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This is from today's Guardian:

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I am wondering why the newspaper capitalized the "I" in "Indigenous".

According to Lexico, indigenous is spelled with a lowercase letter

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  • You could argue that newspapers often capitalised words headlines but this case would appear to be different. Perhaps, it's a Trumpism feature :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 4:23
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    Assuming it is deliberate, I would guess it is because it is talking about a specific indigenous people (the Maoris). Perhaps if you write to the Guardian they might send you a copy of their style guide.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 4:38
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    In Canada anyway, the native people are currently referred to with the proper noun Indigenous. While it's also a word, in this context it's a name. As a proper noun, it's capitalized. Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 5:00
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    @Zebrafish You would say the Inuit crisis and you would say the Maori crisis. The Indigenous crisis is exactly the same. If you've lived in a place where it's not only common but actually mandated by the government, then it's not unusual at all. Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 11:13
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    @nnnnnn at least a quick-reference version is online For hints see under aborigines as well as under Indigenous...
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 13:55

3 Answers 3

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It's similar to the use of the words Aboriginal and Squatter in Australia.

The word aboriginal with a lower case 'a' means 'indiginous' or 'original inhabitant' but 'Aboriginal' with an upper case 'A' came to refer to people descended from the indigenous people of Australia {with all the attendant bias and abuse that accompanied colonialism}.

The word 'squatter' with a lower case 's' on the other hand means someone who occupies a property or piece of land either illegally or without legal title of any sort. However the word 'Squatter' with an upper case 'S' has come to mean a large, wealthy landowner. I understand that 'Squatter' meaning a landowner is often written with a lower case 's' but whenever 'Squatter' appears in the middle of a sentence it will refer to a large landowner, not a homeless person occupying a building illegally.

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It's capitalized to indicate a specific group of people, i.e. the "Indigenous" Maori's. "Maori" also capitalized as to indicate their race of people are "Maori".

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  • Does New Zealand distinguish between indigenous and non-indigenous Maori?
    – Michael W.
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 15:17
  • We do not normally distinguish between the two. From our point of view all Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. I am not aware of any Maori that are not indigenous. Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 0:02
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"Indigenous" is capitalized in that article because the author viewed it as a proper noun or adjective (both of which are capitalized in English).

Unfortunately, there aren't clear criteria for determining when a noun or adjective in English "counts as" a proper noun/adjective vs. common noun/adjective. You just have to learn how each word is used. (Sometimes there are differences in usage between different publishers.) Some words can be used either way, with a lowercase or capital letter depending on the meaning.

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