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Native Americans, Indigenous People, American Indian, or... ?

A frequent wondering is the respectful terminology to use for the original people of America. This question and its associated conversations point to the glorious fact that we can all benefit from more cultural competency and a deeper understanding of the diverse nations that account for 3% of our amazing school district.

A best practice approach is to honor our students’ identities and create environments that welcome all cultures. Research shows that all cultures perform better when educators intentionally make cultural inclusion their practice.


American Indian, Native American, and Indigenous people are all acceptable terms and may be used in the same paragraph to respectfully describe our people. Yet, it is recommended they be recognized according to their personal preference. I, personally, switch between Native American, American Indian, and Indigenous when talking about the Native population. Another good rule of thumb is to allow Native Americans to call themselves Indians, but to acknowledge that many do not appreciate being called Indian by non-Indians.

It is important that our language respectfully and accurately identifies Indigenous tribes. For example, a Dakota person is unlikely to use the term Sioux or Native American when speaking in the Dakota language because would describe their people as Dakota. Similarly, Ojibwe people likely use Ojibwe and Anishinaabe to describe their people.

My recommendation is to have this discussion with your children, students, and colleagues, and then implement this guidance with the greatest respect and kind regards for the original peoples of this land.


North Dakota Native American Essential Understandings is a free, online curriculum developed by the state’s five indigenous tribes in collaboration with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. The curriculum includes lesson plans, Elder interviews, and other resources relevant to the state’s tribal culture and history. This is a great curriculum from which every student and teacher in North Dakota can benefit. The content is authentic and endorsed by State Superintendent Baesler.

Melody Staebner
(701) 466-3054