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Naming the original people of what is now the United States

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Date: 29 Apr 2020 [unknown]
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The following was a proposal (or text in support of a proposal) made in the spring of 2020 by former WikiTree member S.D., encouraging WikiTree's Native Americans project to change its name. The proposal did not achieve sufficient support; this page is retained for archival purposes.'

Note: this style proposal is not meant to include the First Nations naming convention used in Canada.


Throughout Wikitree's project and category pages is found the naming convention Native American to describe people who are or have ties to the original people who lived in what is now the United States. Native American is used on Wikitree pages to the exclusion of American Indian. This is a problem. While some have a preference for Native American, others do not self-identify as Native American and prefer American Indian. Some self-identify with a strong preference. For example, my grandmother, in the last years of her life, said to me (and this is a direct quote), "All my life I've been called an Indian, and now they are trying to tell me I'm a Native American. I'm an Indian!" Please watch this video about our community health organization. Please count how many times Native American is used. Count how many times American Indian is used. Count how many times Indian is used. You will see a community that has a preference for anything other than Native American.


I propose that Wikitree intentionally works for inclusion by using a mix of the names American Indian and Native American, and when the preference of a particular community or individual is known, Wikitree should use that preference. Thank you for your consideration.

Update 2021

Recently, a Wikitree member wrote to me:

I understand that some part of the US have people that use the word Indian to describe themselves, but the country, as a whole, mainly for political reasons, I think, have tried to stop using that term. Even though there may be people that want to still be considered as Indian, there are many people that think it is offensive….

This statement shows a lack of knowledge of the many preferences in the U.S., and it is simply incorrect. I understand there are many preferences across the U.S., and a year ago, I asked Wikitree to be more inclusive by including more preferences - using both Native American and American Indian. Of course many prefer to be identified by their nation or tribe, but when speaking of the over 500 original nations as a whole, preferences vary. Below, I will attempt to provide examples supporting the use of American Indian (not to the exclusion of the Native American) as a preference.

The Wikitree member who wrote to me pointed out this comment:

your use of the term 'Indian' is offensive. Please stop.

commented May 18, 2020 by Catherine Trewin

But the member did not point out the comments of people who say they use the terms interchangeably. I myself am offended when I see Native American attached to people I know prefer American Indian. Does my offense not count?

Catherine Trewin did not respond to this question:

Catherine Trewin, why does it offend you if I use the term my grandmother preferred to be called? The same term the community used in place of my father's name? The same term used at the pow wows I attend? When I started this discussion I understood and acknowledged that some prefer Native American. I did not suggest we end its use altogether; I suggested we expand our use of terms to include people who have a different preference. Why is this offensive?

The member who wrote to me also did not point out this older exchange:

Could you explain to me why you find Native American demeaning? I am asking seriously. I feel exactly the opposite and my reasoning is that any name containing "indian" is a misnomer that goes all the way back to Columbus' mistaken identification of the people he found on his voyages as 'indian' because he thought he had sailed all the way around the world. Not trying to argue. Just trying to understand.

commented Nov 21, 2014 by Brian Wagnon G2G6

Brian, In answer to your question.. NOTE: This is just MY OPINION and FEELINGS...
The term Native American was coined during the civil rights movement and was just a label placed on our American Indians to make it politically correct.. just like African American. They didn't ask the tribes what they wanted to be called - just decided this was politically correct. As such it's demeaning. It strips away the dignity and respect of the American Indian and is designed to make "us" feel better.
In addition, a Native American is anyone born inside the American borders -- including Central Americans and South Americans.. This is demeaning to our American Indians -- it's like saying they are nothing special.
These proud people have been called American Indians for hundreds of years - they fought, died and lived as American Indians. They entered into treaties - which were violated as American Indians. Regardless of the fact that Columbus named them Indians because he thought in was in India -- this is the label they have been referred to for years. You can't just erase history.
When a person refers to someone as an American Indian - you know exactly who they are referring to; a mental image of a proud man standing beside or sitting on his horse in full Indian dress. You can picture the feathers in the chiefs headband and know that he is leading braves that are willing to fight and die for their way of life, family and land. This is an American Indian.
The younger American Indians have grown up being referred to as Native Americans and have been taught they should feel ashamed of their heritage and thus prefer to use the term Native American. Now the older ancestors - they prefered the label they fought, died and won freedom as: An American Indian.
I could go on -- but this should provide you the answer. American Indians were persecuted, enslaved, abused, violated and yet fought on -- they won their freedom as American Indians - not as Native Americans. When you use the term American Indian - it puts the country first -- the only people to have their country first.
This to me is why Native American is demeaning - it strips away the dignity, reduces the atrocities commit[t]ed and just serves to make those that did these things feel better.
In my opinion, American Indians are a Great Pround People and should be given the respect and dignity of being called the term they fought and died as -- regardless of how it makes the rest of us feel.

commented Nov 21, 2014 by Terri Rick G2G6 Mach 3

When I studied journalism in the 1980s I was taught that the term Native American was a form of acculturation (which is what Terri Rick described above). Journalists were then encouraged to return to American Indian. But I understand the term Native American had already taken hold in many communities. Today, the AP Stylebook is clear that both terms are acceptable, and I know a great many journalists will switch up the words using both in their reporting. See:

American Indians, Native Americans Both are acceptable terms in general references for those in the U.S. when referring to two or more people of different tribal affiliations. For individuals, use the name of the tribe; if that information is not immediately available, try to obtain it. He is a Navajo commissioner. She is a member of the Nisqually Indian Tribe. He is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma... See:

Here is an example of a community who never adopted the term Native American. Count how many times the term Native American is used in this video which was posted in Feb of 2020:

The Smithsonian decided on the name National Museum of the American Indian: I understand there are some who do not like the name.

Here are some thoughtful ideas on the subject by six prominent people across the U.S.: And yes - the publication is called Indian Country Today. (This article is highly recommended.)

Here are thoughts on the term Indian County by the The National Congress of American Indians:

When Donald Trump was criticised for his use of the term Indian Country in a tweet. Some Indians came to his defense with tweets of their own:

Sergio, "Indian Country" is an inclusive term used by Native Americans to describe themselves and their sovereign nations, especially in the western US. A popular newspaper in Rapid City, SD is called Indian Country Today.

— LittleLute (@Ptcabe) December 27, 2019

I'm not giving Trump a pass, but "Indian Country" is a thing and yes, some natives call themselves "Indian." It's all about how we choose to label ourselves.

— PRINCE CAYDEN🠹 (@babyvolk) December 27, 2019

The only reason why people are offended on behalf of Natives for Trump's use of "Indian Country" is because they themselves don't understand indigenous issues or how indigenous people choose to identify.

— PRINCE CAYDEN🠹 (@babyvolk) December 27, 2019

Yes, seriously. #IndianCountry refers to any self-governing community of American Indians. I am Cherokee Indian. I work in Indian Country. What is offensive to you about the term Indian Country? Are you Indian or are you just being pejorative for pejorative's sake?

— JtheGreat (@jeremyhowelldha) December 27, 2019

Here's a Facebook post from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe on1 May 2021:

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe celebrates the Month of May as American Indian Month as proclaimed by Governor Tim Walz in 2020. Throughout the month, we will provide a variety of educational and historical information that we hope will be insightful and fun in an effort for all Band members and our neighbors alike.
To begin, it is important to understand that we are the non-removable Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe – a sovereign, self-governing, federally recognized American Indian tribal government. Our people have lived for generations on the Mille Lacs Reservation and on tribal lands throughout East Central Minnesota, from Mille Lacs Lake east to the St. Croix River and north to Rice Lake and Sandy Lake.
“We have a rich history and culture, and our relationship with the United States as a sovereign nation dates back to a time before Minnesota became a state. In fact, American Indian nations have been recognized as sovereigns since before the formation of the United States.” ~ Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin.

I hope with the above examples, I have helped in creating more understanding regarding the use of the identifiers American Indian and Indian.


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