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Native American and Indigenous Studies

Research guide for resources focused on Native American and Indigenous Studies.

Common Terms in Native American & Indigenous Studies

Words matter and show understanding.

There is terminology that should and shouldn't be used when discussing or referring to Native Americans. This a very short list of frequently used terminology.

American Indian or Native American

According to the Native American Journalism Association, either is acceptable when referring to two or more people with different tribal affiliations. 

Indian Country

Indian Country is legally defined in Title 18 of the U.S. Code as any land within the limits of an Indian reservation, all independent Indian communities within U.S. borders, and all Indian allotments. It is also used to describe any Native-occupied space. The National Congress of American Indians offers, "[w]hen used appropriately, Indian Country takes on a powerful meaning, legally and symbolically, for all tribal nations. Indian Country is wherever American Indian spirit, pride, and community are found." 

Indigenous

Many organizations offer definitions of Indigenous or Indigenous peoples -- the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Health Organization. The Native American Journalism Association reminds writers to capitalize the I when referring to Indigenous peoples or nations to distinguish from informal uses of indigenous plants. animals, or flowers. 

Federally Recognized Tribe

Per the U.S. Justice Department, "Recognition" is a legal term meaning that the United States recognizes a government-to-government relationship with a Tribe and that a Tribe exists politically in a "domestic dependent nation" status. Federally-recognized Tribes possess certain inherent powers of self-government and entitlement to certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of the special trust relationship.

Currently there are 574 federally recognized tribes. In addition, there are tribes that are recognized by states that may not be federally recognized. The National Council of State Legislatures provides a list of federally and state recognized tribes

Tribal Sovereignty

Tribal sovereignty refers to Native American rights to self govern. The National Congress of American Indians offers information about tribal governance

The University of Oregon Libraries thanks Robbie Sittel for permission to reuse the “Common Terms in Native American & Indigenous Studies” information on the UNT Native American and Indigenous Peoples research guide. Robbie gives credit to the NAJA News Room's Reporting & Indigenous Terminology Guide for inspiring some of the content.

Searching Tips

Keywords are important for finding the information you want - whether you're searching in the library catalog, in a research database, or on the open web.

In addition to figuring out the words that match the words used in the items you're trying to find, it is important to consider how broad or specific your focus is. For instance:

  • Are you searching for information about any Indigenous group worldwide?
  • Or about Native Americans?
  • Or about a named group of people such as the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde?
  • Or even more specific named groups of people such as Kalapuya, Mollala, Chasta, Umpqua, Rogue River, Chinook, or Tillamook?

You may need to try multiple spellings, such as: Kalapuya or Calapooia or Calapooya or Kalapooya -- some search engines will cross-reference various spellings, but many will not.

Similarly, historical (and in some cases, offensive) terms are sometimes still the only terms tagged on a particular item. More and more, modern terms are added by culturally competent catalogers to help searching work better, but some catalogs and databases have not updated every item yet.

And you should always feel welcome to email your librarian for help with terminology, or other aspects of your research. - Miriam, rigby@uoregon.edu

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