Blackhorse: Do You Prefer ‘Native American’ or ‘American Indian’?

From left, Bobby Wilson, Radmilla Cody, and Kyle Blackhorse

Amanda Blackhorse

Blackhorse: Do You Prefer ‘Native American’ or ‘American Indian’? 6 Prominent Voices Respond.

A complex discussion with no simple answer: 'Native American' or 'American Indian'.

As Indigenous Peoples, names and references to our race and ethnic identity are very important – especially in a time when names and pejorative references to Native people are being challenged in popular culture. Wherever I go, from the reservation to the city, through the halls of academia, from younger to older, to the grassroots, and in social media, I hear numerous discussions and debates around how people choose to identify with certain references, e.g., which word is the most appropriate: Native American? Native? Indian? American Indian? Indigenous?

My task here was to ask several friends and people whom I (and many others) admire what reference they feel most comfortable with.

This discussion varies in our ever-diverse culture. What I’ve learned is we can discuss this for hours on end but, when all is said and done, we call ourselves what we want because it is our choice. In fact, choice is something we did not have or were able to practice throughout the annals of U.S. history.

Each time we choose to elect our own names and references we are empowered. This discussion does not argue that the term ‘Indian’ is better, or that ‘indigenous’ is, or to invalidate being an American or not to be; it is about choice; what we choose as well as how and why we used these names. One thing is certain, we can all agree to reject pejorative references to Native people, e.g. ‘redskins,’ ‘squaw,’ ‘savages,’ etc. This discussion is complex, and I have discovered there is no singular nor simple answer:

So here we go. The people speak, and we must listen.

1.Radmilla Cody

Radmilla Cody is (Diné/Navajo) and African-American. She is a Grammy nominee, a multiple Native American Music Awards winner, an international performer, a former Miss Navajo Nation, and the founder of the “Strong Spirit: Life is Beautiful not Abusive” campaign.

Cody would like to be referred to as ‘Dine/Navajo,’ ‘indigenous’ and ‘Native.’ When asked why this is important to her she states, “I used to refer to myself as ‘Native American,’ but over time I have learned more about colonization and the colonial terms that came with the assimilation process which continues today. We are original people of this so-called USA, therefore we should be acknowledged as such, but also to ourselves as indigenous, as the indigenous backgrounds we identify with; indigenous, or Native of our own territories.. Not the European settlers’ or colonial settlers’ identification of who they think we should be. We must reclaim our identity and stop allowing the settler-colonialists to define who we are.”

2.Bobby Wilson

Bobby Wilson is Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota and is most famous for being a member of the five-piece comedy troupe “The 1491s.” Bobby’s work is heavily influenced by his Dakota heritage combined with a lifelong city upbringing. Bobby also appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last year.

“I say Indian a lot,” Wilson said. “I’m around many Natives all the time, and using Indian seems to be universal and others can identify with it.” Bobby also said he understands the confliction Native people have with the terms ‘Indian’ and ‘Native American,’ but as he states, “When I say Indian it doesn’t take anything away from me. For some people it may. I’m comfortable with myself and with it.”

He also stated he doesn’t mind being referred to as ‘American Indian,’ and references the National Congress of American Indians and the like, whom use the term ‘Indian.’

I asked him if he rejects any socially acceptable references to Native people. He said, ‘chief.’ Wilson has been called ‘chief’ several times in his life and says it is rooted in racism. He says generally people have a certain idea of what a ‘chief’ looks like and view him in this way. “If you say to someone, ‘draw me a chief,’ I guarantee they will not draw a CEO.”

3.Roxanne Thomas

Roxanne Thomas is Diné (Navajo) and Numa (Paiute). She is currently fulfilling her personal goal of being a full-time caretaker to her son. She has a profession in social work and worked as a mental health provider.

When asked how she refers to herself, Thomas said, “It has changed throughout the years.” She refers to herself mainly as “Diné and Numa-Fallon Paiute/Shoshone Tribe, a.k.a., Navajo and Paiute.” She said she puts more effort into referring to herself by her indigenous tribes and in their indigenous language because, as she stated, “It’s about going back to our original self. Why use names that are given to us?”

When asked how she refers to all Native people, Thomas said, “It’s changing, too. I’m using ‘indigenous’ and ‘Native’ more, and before that I used ‘Native American.’” She also states she is comfortable with using ‘Native American,’ but as she said: “It is a name that has been given to us.” She also states that “Native American” can be anyone who is born in the United States. As for the term “Indian,” she said, “Colonizers used the word ‘Indian’ or ‘American Indian’ and this could describe Indian citizens from the country India.” She states she is not protective of that term because it is important we know whom we are and where we are from. She to teaches her 3-year-old son how to say his four different tribes he is born of in the indigenous language.

4.Douglas Miles

Douglas Miles is the owner at Apache Skateboards and is San Carlos Apache/Akimel O’odham. Douglas is an artist, designer, curator, muralist, and public speaker. He utilizes art as social practice to motivate and inspire positive processes.

Miles said, “I refer to myself as American Indian.” He said he grew up in an era where that was the common term. “People look at it in both ways; ‘Indian’ is from India, and when this country was ‘discovered’ the people were looked at as godly people (Indios). I also refer to myself as ‘Native American.’ I’m comfortable with both of them.” Doug then goes on to say, “What would be the better title is ‘First Americans’ because, in reality, we are the first Americans.”

Miles also spoke of love of the land that is now the continental United States. “We are also Americans, and we love America. Natives serve at a higher rate in the military because Native people know in their heart this is their country and it will always be. They will stand up and fight for the land. It’s not really about American patriotism, but it’s for the love of the land.”

Miles added he does not feel comfortable with “anthropological terms, because they weren’t written for us. Words such as ‘nomadic,’ ‘hunter gather,’ ‘urban Indian,’ ‘rural Indian,’ ‘reservation Indian,’ – they don’t accurately explain the Native experience in 2015.”

5.Chase Iron Eyes

Chase Iron Eyes (Lakota Sioux) is co-founder of Last Real Indians, a media resource for original indigenous content. Chase is a Tribal Economic Consultant, Lakota Peoples Law Project Staff Attorney and 7th Generation fund grant recipient.

Iron Eyes said he refers to himself in his original Lakota language (Oyate Ikce), most people understand it as Sioux. He uses the term Sioux to describe himself at times because that is what people generally understand.

Iron Eyes said when he named his blog and media outlet originally, “The Last Real Indian” (as he was the only writer) he was speaking from a place of wanting to voice his thoughts of the injustices in Native country in an uncensored manner. He felt “The Last Real Indian” was catchy and grabbed the attention of the reader. He wasn’t invalidating other Natives weren’t legitimately ‘Indian,’ but that the under-represented voice of indigenous people must be heard. As more writers were incorporated, they became “The Last Real Indians.” “Anyone can be the last real Indian,” he said.

He said the term ‘Indian’ is that of popular culture, and although it is a debated term, it is one that is commonly used and known. He also believes the term which should be used is ‘original people,’ but the term ‘indigenous’ is very appropriate as well.

Iron Eyes also acknowledged: “Naming is very important because we are the archetypes of our reality, but now we do that in the English language. For those of us who learned English as a first language, things are different because we speak English.”

6.Kyle Blackhorse

Kyle Blackhorse is Diné, Tlingit, and Yurok. Blackhorse, 18, is of the Eagle Tribe and Brown Bear Clan of the Tlingit and Yurok Nations and born for the Black Streak Wood People and Edgewater of the Navajo. Blackhorse and the youngest Native American elected Precinct Committeeperson and State Committeeperson of the Arizona Democratic Party, where he is in involved in the Native American Caucus that provides education, voice and advocacy for Native American people.

He said he refers to himself by his own tribes: Diné, Tlingit, and Yurok, and then by his clans of his tribes. He does not use the term ‘Indian’ because as he said “India is on the other side of the world.”

He stated he uses the term ‘Navajo’ to explain ‘Diné’ because most know it as such. He also prefers to use the term ‘Native American’ versus ‘American Indian.’ “It is very important to identify ourselves in our way,” he said. Blackhorse said he received this knowledge from his parents and his grandparents who instilled a strong sense of identity in him from a young age. He also stated he refuses to be called, ‘Chief’ because, “I am not a chief of a tribe. It’s a sacred thing.” He added, “I would also like to be called by my name, Kyle.”

Comments (6)
No. 1-6

In reference to the article, 'Do you prefer Native American...', my thought is that Indigenous Peoples should be respected and not denigrated by white labels. Okay, we have a bunch of ignorant and racist people here in America. I understand that. However, no other ethnic group is slandered quite like the Native to America group. Can't we as humans begin to respect all peoples despite their differences, or despite the handed down racism of our forefathers? (Yes, I am white). One doesn't have to embrace anyone else's culture necessarily, just show some decency and respect. Also, about the Will Pharrill article - OH MY GOSH! No one, and I do mean 'NO ONE,' should wear anything from another culture, (even if they identify with that culture), without first understanding the richness and sacredness of an item. Education people, that is the key. As for myself, I am a student of the particular views expressed by Natives in regards to what is sacred. Would I spit on the bread and wine offered by a priest? No! I may not be Roman Catholic, but I give those who are respect.In my view, one should respect those who seek the Creator. I didn't say embrace their understanding - just show common decency. Sorry, I get stirred up about many Native injustices. I didn't mean to belabor my views on these subjects. I didn't mean to 'put down' Catholics, either. John Lennon said, 'Give Peace a Chance'. I say give love and respect to all whom you meet. Thanks for reading my semi - rant.


Indio means "Person living in God. Person living in one with God, the Great Spirit." Une Gente en Dios.... It is what we were first called by spiritual nomadic explorers in 1491. Because they sensed in us, they themselves, that we too were spiritual nomadic explorers, and that we had bravely taken on a hemisphere long ago, and peopled it. They sensed that we had taken a right turn when they had taken a left turn. They went toward God and we went toward God, and we promised each other that we would someday meet in the middle. Which we did. Which we have now done. In communion and in atonement....They sensed that we had faithfully sought God here in this place, as they were now doing. So. Indio it is.
It means person of God, in Arabic, in Sanscrit, in Indo European tongues, and in the beloved Spanish, in the Latin tongues, in the African tongues, and in so many other languages of the heart, and now at this place in time, in the streams of consciousness. So. Indio it shall be.

I am a stone mover.

David L Yellowmoon
David L Yellowmoon


Forget “Making America Great Again”, (as whites see it). Since 1927 white presidential candidates have been repeating that administrative message platform from the git 'go without much progress for the better for our people, or change. change.. If you want to “make america great”, Honor The Treaties.

Change is something we believe in that was Obama's Platform.

Change we can and have seen these past 500+,- years….

We have seen so much change, so much that we are now seen exotic in our own homelands and you, the true foreigners, the blue-green eyed's, and those with blonde-red hair, Europeans, are seen as "the most common and true americans”, so-called: 'Natives', having been born here, and your ancestors back to the pilgrims with them.

So now-a-days, what are we to call ourselves but “Original Peoples Of The Americas”? “American Indians”, “Native Americans” and “Natives” no longer will do; “these words no longer are good and valid for us”, many will say, or do they apply still today? How twisted around, inside out, upside down things have become.., what's wrong is right.., what's right is wrong.., what's right is right.., and what's wrong is wrong.., who knows what's to come?

Natives truly native are held back, in back of the cocina, bodega or at the mall. Foreigners truly foreign say "who's to come" and "who's to stay", though their genes have never truly mixed with dust of these americas, if so, then they'd more readily and willingly defend our true brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles both sides of the borders in their desperate plight to make a better future amongst us in peace and tranquility for themselves here, true natives of this land.!.!.!.!. There'd be more love. Blood ancestry creates the connection. If it were not so, Moses would not have led his people out of Pharoah's Egypt, if he were not kin. Natives wouldn't still be held underthumb. There'd not be so much hate. There'd be more love, that ancestral bond. They wouldn't blame one for the actions of another, hold Latinoaméricanos accountable for the actions of Muslim aggressions.

They'd realize we are all brothers on Mother Earth, Turtle Island, and that no man is content when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. They'd realize The Great Spirit is everyone's Granfather and Earth, everyone's Mother. They'd know that money can be burned within the nod of a buffalo's head, but for as long as grass grows and winds blow this land will be here to give life to our peoples. They'd know we all now, most of us have read that little black book brought to our shores in 1492 of which you much debate, and teach us to quarrel about religion and God, something that before you came, we'd never known. We may have quarreled about things of man in this world, but we never argued about The Great Spirit.

Original Peoples Of The Americas wouldn't be called “wetbacks”, “illegals”, told to go home when they are home, for this is after all, “America”, Land Of The Free. We're not in Europe or Africa you see. You wouldn't say: “Now swim back”, when after all, “Who got wetter, we.. who may have crossed a few rivers, or you from far across the seas”?. Yes, you.. Europeans with your African slaves.

Latin American Cousins are our brothers and sisters. We freaking look alike. What do you expect? Mine eyes don't lie, with their pomulos altos (high cheekbones), dark black hair and ojos chinos (Chinese looking eyes). What do you have to gain?; now that you tell me “they're not native, but from Spain”. Now that you tell me “You're more Native than they”, since you were born here, in the North and your great great granpappy was Tsalagi, Pima, Acoma or Taos, just a few to name. Why play the whiteman's game?

Love in the heart is all we plea. Now who is the great deceiver? How absurd? What does it matter, America... North, Central, South, …. Americans all the same? I say.., Make America 'Native Again'.!.!.!.!. let the prophecies “Eagle And Condor” and “White Buffalo Prophecy” come true. Let there be peace, love, compassion and tranquility, and let truth be known. Live your Christian Love the way it was meant to be lived. Actions speak louder than words....

Read “The Grand Council Fire Speech Of American Indians”, December 1, 1927 to the Mayor Of Chicago.

We totally adhere with that. Trump's Border Wall, more scars upon the land, only tempt offend me. “The land was made without lines of demarcation and it is no man's business to divide it”, words you should hear, spoken by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Band.

I say, Make America 'Native Again'.!.!.!.!

  • David L Yellowmoon

I was looking online for correct terminology to be sure Im sensitive and respectful. I came across an article explaining Indios, Indians, "In the Spanish racial hierarchy, indios were the lowest-ranked group."
I say Amen to First Americans, Original Americans, but better yet what people called themselves before Americas were identified as such.


why are people still sticking to Columbus's foolish mistake??

they should be called real americans or something

I can't beleive that even professional writers still call them "indians"

that has made it confusing in some cases