Since nobody is posting for some bizarre reason (or maybe because NRODT goes to bed every other Wednesday), I thought this email was interesting:
As an archaeologist, I have at least a professional interest in what terms to use.
Native American — journalists love this. One journalist from Pennsylvania even told me that I should use the term “Native American” even if a tribal member specifically asks to be called “American Indian”. Some groups explicitly reject the term Native American; others don’t care.
Under federal regulations, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Native Pacific Islanders of the U.S. trust territories are all called “Native Americans.”
Also, I’ve read that “Native American” refers to a social or political group while “American Indian” refers to a biological or racial group. I don’t think that is a rule than anyone normally follows.
In Canada, ther term of choice is First Nations. There are no Native Americans or American Indians north of the border.
At a workshop in Idaho a couple of years ago, the academics preferred the term “First Peoples”. It hasn’t caught on as far as I know.
The best advice I’ve heard — on NPR of all places — is that if you are refering to an individual or to a specific group, then you should always use the tribal name — Western Shoshone, Northern Paiute, Cherokee, Mescalero Apache, Pima, Barbareno Chumash, etc. If you are making a general statement, as in “American Indian treaty rights” or “Native American gaming,” then either Native American or American Indian is okay.
Using the specific tribal name works very well in my case because the tribes differ so much in their traditions, political positions, treaty rights, religious beliefs, etc. that in most cases it simply doesn’t make sense to lump them all under one designation.