical or traditional rights to natural resources, including rights granted by treaties, or political offices which are only open to those of a particular Nation.

Native Americans have lived and traveled their "usual and accustomed grounds" (a common treaty term)[9] since the end of the last glacial period (c. 8000 BC),[10] along the northern tier of what is now the United States, definitively at least 4000 BC in what is now Seattle, for one example.[11] Native Americans have lived elsewhere in the Americas far longer. When the people of the Norte Chico were building at least seven large-scale settlements on the Peruvian coast between 3200 BC and 2500 BC, there was only one other urban complex on the planet: Sumer, in the Tigris-Euphrates valley.[12]

Such claims (or the possibility thereof) may lead to rejection of the label by the "non-natives". These may argue, e.g., that the "natives" themselves were invaders to even earlier inhabitants; or that they are no longer residing on their "native" land; or that there is insufficient historical evidence of their native status; and so on. The issue boils down to the undecidable question of how long a group should reside in a place before it deserves the label "native".


Even though the term "indigenous" may sound similar to "Indian," the two are quite unrelated. The term comes from Latin indigena, "native," formed from indu "in" and gen- "beget".

According to The American Heritage Dictionary: "Indigenous specifies that something or someone is native rather than coming or being brought in from elsewhere: an indigenous crop; the Ainu, a people indigenous to the northernmost islands of Japan."[13]

Aboriginal and Aborigine

The English adjective "aboriginal" and the noun "aborigine" come from a Latin phrase meaning "from the origin," which was first applied to native peoples of central Italy who were contemporaries of the ancient Romans.

According to this etymology, therefore, it could be used for ethnic groups who "were there since the beginning," i.e. the first to arrive in a region, or those who can be identified in the earliest historical or archaeological records. Indeed, it has been occasionally used in this sense in English, at least since the 19th century, for indigenous populations all over the world, including the Americas.

Aboriginal may imply a more direct or ancient link to the past (especially one that predates recorded history) than indigenous, but there is considerable overlap in meaning between the two terms.

However, this general use has been largely preempted by narrower legal or common usage definitions that it has received in some countries. Throughout most of the English-speaking world, it is commonly understood to refer to the Indigenous Australians. It has also special legal status in Canada (see below).

The term Amerigine, another possible single-word term for indigenous American, and initially used as a reference term in studies of American prehistory, was proposed by the author, B. Jonson in 1961 [14], as it also could be derived from "aboriginal".

Names for United States native peoples

In the United States, Native American and American Indian are commonly used to denote the indigenous peoples in the United States. Both terms are almost exclusively used to describe the natives of the contiguous United States, usually excluding the indigenous peoples of Hawaiʻi and the Aleut, Inuit, and Yupik peoples of the far north.

The terms Alaska Natives is used for the indigenous peoples in Alaska (including the Aleut, Inuit, and Yupik peoples), and Native Hawaiians is used for those of Hawaiʻi.

Indian and American Indian

"American Indian" is often a legal term. It is the phrase used to describe indigenous people of the Americas in United States Federal as well as many state and local laws. Most treaties refer to "American Indians" of a particular tribe. Hence, the term "American Indians" is often used when referring to legal issues (eg "The United States signed treaties with more than 800 American Indian tribes".) In addition, the term "Indian" is used twice in the U.S. Constitution.[15]

In the 1960s and 1970s efforts were made to change "Indian" to "Native American" or, sometimes, "Amerindian".[16] It was not entirely successful, with the new name being as problematic as the old.[16] For one, it can on the literal level mean anyone born anywhere in the Americas, not just Indians.[16] For another, users of the old term "Indian" had not typically included the people of the far north (Inuit, Aleut, etc.), but the new term implicitly grouped them with their neighbors to the south, thus losing a distinction that some had found useful.[16]

Many of those involved prefer Indian or American Indian to Native Americans.[17] Charles C. Mann noted in his 2005 book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus that "every native person whom I have met (I think without exception) has used 'Indian' rather than 'Native American'."[16] Russell Means, an activist in the American Indian Movement, said in 1998, "I abhor the term Native American...I prefer the term American Indian because I know its origins."[3][16]

One historical basis for the distaste that many Indians have for the designation "Native American" stems from non-Christian aspects of the early Native American Church. In its Annual Report for the year 1916, the Indian Rights Association (IRA) included an article entitled "The Ravages of Peyote," which attacked the "baneful" effects of the peyote religion: "[a farmer's] health is often affected, and interest is lost in the things which tend to better living." The Report describes Native American Church practices as unchristian, indulgent, and sexualized.[18](As a defensive measure, in 1918, the peyote religion adopted its current name, Native American Church, first in Oklahoma, and in at least six other states by 1925).

The term American Indian is often shortened to Indian when the context allows, e.g. in the name of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs. The derivative term Injun is considered offensive.

Native American

Description and usage

The term Native American was introduced in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s by those who hoped it would be more accurate than Indian and free from its negative stereotypes. What it means exactly depends on the context of its use, and who is using it, and is thus often a great source of confusion. It can mean:

  1. All Indians of the Americas;
  2. All Indians of the Americas, excluding the Inuit, Aleut, native Hawaiians and some others who arrived later;
  3. Indians indigenous to pre-Columbian America who are presently living in the United States, including Inuit, Aleuts, Hawaiians and native Pacific Islanders (Native American Languages Act of 1990);
  4. All Indians of the Americas, including the U.S. and Canada but not including Mexico or further south; and
  5. Anyone born in the Americas, including those of European descent, for example.

Many of those who are covered by the term strongly prefer "American Indian" over "Native American".[19][20] According to the US Census Bureau, as of 1995 50% preferred "American Indian", 37% "Native American", and the remainder preferred other terms or had no preference.[21] The term has also been contested by some non-Native U.S. citizens, both for the perception that the name diminished their own status or rights (anyone born in the US could be called a "Native American"), and also as part of the general backlash against "political correctness", for which the term was often cited as an example. However, there is a growing consensus that either term is correct and that the terms may be used interchangeably.[22] However, many now prefer to be designated by their specific tribe.[22]


In the 19th century in the United States, "Native American" when applied to people meant they supported anti-immigrant platform primarily opposed to the influx of Irish, German, and Catholic immigrants. The term nativism originates in this meaning of "Native American". It also had related meaning of "originating in the United States of America", as in the titles of books (from the Online Catalog of the Library of Congress database, OCLC):

Native American Balladry (G. Malcolm Laws, 1964)
Native American Humor (Walter Blair, 1960)
Native American: the Book of My Youth (Ray Stannard Baker, 1941)
A Native American (William Saroyan, 1938)
Native American Anarchism (Eunice Minette Schuster, 1932, 1970)

In The Peyote Cult, (Yale University Press, 1938, 5th ed. 1989), Weston La Barre traces the meaning of "Native American" as "American Indian" to the year 1918, when leaders of the Peyote Religion in Oklahoma incorporated as the Native American Church (of Oklahoma). In 1950 they incorporated as the Native American Church of North America.

In 1918, the State of Oklahoma repealed its earlier ban against the sacramental use of psychotropic peyote. But the same year, the national Bureau of Indian Affairs sought to impose a federal ban. In response, a group of Oto, Kiowa, and Arapaho met at Cheyenne, Oklahoma to "decide upon measures of defense for peyotism." The group considered but rejected a proposed name of "First-born Church of Christ". "The title ultimately chosen was the 'Native American Church', which emphasized the intertribal solidarity of the cult, as well as its aboriginality." (Quoted material is from La Barre, page 169.)

Among the earliest titles (in the OCLC database) in which "Native American" means "American Indian" are these:

Peyote Songs: Music of the Native American Church of North America (Indian) (sound recording, 1967)
Native American Arts (Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Washington, D.C., 1968)
Buffalo Hearts, A Native American's View of Indian Culture, Religion and History (Sun Bear, 1970)
Indian Voices: the Native American Today (Convocation of American Indian Scholars, 1971)
Native American tribalism; Indian Suvivals and Renewals (D'Arcy McNicle, 1973)

The Oxford English Dictionary (article on "Native", note 15) offers the year 1956 as the earliest usage of "Native American" meaning "North American Indian", the example being a letter in which Aldous Huxley mentioned the "Native American churchmen." The only other early-usage examples are dated 1973–1974 and are from the Black Panther and New Society magazines. One of the articles refers to the Native American Church and the other two do not.

To summarize: "Native American" originally meant "originating in America" (specifically the United States), without reference to American Indians. In 1918, the "Native American Church" was incorporated. Beginning in the 1960s, the term "Native American", sometimes pertaining to the Church and sometimes not, began to appear more widely in titles of books, magazine articles, and musical recordings.

Alaska Native

In Alaska, the term Alaska Native predominates, because of its legal use in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) and because it includes the Aleut, Inuit and Yupik peoples, the three groups of native Alaskan peoples.

Eskimos was once used for those groups, but this term is in disfavor because it is perceived by many of them as derogatory. Because non-natives sometimes use the term Inuit to refer to any of the groups, leading non-Inuit (particularly the Yupik peoples) prefer Eskimo, comparatively speaking. Inuit are "a people inhabiting the Arctic (northern Canada or Greenland or Alaska or eastern Siberia); the Algonquians called them Eskimo ('eaters of raw flesh') but they call themselves the Inuit ('the people') [syn: {Esquimau}, {Eskimo}]."[7]


The term Amerind is a blended form of American Indian,[23] though it can also be parsed as a blend of American and Indigenous. It was coined in 1902 by the American Anthropological Association.

Disfavored terms

In interactions with white Americans, a variety of terms were used to indicate Native Americans. Most of these terms are now considered politically incorrect because of the history of relations between the two groups. Older literature may use these terms without pejorative intent, although this is unlikely in modern literature.


Some Europeans called Native Americans redskins; it was one of the color metaphors for race which colonists and settlers historically used in North America and Europe. It is similar to "pale face" or "pale skin", a term which some Native Americans used for Europeans. Such terms are often considered pejorative. As with any term perceived to be discriminatory, different individuals may hold differing opinions of the term's appropriateness. There is an American football team named the Washington Redskins.

The term's use was not restricted to the United States or North America. The English-speaking world and Europeans, in transliterations, used redskin and the similar term "red Indian" throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to refer to indigenous Americans. For example, the French translation peaux-rouges was used by Arthur Rimbaud in Le Bateau ivre and Jean Raspail in several of his travelogues.


Anthropologists once used savage as a blanket word to refer to indigenous peoples worldwide (e.g. Bronisław Malinowski titled his 1929 study The Sexual Life of Savages). At the beginning of the nineteenth century, representatives of the relatively new United States government often used the term in official records when referring to Indian nations (see, e.g., Justice Baldwin's concurring opinion in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia[24])

Other derogatory terms

European Christians once broadly used the word "heathens" to refer to Native Americans, a pejorative term related to their religious beliefs, or perceived lack of them (because they were not Christian).

Today, "Injun" is an intentional-mispronunciation of "Indian", generally used in a joking way to mock or impersonate Native Americans' supposed accented English (e.g. "Honest Injun", "Injun time").[25] These words are now considered derogatory.

Most Native Americans consider "squaw" to be derogatory when used for Native American women. Similarly, they do not use "Indian princess", holding it demeaning to Native American women.

Names for Canadian native peoples

Aboriginal peoples in Canada

In Canada, the term Aboriginal peoples in Canada is used for all indigenous peoples established in the country, including the Inuit and Inuvialuit, as well as the Métis.[26 ]

Constitution Act, 1982 section 35. (2) In this Act, "aboriginal peoples of Canada" includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.[27]

Although it appears in the constitution, Canadians do not commonly use the term to refer to indigenous American peoples. People in the United States and United Kingdom sometimes use aboriginal to refer to indigenous peoples. The alternative term indigenous peoples (or tribes or nations) has been used as equivalent to Aboriginal peoples. The term First Nations is used in a more restricted sense, for all the indigenous peoples in Canada except the Inuit, Inuvialuit, and Métis—that is, the groups that are also encompassed by the term "Indian".

First Nations

In Canada, the term First Nations (most often used in the plural) has come into general use for the Indigenous peoples of North America located in what is now Canada, and their descendants, who are neither Inuit nor Métis.[28] The singular commonly used on culturally politicized reserves is the awkward First Nations person (when gender-specific, First Nations man or First Nations woman). A more recent trend is for members of various nations to refer to themselves by their tribal or national identity only, e.g. "I'm Haida," "we're Kwantlens," in recognition of the distinctiveness of First Nations ethnicities.

However, some tribal governments of Canada also use the term First Nations to refer to any indigenous, tribal or nomadic society. In this application, such groups as the Roma, Sinti, Saami, Māori, Hmong, and the Australian Aborigines are also considered "First Nations".[28]

Canadian Indians

The term Indians was once the term generally used to refer to the peoples now officially called First Nations, and remains in common use. It is no longer used by the media except when used in the context of aboriginal organizations that use the term in their names, e.g. the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, the National Indian Brotherhood, the Fraser Canyon Indian Administration. Because it appears in historic documents, it is also still relevant in many legal and administrative contexts, particularly in the land-designation "Indian Reserve", and many people use it in vernacular speech.

The Canadian Indian Act, in defining the rights of people of recognized First Nations, refers to them as Indians. The responsible federal government department is the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, headed by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The act officially recognizes people commonly known as Status Indians, although Registered Indian is the official term for those on the Indian Register. Lands set aside for the use of First Nations are known as Indian Reserves.[26 ]

Native Canadians

Native or Native Canadian is an ambiguous term, but people frequently use it in conversation or informal writing. However, First Nations and Aboriginal peoples seem to be more widely used in print.

First Peoples

First Peoples is a broad term that includes First Nations, Inuit, Inuvialuit, and Métis (equivalent to Aboriginal or indigenous peoples)—and could be extended outside the Canadian context to comprise all descendents of pre-Columbian ethnic groups in the Americas, including (self-identified) ethnic groups whose ancestry is only partially of pre-Columbian groups (e.g. Mestizo). However, due to its similarity with the term First Nations, the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably.


The Algonquin autonym, Anishinaabe or Anishinabe, is used as a cross-tribal term in Algonquian majority areas such as Anishnabe Health and Anishnabe Education and Training Circle. The term is also used in the Upper Midwest region of the United States.

Canadian French nomenclature

In Canadian French, the terms are première(s) nation(s) for "First Nations" and autochtone for "Aboriginal" (used both as a noun and adjective).

The term indien or indienne is used in the legislation, although the preferred term is now amérindien. The term indigène is not used as it is seen as having negative connotations because of its similarity to the French equivalent of indigent ("poor"). The old French term sauvage ("wild") is no longer used either, as it is considered racist.

Chinook Jargon nomenclature

The Chinook Jargon, the old trade language of the Pacific Northwest, uses siwash—an adaptation of the French sauvage—for Indian, Native American, or First Nations, either as adjective or noun. While normally meaning a male native, it is used in certain combinations, like siwash cosho ("a seal", literally "Indian pig" or "Indian pork").

Like sauvage, siwash has come to have negative connotations in many native communities, while it remains in common parlance in others. When used by non-natives it is considered entirely derogatory except in placenames and certain other usages. In the creolized form of Chinook Jargon spoken at the Grand Ronde Agency in Oregon, a distinction is made between siwash and sawash. The accent in the latter is on the second syllable, resembling the French original, and is used in Grand Ronde Jargon with the benign meaning of "anything native or Indian", while siwash is considered defamatory.

The Chinook Jargon term for a native woman is klootchman, an originally Nootkan word which became commonplace in regional English to mean a native woman, or (as in the Jargon), all women and also anything female. Hyas klootchman tyee, "queen", klootchman cosho, "sow"; klootchman tenas or tenas klootchman, "girl" or "little girl". Generally when used by itself in regional English klootchman means a native woman only, and has not acquired a derisive sense as has siwash or squaw. The short form klootch, encountered only in English-Chinook hybrid phrasings, is often derisive, however, especially with modifiers (e.g. "blue-eyed klootch"). .

Names by continent

North America

There is no accepted special name for all indigenous peoples in North America as a whole, although Native American is sometimes used, though rarely in Canada. The term North American Indian is often used for a member of the more restricted group comprising the First Nations in Canada together with the Native Americans in the United States. This term is usually understood to exclude the Alaskan Natives and the Inuit and Métis of Canada, and the indigenous peoples of Mexico. In Mexico, the preferred expression is Indigenous Peoples (pueblos indígenas in Spanish, however, Indians (indios, índios) is often used too, even by indigenous peoples themselves, since this expression is not seen as derogatory.

South America

In South America, like in Mexico, the preferred expression is Indigenous Peoples (pueblos indígenas in Spanish, povos indígenas in Portuguese). However, Indians (indios, índios) is often used too, even by indigenous peoples themselves, since this expression is not seen as derogatory. It should also be noted that in Portuguese índios does not conflict with the word for natives of India (indianos).

Indigenous Peoples and Indians of Latin America

In Mexico, Brazil, and several other countries, these names are normally applied only to the ethnic groups that have maintained their identity and, to a some extent, their original way of life. In those countries there is also a large segment of the population with mixed native and European ancestry, who are largely integrated in mainstream society, and no longer identify themselves with their ancestral native groups. There are also Ladinos who do not have significant European ancestry, but have adopted the culture of the White and Mestizo population. These people were originally called mestizos in Mexico, caboclos in Brazil; however, those terms have largely fallen in disuse as that segment has come to predominate among the population.


The Spanish aborigen, cognate of English Aborigine, is also used in Spanish America, particularly in Chile and Argentina. The corresponding Portuguese term, aborígenas, is almost never used in Brazil.

Pre-Columbian and Pre-Cabraline Peoples

The term "Pre-Columbian Peoples" (Sp. pueblos precolombinos, Pt. povos pré-colombianos) is used to refer to the ethnic groups that existed before the arrival of the Europeans, but not for their modern descendants. The term refers to Columbus, who landed in Hispaniola in 1492.

In Brazil, Pre-Columbian is often replaced by "Pre-Cabraline" (Pt. pré-cabralinos), after Cabral who first landed in Brazil in 1500.

In both Americas

For the natives of the Americas as a whole, the phrase indigenous peoples of the Americas can be considered self-defined by the accepted meanings of "indigenous peoples" and "Americas," and seems to be the current preferred term in some anthropological and linguistic circles.

Still, its precise meaning can be disputed. For example, it is debatable whether it includes the indigenous people of Hawaiʻi and other US territories outside the Americas. While those peoples have no known historical, cultural, or genetic connection with the indigenous peoples of the Americas, from a political and legal viewpoint they should arguably be considered "indigenous peoples" of their respective countries.

Other names that have been used or proposed for the indigenous peoples of both continents include:


As discussed above (# Indian and American Indian), this term has much precedence in the United States, but is considered offensive by some. However some older generations of Native Americans call themselves that.

American Indian

Given the ambiguity of Indian, it was often necessary to use American Indian in order to distinguish those peoples from the natives of the East Indies, or the West Indies. However, as noted above, American itself is ambiguous.

Red Indian

In Britain and some other English-speaking countries outside the Americas, the term Red Indian is still used to differentiate the American natives from the "East Indians". .However, in North America the term is now considered an offensive racial slur, and is rarely if ever used.


In the French-speaking world, the term Amérindien was coined for the same purpose. The term was imported into English as Amerindian, sometimes abbreviated Amerind. This term gained some popularity among linguists, anthropologists, and other social scientists. The term is officially used by The World Almanac.

However, in scientific circles the term Amerind is often restricted to a subset of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, mostly from South and Central America, Mexico and the Southern United States. The peoples in this group share many genetic and cultural features that set them apart from the Na-Dene peoples, which comprise a significant portion of the U.S. and southern Canada indigenous peoples, and from the Eskimo peoples in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic: (Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut). Many anthropologists believe that these Amerind peoples are the descendants of the first immigrant wave from Siberia (15,000–10,000 years ago).

Since Arawaks of various tribes were the first people which Columbus met in the New World, it has also been suggested that all natives of the continent should simply be called the Ka (from the arawakan root ka- meaning man or chief, like in the word "cacique").

Native American or American Native

At face value, Native American and American Native could be taken to mean indigenous peoples of the Americas. This meaning is used in this article; however, some restrict its meaning to refer specifically for peoples in the United States, as discussed above, (# Meanings of basic terms). This term is also regarded as offensive by some, as discussed above, (# Indian and American Indian).

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ The World of the American Indian. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society. [1974] 1993. p. . ISBN 0-87044-972-9 (reg. ed.), ISBN 0-87044-973-7 (deluxe ed.).  
    Series: Story of man library
    1st ed. 1974, ISBN 0-87044-151-5; rev. ed. 1993; 1997 edition not found, 6 August 2006
  3. ^ a b Means, Russel. "I am an american Indian, not a native American!". PeakNet.  
  4. ^ a b c Dyck (2002)
  5. ^ a b American Heritage Dictionary (2000)
  6. ^ American Indian Magazine. Retrieved on 6 August 2006.
  7. ^ a b George A. Miller (August 2003). WordNet (r) 2.0. Princeton University. Retrieved 2006-04-21.  
  8. ^ The Merriam-Webster dictionary.. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. 2004. ISBN 0-87779-930-X, ISBN 0-87779-931-8 (pbk.).  
  9. ^ ""Treaty of Point Elliott, 1855"". Governors Office of Indian Affairs, State of Washington. Retrieved 2006-07-21.  
  10. ^ Talbert (2006-05-01)
  11. ^ (1) Map with village 33, referencing Dailey footnotes 2, 9, and 10. (1.1) Dailey (2006-06-14)
    (2) See also Seattle before the city.
    (3) See also Mann (2005)
  12. ^ Mann (A.D. 2005), p. 177
  13. ^ native. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. (accessed: November 18, 2007).
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b c d e f Charles Mann (2005). 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Appendix A: "Loaded Words"
  17. ^ Brunner (2006)
    Includes sources (including quotes: Russell Means at "I am an American Indian, Not a Native American!", and Christina Berry at "What's in a Name? Indians and Political Correctness"; both are also referenced on this page).
  18. ^ Hazel W. Hertzberg (1971). The Search for an American Indian Identity: Modern Pan-Indian Movements. Syracuse University Press. pp. 255–256.  
  19. ^ Dennis Gaffney (2006). ""American Indian" or "Native American": Which Is Correct?". PBS. Retrieved 2007-10-17.  
  20. ^ "Indian Eristic". Wisconsin Office of State Employment Relations. January 5, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-17.  
  21. ^ Clyde Tucker, Brian Kojetin, and Roderick Harrison (May 1995) (PDF). A statistical analysis of the CPS supplement on race and ethnic origin. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of the Census. Retrieved 2007-10-18.  
  22. ^ a b Borgna Brunner. "American Indian versus Native American:A once-heated issue has sorted itself out". American Indian Heritage Month. Retrieved 2007-10-18.  
  23. ^ "Americanists in dispute". The New York Times. October 22, 1902. Retrieved 2009-01-14.  
  24. ^ "Cherokee Nation v. Georgia". United States Supreme Court. 1831.  
  25. ^ Steve Schultze (October 23, 2006). "Kagen apologizes for remark Congressional candidate says use of 'Injun time' wasn't meant to offend". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Retrieved 2007-10-17.  
  26. ^ a b Mandel, Michael. The Charter of Rights and the Legalization of Politics in Canada. Revised, Updated and Expanded Edition. (Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc., 1994), pp. 354-356.
  27. ^ "Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms". department of justice canada.  
  28. ^ a b ( R.S., 1985, c. I-5 )Canadian Constitution Act, 1982, sections 25 and 35.


Further reading

(The above are also listed bibliographic references.)

First Nations governments


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