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Native Americans

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Native Americans 


Current Issues in Native American Communities

Tribal Websites, Indigenous Organizations, and Research Resources

Articles and Books 

U.S. History Native Americans



Today, according to the National Congress of American Indians, the United States federal government officially recognizes 574 Indian nations, also known as pueblos, tribes, bands, communities, and native villages. Some tribes recognized by the state, but not the federal government (such as the Lenape here in New Jersey), and some are not recognized by the United States government at any level. Generally speaking, these are considered domestic dependent nations within the borders of the United States, with their own forms of governance. However, historical and current processes such as warfare, forced removals, manifest destiny, eminent domain, and more, it is common for the United States federal and state governments to undermine this governance, especially in the form of broken treaties.



Historians estimate that, immediately prior to Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Caribbean in 1492, there were between 50 million and 100 million indigenous people throughout North, South, and Central America. The dramatic decline in population is in large part a result of diseases, such as smallpox, that the Europeans unknowingly brought with them and that swept through communities that had no immunity. Attempted genocide—in the forms of warfare, forced removals, forced sterilizations, boarding schools, and more—was a significant factor as well.


Many people often wonder what terms should be used to discuss the people who lived in what is now the United States before European colonization. Here are some common definitions. It is worth mentioning that different people prefer different terms, and that, when possible, it is best to refer to people by their tribal affiliation or nation. You will see different terms use interchangeably throughout this guide:


American Indian-it is well known that, when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas, he assumed that he had arrived in India. This is why he and other settlers referred to these inhabitants as Indians, and why a region of the Caribbean is referred to as the West Indies. Despite the age and inaccuracy of this term, several governmental organizations and pieces of legislation—such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Civil Rights act of 1968 still use the term American Indian in official business. Many have also reclaimed this term for themselves. Russell Means, who was an activist and actor of the Oglala Lakota Nation, famously said the following in 1996:


I abhor the term Native American. It is a generic government term used to describe all the indigenous prisoners of the United States. These are the American Samoans, the Micronesians, the Aleutes, the original Hawaiians and the erroneously termed Eskimos, who are actually Upiks and Inupiats. And, of course, the American Indian.

I prefer the term American Indian because I know its origins. The word Indian is an English bastardization of two Spanish words, En Dio, which correctly translated means in with God. As an added distinction the American Indian is the only ethnic group in the United States with the American before our ethnicity.*

At an international conference of Indians from the Americas held in Geneva, Switzerland at the United Nations in 1977 we unanimously decided we would go under the term American Indian. We were enslaved as American Indians, we were colonized as American Indians and we will gain our freedom as American Indians and then we will call ourselves any damn thing we choose.

Finally, I will not allow a government, any government, to define who I am. Besides anyone born in the Western hemisphere is a Native American.


*According to the book Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends by David Wilton, there is no evidence for this claim, as none of Columbus' writings include this phrase.


 Native American-the term Native American has been used since at least the 1730s, but it did not refer specifically to those who lived in the Americas before European colonization until the 20th century. The term became popularized during the American Indian Movement and the wider Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1995, United States Census Bureau found that 37 percent of indigenous folks preferred the term "Native American," compared with 50 percent who preferred "American Indian," and 13 percent who had no preference or preferred some other term.


First Nations-this term is used most in Canada, but is increasingly used elsewhere. It came into popularity in the 1970s.


Indigenous-to be indigenous means to native to a particular location, rather than coming from another place. This can refer to humans, organisms, or objects. It is important to note that this term does not specifically refer to precolonial populations in the Americas; all countries have indigenous populations and every person is indigenous to someplace.


Amerindian-the American Anthropological Association coined the term Amerindian in 1902. It is a combination of the terms "American" and "Indian." This word tends to be used more in scholarly contexts.


Not Dead Native or Non-Dead Native (NDN)-NDN is a term that has become popular on various social media platforms. It is considered an intra-community term, meaning that people who are not indigenous are discouraged from using it. The term is a direct response to a famous quote by General Philip Sheridan: "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."


An example of an organization that uses the term NDN is the NDN Collective, which promotes the inter-connectedness of all things, indigenous self-determination, and equity and justice for all people and the planet.

Whose Land Do You Inhabit? The Importance of Land Acknowledgements

If you have attended conferences or other public gatherings in the last several years, depending on the type of event, you may have noticed that some speakers, whether they are indigenous or not, have been making statements about their presence on the ancestral land of one or more indigenous communities. Land acknowledgements exist to contradict the idea that indigenous people have all disappeared and given up their land without any resistance. They encourage non-Natives to remember that the absence of Native people from most spaces in the United States is a result of historical and ongoing colonization, not an accident, and they can help inspire non-Natives to support Native people in their struggles today.


Most land acknowledgements are short and follow a similar structure. Here is an example:


The Newark Public Library and its branches exist on the unceded ancestral lands of the Munsee-speaking Lenape people, also known as the Delaware.


To find out whose land you occupy, visit native-land.ca, which provides a map of precolonial territories and languages in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. However, it is important to understand that land acknowledgement is just the first step. According to Adam Horowitz, an author of a United States Department of Arts and Culture guide on land acknowledgements:


"To do it well, it means building relationships — going beyond the Google Map that says ‘this is who lives here' .... Actually find Native groups where you live and speak with them about it. Learn how they’d like to be acknowledged.”


To learn more about land acknowledgements, visit the following links:



Go back to the Native American Web guide.

Go back to list of all Newark Public Library Web guides.



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