Native American Là Gì

Medically reviewed by Cynthia Taylor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C — Written by Crystal Raypole on March 15, 2021

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Most people living in the United States are familiar with the terms “Native sầu American,” “American Indian,” &, increasingly, “Indigenous American” or “Indigenous peoples.”

But if you’re still uncertain about which term to lớn use, you’re not alone.

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Perhaps you learned lớn say “Native sầu American” in elementary school and stuông chồng with it until college, when a class on American Indian literature led you to rethink the terminology. Maybe you have a frikết thúc who uses “American Indian” and a co-worker who describes themselves as “Native sầu American.”

This inconsistency might leave sầu you confused, wondering how to lớn best avoid giving offense. Should you use “American Indian”? Is “Native American” still the best term? Or does “Indigenous” offer the most respect?

The truth is, there’s no right answer that applies to lớn every situation. Read on lớn learn why & get more insight on how lớn proceed with consideration và respect.


Where these terms originated

Before getting inkhổng lồ whether one term is better than the other, let’s recap some history to help explain where these terms came from.

You most likely heard a sanitized version of the Columbus story in elementary school. You know, that intrepid explorer who claimed lớn have “discovered” America? He was so certain the “new” world he’d landed on was India that he called its people “Indios,” which later became “Indians.”

Later, you probably learned of not just the flaws in Columbus’ reasoning — obviously, you can’t discover a place where people already live sầu — but also the many atrocities he committed in his travels.

While the U.S. government continues lớn use the term “American Indian” officially, many find “Indian” a painful reminder of the racism, violence, theft, và decimation of their people. There’s a reason why many states & regions now officially recognize and celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day.

“Native American” became the preferred “politically correct” terminology in the 1970s.

This term emphasizes that hundreds of individual tribes inhabited the l& now known as the United States of America before anyone else. In other words, they’re native sầu khổng lồ this lvà.

Still, many Indigenous people object khổng lồ this term because it’s a name assigned by Trắng oppressors. It also categorizes them as Americans, a name they didn’t choose.

Some choose instead to lớn reclalặng “Indian” or “American Indian” lớn describe their ancestry.


Which should you use?

Generally speaking, both “American Indian” & “Native sầu American” are OK khổng lồ use. Both refer khổng lồ the Indigenous peoples of America.

That said, the best term lớn use in a given situation usually comes down to lớn preference — not your personal preference, but the preference of the person you’re speaking with.

They might dislượt thích “Native American” and prefer “American Indian,” or vice versa, but you have sầu no way of knowing unless you ask (or better yet, listen first).

People often get so caught up in dissecting the nuances of political correctness that they overlook what really matters: how someone chooses to describe themselves.

You might assume you’re showing respect by using terminology you’ve sầu been taught. But when you fail lớn ask someone what they prefer to lớn be called or ignore their preference by insisting you’re using the correct term, you show them even more disrespect by invalidating their identity.


The term “Alaska Native” refers to any thành viên of the 229 tribes or nations indigenous lớn Alaska. Alaska Natives 3D about 15 percent of the total population of Alaska.

You might also see the terms “Native Alaskan” or “Alaskan Native” used, but these terms subtly imply possession, or that the Indigenous people of Alaska “belong” khổng lồ Alaska.

As a broader term, “Native sầu American” also includes Alaska Natives, since Alaska is, of course, a state. Still, it’s always best khổng lồ use the most accurate và specific term possible.

Keep in mind that while all Indigenous tribes have sầu chất lượng cultures, histories, and ways of living, Alaska lies quite far from most of the United States.

Lvà boundaries were established by trắng settlers, not by Indigenous people themselves, & many Alaska Natives may not consider themselves Americans or Native sầu Americans.

While saying “Alaska Native” might feel more specific và accurate than “Native sầu American” or “American Indian,” keep in mind that it’s still a fairly broad term.

As the Alaska Federation of Natives explains, Alaska Native tribes chia sẻ a number of core values that help them survive sầu in Alaska’s harsh climate, but they still have sầu their own diverse languages, traditions, và culture.


“Indigenous” means the original inhabitants of a given land or region.

“Indigenous peoples of America” has the same general meaning as “Native Americans,” and many people prefer this term’s inclusivity.

The term “Indigenous” makes it clear that they occupied the land first, without assigning the American nationality.

More và more people chose khổng lồ refer to themselves as Indigenous people, and this is also acceptable.

But again, it’s another broad term. When used generally, it can refer lớn any original inhabitants of a country, not just the United States.

A few things lớn remember when using this term:

Avoid using it as a noun: for example, “the Indigenous.” Avoid possessive phrasing: for example, “America’s Indigenous peoples.”Specify where someone is from: for example, “Indigenous peoples of Central America” or “Indigenous peoples of Canadomain authority.”

Whenever possible, alặng to use a specific tribe name rather than a generalized umbrella term.

No matter how polite or respectful terms like “Native American” or “Alaska Native” ayên lớn be, these are still English names assigned by white people. These terms also lump hundreds of chất lượng and culturally diverse tribes into one mass group.

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And again, while “Native American” does acknowledge the fact that members of these tribes lived on this land before anyone else, it still uses the English name for the continent.

This only serves khổng lồ emphasize that the lvà was, in fact, stolen from Indigenous people, who were then forced onlớn reservations & denied their languages and cultural identities.

Using specific tribe names doesn’t change this fact, but it does help reaffirm both cultural & personal identity.

FYI

Some tribe names you’re familiar with may not actually originate with that tribe. You might know the names Navajo or Sioux, for example, but members of these tribes may call themselves Diné or Lakota — their name in their own language.


It’s best khổng lồ be as specific as possible when referring khổng lồ Indigenous people, but how do you go about finding out their background & preference?

Many people are willing to talk about their identity và nationality, but it’s important to make sure your questions don’t “other” them or give offense in other ways.

For example, it’s never a good idea khổng lồ ask things like:

“Where are you from?”“What are you?” “What kind of Indian are you?”

Sometimes, the best way lớn ask is not khổng lồ ask at all. In other words, listen first lớn how someone introduces themselves & hold off on asking until the subject comes up naturally.

Say, for example, your co-worker mentions being Native American. You might then ask, “What nation vị you belong to?” or “What’s your tribal affiliation?”

If someone corrects you

No one’s perfect: You might make a mistake at some point và unintentionally use a term that someone doesn’t lượt thích.

If an Indigenous person corrects you or asks you lớn use a different term when talking about them, consider it a learning opportunity. You might say:

“Thanks, I’ll be sure to lớn use that term going forward.”“I had no idea, thank you for telling me.”

Respect their preferences và don’t get defensive.


“Native sầu American,” “American Indian,” và “Indigenous people” are all acceptable terms.

Some terms, on the other hvà, simply aren’t polite, accurate or acceptable in any context. These include:

“Indian.” On its own, “Indian” refers to people from India, so you wouldn’t use it lớn describe an Indigenous person.“Natives.” Someone might say, “I’m Native,” dropping the “American,” but trắng oppressors have traditionally used the plural “natives” in negative and dismissive ways. Don’t Call people “natives,” even if they refer lớn themselves with that term. “Eskimo.” Many Alaska Natives, Inuit, Yupik, and other Indigenous peoples from the Arctic region consider this colonial term racist và derogatory. “Tribe.” Điện thoại tư vấn your friends your friends, your besties, your crowd, your mates — but not your tribe. “Tribe” carries connotations of “primitive” or “savage.” It’s a microaggression toward Indigenous Americans as well as Indigenous peoples of other countries who also suffered White colonization. “Savage.” OK, maybe you absolutely wouldn’t use “savage” to refer to someone in a negative way. But before you praise someone for their “savage” takedown of that social truyền thông mutual, rethành viên that settlers used this term khổng lồ oppress Indigenous Americans & strip them of their humanity lớn better justify the theft of their lvà and the dismissal of their traditions.A few others lớn skip. Other no-gos include “powwow,” “chief,” and “Indian giver.” Also, traditional clothing worn during dances is called regalia, not a “costume.”

Some Indigenous people may favor the term “Native sầu American,” while others prefer “American Indian.” Many people may not mind which term you use, as long as you speak with respect.

If someone does tell you their specific nation, state a preference, or explain they find a certain term offensive, simply apologize và use the correct terminology going forward.

Honor their right to lớn label their own identity instead of insisting on the term you consider correct.

Want to lớn learn more? It’s always best khổng lồ bởi vì your own retìm kiếm rather than expect Indigenous friends or acquaintances lớn educate you.

Start here:


Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, và mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.