No more than four syllables, more PC than Indians.

EDIT: I arbitrarily chose four syllables because any more seemed like a mouthful. I like to be PC and not have to stumble over 6+ syllables.

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    Native Americans, as far as I was led to believe, is the PC term. Why have you put a limit on the number of syllables? – Mari-Lou A Jun 6 '14 at 5:55
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    It hasn't caught on in the US, but I really like the Canadian term "First Nations". – MT_Head Jun 6 '14 at 6:10
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    It is hard to know what hundreds of loosely affiliated ethnic and tribal groups speaking dozens of mutually unintelligible languages spread across 40 million square kilometers "prefer." – phenry Jun 6 '14 at 16:03
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    I’ve known plenty, and from more than just one state or tribe, and every single one of them has called themself Indian as a way of distinguishing their race from that of the Old World settlers. Context is everything: in an American context, Indian is the word that has come to indicate the pre-Columbian human denizens of the Americas. It doesn’t matter if Old-Worlders don’t like it. Any and every search for a “politically correct” weasel-word is doomed to fail, and is in fact, off topic and opinion based as well. Look the comment queues here. – tchrist Jun 6 '14 at 17:26
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    If only a third prefer it, then apparently most do not prefer it. – Oldcat Jun 6 '14 at 18:28

I know Indians and they prefer to be called Indians. Their reservations have names like Navajo Indian Reservation. Any office or bureau for them would have the name Indian in it.

Here is a good article that discusses the Indians’ own preferences about what they would like to be called — and not called. So not only is it not offensive but it’s actually preferred, so go with that.

Here are some government bureaus run by and for the Indian population in America. Not sure they would choose to have an offensive name in their office titles.

Added based on comments: Yes, Columbus coined the term probably (there is talk that Indian comes from an Indian word too). He was looking for the (East) Indies, though, not India itself. Yes, there may be confusion about whether the person is from India or they are an Indian (and my good friend’s dad would simply say: that is the white man’s issue). Fact is the word was used for the peoples of the Americas first and has continuously been used since then.

So (poor) choices:

  • Redskins — Worst choice in my opinion. Some Indians are OK with it, but not all for sure. I am not sure how offensive it is since I know of many Indians that want Washington to keep the name, but who wants to get in the middle of that? I would be OK with a team named Whiteskins, but stay away.
  • Red Indian — To me this is “old” and I equate this to the word negro. Might be slightly offensive too to some. Probably would just get you laughed at.
  • Native American — Anyone who is born in America is a native American.
  • American Indian — Some Indians feel that the word Indian is theirs and that when you use American Indian, you are basically saying that only people from India are “real” Indians.
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    But how would someone know if you were referring to (Asian or North American) Indians? With the exception of Indian Reservations, the two other links could be directing me to the Indian subcontinent. – Mari-Lou A Jun 6 '14 at 5:51
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    @Mari-LouA - Lots of words are ambiguous. Indigenous and autochtonous are not only drastically ambiguous but they are wrong (there were other peoples before the Indians in America). I understand your point on Indian (American) vs. Indian (India) but that's just how it is. The word Indian is entrenched in their culture and they take great pride in it. Whether we have to figure out if it is one or the other... that's not their problem. – RyeɃreḁd Jun 6 '14 at 6:16
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    As an (Asian) Indian, I always find it somewhat confusing when Americans use "Indian" ☺. – Ramchandra Apte Jun 6 '14 at 6:48
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    I can't believe how lucky we Germans are for at least having the distinction between "Indianer" (America) and "Inder" (Asia)... :-D – DevSolar Jun 6 '14 at 7:36
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    I've spent a year in New Mexico and asked a few <well that'd be cheating now> that exact question. And the consensus was that there's no consensus. Sticking to the tribe works, but you have to know (or have a good guess depending on region). Otherwise ask or assume that they'll tell you which term they prefer. Quite a few I met didn't care one way or the other. "First Nation" wasn't named so far but also comes up. – Voo Jun 6 '14 at 15:30

Amerinds (three syllables) or Amerindians:

another term for American Indian, used chiefly in anthropological and linguistic contexts

Note, for example, the Amerind Museum, founded by the Amerind Foundation.

The longer "Amerindian" has also been widely adopted in English-speaking South American nations. For example, it is the official term used by the Guyanese government.

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  • If I could accept two answers, I would also accept yours. – FracturedRetina Jun 6 '14 at 17:42
  • That word sounds really messed up. – Simon Kuang Jun 9 '14 at 22:36

Indigenous people. If you want to be more concise (and sensitive), you'd need to know their actual tribe (they probably have a separate language). Some examples Dine, Cherokee, Ojibwe.

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    How is that "sensitive"? I know that Europe is broken into linguistic/cultural groups like "German" and "Spanish", but I don't feel insensitive for saying "European" when that is what I mean. – Malvolio Jun 6 '14 at 10:37
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    @Malvolio: We have a habit of lumping all of the various tribes together as "Native Americans", when often the only thing they really have in common is that they were all here before we were. Referring to them by tribe at least acknowledges that much. – cHao Jun 6 '14 at 11:17
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    Further note that some names we know tribes by are considered denigrating by them: Eskimo (Inuit is preferred), Navajo (Dine), Sioux (Lakota, Dakota, etc.). These were usually names given to them by their enemies, and picked up as labels by Europeans. – Phil Perry Jun 6 '14 at 14:06
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    That's jargon for anthropology, then, not English meaning. – Oldcat Jun 6 '14 at 18:33
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    @PhilPerry "while Inuit describes all of the Eskimo peoples in Canada and Greenland, that is not true in Alaska and Siberia. In Alaska the term Eskimo is commonly used, because it includes both Yupik and Iñupiat, while Inuit is not accepted as a collective term or even specifically used for Iñupiat (who are Inuit)" - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eskimo#General – Pharap Jun 6 '14 at 23:38

There is the term indigene, "one who is indigenous", but I don't know if it has any negative connotations. I've only seen the word used in one novel, and I had to look it up to verify that the author hadn't coined it himself as a back formation from indigenous.

The Google search results don't make me cringe in horror (mostly dictionary references), so it would seem to be a fairly neutral, if obscure, word.

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Anthropologically, there is the term Mongoloid.

Some serious issues to consider before you use it:

  1. It also refers to most of the Central, East, and Southeast Asians.
  2. It is sometimes considered a derogatory term for the people it refers to due to a long history of it being used derogatorily and a general hate for the mongol people and those resembling them.
  3. There is a history of Down's Syndrome (and any disorder that contorts the face in a peculiar way) being called "Mongolism", thus there is an association that Mongoloid is a derogatory term for such persons.
  4. In casual use, you will either appear dated at best and racist at worst.

For casual use, I would just stick with Indian, Native, Native American, American Indian, etc.

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    +1, not because it's the term to use, but because this answer makes the list complete (and does include due warnings). – DevSolar Jun 6 '14 at 7:38

They can be referred to as autochthonous people in general and neutral terms.

Originating where found; indigenous: an autochthonous people; autochthonous folktales, native.

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  • What does this have to do with Indians? – RyeɃreḁd Jun 6 '14 at 5:04
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    @RyeɃreḁd This term is perfectly acceptable: 1. Originating where found; indigenous: autochthonous rocks; an autochthonous people; autochthonous folktales. See Synonyms at native. – Third News Jun 6 '14 at 7:21
  • Very similar in origin: aborigine (ab: from, origin: the beginning), but this is usually applied only to Australian natives, and not those of the Western Hemisphere. It also has a somewhat negative historical connotation to it. – Phil Perry Jun 6 '14 at 14:12
  • Yes, that's why I suggest 'autochthonous' which a more neutral term. – user66974 Jun 6 '14 at 14:15
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    This is a pretty word for "native". – Kit Z. Fox Jun 6 '14 at 18:08

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