I met a women who I gathered was First Nations (or something like that). I struggled to ask the question to elicit the response to find more about her heritage and culture. What is the word that distinguishes between different North American aboriginal people? I've heard them called "nations" but it would be ambiguous to ask "what Nation are you from?" because the "official" one would be Canada.

For example would it be politically correct to ask "What type of First Nations are you?" or "Are you part of a certain band?". I was looking for an answer like "Cree" or "Salish".

  • You might ask if this person still preserves their tribal identity? – Elliott Frisch Jan 31 '14 at 14:11
  • In Canada, a person of First Nations' descent is usually part of a band. I cannot speak for American usage, but here it is perfectly acceptable to ask 'what band are you from?' – Anonym Jan 31 '14 at 17:28
  • @ElliottFrisch but that's a yes or no question, would it be correct to ask "what tribe are you part of"? It sounds strange... – Celeritas Feb 1 '14 at 2:24
  • @Celeritas If they answer yes to having a tribal identity, then "What tribe (or band) do you belong?" seems polite to me. – Elliott Frisch Feb 1 '14 at 2:56

You might be surprised to find out that many Native Americans don't like that politically correct name for our indiginous Americans.

Native Americans did not suffer through countless trails of tears, disease, wars, and cultural annihilation -- Indians did. The Native people today are Native Americans not Indians, therefore we do not need to feel guilty for the horrors of the past. Many Indians feel that this is what the term Native American essentially does -- it white-washes history. It cleans the slate.

So what to call them? All Things Chreokee explores this, and their recommendation:

When you don't know the specific tribe simply use the term which you are most comfortable using. The worst that can happen is that someone might correct you and open the door for a thoughtful debate on the subject of political correctness and its impact on ethnic identity. What matters in the long run is not which term is used but the intention with which it is used. ...the term "Indian" is increasingly falling back into use.


The primary division of Indian/Native American groups in the US is the Tribe.

Although increasingly, you could make a case for "Casino".

  • What's the source of "Casino"? That may be considered an offensive joke where I'm from because, confidently, casinos are often near First Nations reserves. – Celeritas Feb 1 '14 at 4:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.