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Native American

(nA´tîv e-mèr´î-ken) noun

:A member of any of the aboriginal peoples of the Western Hemisphere. The ancestors of the Native Americans are generally considered to have entered the Americas from Asia by way of the Bering Strait sometime during the late glacial epoch. Also called American Indian, Amerindian, Indian.
- Native American adjective

"Indian" vs. "Native American" Usage :
The term Indian has always been a misnomer for the earliest inhabitants of the Americas. Many people now prefer Native American both as a corrective to Columbus's mistaken appellation and as a means of avoiding the romantic and generally offensive stereotypes associated with phrases such as "wild Indian" or "cowboys and Indians".
Certainly there is great merit in a term that distinguishes the peoples indigenous to the Americas from the inhabitants of India, and wherever such confusion might exist Native American is an obvious choice. It is also preferred by many contemporary writers when emphasizing ethnic pride, as in "Only the Native American can lay claim to equality in suffering with the Afro-American in this nation" (S. Allen Counter). However, it should not be assumed that Indian is necessarily offensive or out of date. On the contrary, Indian is firmly rooted in English in neutral terms such as "Plains Indian", "Paleo-Indian", and "Indian summer", as well as in numerous plant and place names, and in locutions of this kind there is no possibility of substitution. Furthermore, many Native Americans and others sympathetic to Native American issues continue to use Indian as a term of pride and respect, as in "It was about this time that [my mother] began to see herself as an Indian. That dim native heritage became a fascination and a cause for her" (N. Scott Momaday) and "The desperate struggles of the Indian people for survival in this century are too widespread and various to be treated in a single volume" (Peter Matthiessen). The compound terms American Indian and the less frequent Amerindian offer an unambiguous and unproblematic alternative where Native American might seem out of place, as in certain historical contexts or in references to groups outside the boundaries of the United States.
Indian is also a useful adjunct to the name of a people when it cannot be assumed that the reader is familiar with their cultural identity; thus one might say the Wampanoag Indians or the Quiché Indians of Guatemala rather than adding a gloss such as "the Quiché, a Native American people of Guatemala".
'Native American' and 'Indian' are not exact equivalents when referring to the aboriginal peoples of Canada and Alaska. 'Native American', the broader term, is properly used of all such peoples, whereas 'Indian' is customarily used of the northern Athabaskan and Algonquian peoples in contrast to the Eskimo and the Aleut.

Excerpted from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Company.


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