It has always been a personal pet peeve of mine when Native Americans are referred to as "Indians." It has nothing to do with respect for Native Americans or political correctness; it is entirely about actual correctness. Calling them Indians means having to actually differentiate between Indians, from the subcontinent of India, and Indians, from the Americas. It seems like laziness is the biggest factor. It is far easier to say and write/type "Indian" than "Native American." But, my History teacher and even my textbook both use the word "Indian." Is this really acceptable practice in higher education (it's my freshman year)? Is it accepted in academia in general?

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    When the context is clear it seems people mostly don't care. I don't really think this is a history question though. If you're wondering about it for academic purposes you could try to ask Academia.SE
    – Semaphore
    May 1, 2015 at 22:53
  • You may want to move this question to politics SE.
    – Michael
    May 1, 2015 at 23:24
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    If you will do some searching, you will find that a good number of the people in question reject the "Native American" label. The NA term is also factually incorrect, in either sense of the word "native". It's also strange that no one seems to confuse the East and West Indies, or find the terms objectionable.
    – jamesqf
    May 2, 2015 at 1:54
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    It's "factually incorrect" in the sense of being deliberately obtuse for the sake of political points.
    – Semaphore
    May 2, 2015 at 4:08
  • given that anyone born in the Americas is a native American, the term as used to indicate Amerindians (and even worse, north American Amerindians) exclusively is factually incorrect, extremely misleading.
    – jwenting
    May 2, 2015 at 15:31

1 Answer 1


As it happens, my sister is an Anthropology professor who specializes in Native Americans, particularly the Osage (and of course is part Osage herself). I'd say that counts as "academia". Here's how she put it in the forward to her last book, Colonial Entanglement:

When at all possible, it is certainly best to use specific terms, such as "Osage" or "Choctaw," but sometimes it is important to refer to larger trends affecting indigenous peoples throughout America. The term "Native American" arose as a reaction to the term "Indian," which was seen as a colonial word beginning with Columbus's confusion about landing in India. Despite this critique, I have chosen to use the word "Indian," primarily because it was the word most commonly used within the Osage community, and "Native American" has just as many of its own problems and dangerous connotations tied to things such as the environmental movement. Most frequently, I use "Indian" as part of the phrase "American Indian," to at least place the context on the proper continent. I will also occasionally use the word "indigenous," particularly when talking about the larger global population of people affected by settler colonialism.

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    Agreed, Indian/American Indian are the standard terms in the academic circles I run in. I see "Indian" in historical works, when its clear that we're discussing a period before there were many South Asian immigrants in the U.S. I see "American Indian" in works on the 20th century, especially when discussing the Census or other demographic data.
    – two sheds
    May 2, 2015 at 2:30
  • Heh man! You got your whole family, of brainiacs and scholars. That's so much like living a dream! Will you guys adopt me?? :)
    – Rohit
    May 2, 2015 at 14:40
  • How do you distinguish them from people who are from India and now live in America, if both them and "classical" American Indians could be on topic?
    – vsz
    Aug 10, 2018 at 6:11

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