Teaching with a critical lens requires respectful consideration of the political and historical implications of language when centering the experiences of various groups. The terms Indigenous, American Indian or Native American are all correct, depending on whom you ask. In fact, the terms are used interchangeably by the federal, state, and tribal governments.
For the purposes of teaching, when learning about a specific tribe or nation, the specific name of the nation will be used. This unit uses the terms Indigenous, Native peoples, and Native Americans when referring to the collective group of those groups who originally inhabited and cared for the land which we now call the Americas.
This unit focuses on the experiences of Indigenous and Native peoples of the United States in the past and present. After first being introduced by Christopher Columbus, the term ‘Indians’ was commonly used to refer to the Native peoples of the Americas and remained in use well into the 1970s. For that reason, it appears in many texts in this unit. Due to this connection, the word Indian by itself is sometimes regarded as offensive and we encourage you to discuss the history with students when it comes up in texts while providing alternatives terms and the reason why we use those alternatives.
While some people have reclaimed “Indian” and identify themselves as such, for our purposes we will refer to specific tribes or nations (i.e. Blackfoot, Cherokee, Haudenosaunee, etc.) whenever possible. Native people often have individual preferences on terms, therefore, the best way to determine which terms a group or person prefers is to ask them. This will be especially important when researching different Native groups.
Other terms that students may see are Inuit, Yup’ik, and Aleut Peoples who live in the Arctic and see themselves as culturally different than Native people from the United States. In Canada, the terms First Nations, First Peoples, or Aboriginal are also used.
Through this we are engaging in the necessary practice of bringing about not just social or educational justice, but language justice for those who have historically been oppressed by our mislabeling and misidentification.
For additional information about the use of words and terminology, read: