American Indian

Native American and American Indian are both generally acceptable, although individuals may have a preference. It is usually best to refer to Native people by their specific tribe or nation, such as Navajo, Hopi or Cherokee.

Indigenous people in the United States were first referred to as Indians because Christopher Columbus believed he had reached the East Indies when he touched the shores of North America. Today, many Native people prefer to call themselves American Indian to avoid stereotypes associated with Indian. Native American and Native are also acceptable terms and preferred by some.

There are millions of people who identify as American Indian or who have Native ancestry. That does not make them all American Indians in the eyes of tribes or the federal government. The federal government considers someone American Indian if he or she belongs to a federally recognized tribe. Individual tribes have the exclusive right to determine their own membership. Tribal governments formally list their members, who must meet specific criteria for enrollment. Some require a person to trace half or a quarter of his or her lineage, for instance, to the tribe, while others require only proof of descent.

Native Americans represent roughly 1 percent of the overall population in the United States.

[Use native-born to describe someone who is born in the United States but isn’t American Indian.

In 2016, President Barack Obama signed legislation (HR 4238) that replaced the term American Indian with Native American in federal laws.]


« Back to Glossary Index

Share This!