I'm trying to figure out what the concise, non-offensive term is for Native Americans from the area that became California (like Ohlone or Chumash people).

California Natives doesn't work, since it would include anyone born in California. Californian Native Americans seems too unwieldy. California Indians is concise, but I'm not sure how people feel about it.

Anyone know what the term is?

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    Don’t forget the Cochimí, Kiliwa, Paipai, Kumeyaay, Cocopa, and Quechan peoples who also historically occupied the area we now know as California. – tchrist Sep 12 '12 at 21:57
  • See discussion of Native American Indian here. – bib Sep 13 '12 at 2:24
  • In Ontario where I live, I would say "First Nations people of Ontario" or "Ontario First Nations." This is because it is a term chosen by the people themselves. For your question, I'd hesitate to choose anything, no matter how "dictionary correct," unless it were a term chosen by the people referred to. I understand "Native American" is a fairly accepted phrase for the indigenous people of the United States. My guess is you won't be able to get around your "Californian Native Americans," unwieldy though it is. Good luck. – JAM Sep 13 '12 at 2:50
  • @JAM Why would someone think Native American means someone in the United States only rather than from anywhere in the Americas? The American continent, or continents, is much larger than the United States thereof. – tchrist Sep 13 '12 at 3:10
  • Hi @tchrist -- only that I've heard the term "Native American" used to refer to indigenous people from the United States, not indigenous people from Canada, Mexico, Chile, etc. I could be wrong. (I'm not wrong about Canada, though :) ) – JAM Sep 13 '12 at 3:13

The word you are looking for may be indigenous, which is better known than the equivalent autochthonous. Both are used, as the following pair of OED citations prove:

  • 1646 Sir T. Browne Pseud. Ep. ᴠɪ. x. 325 ― Although··there bee··swarmes of Negroes serving under the Spaniard, yet were they all transported from Africa··and are not indigenous or proper natives of America.
  • 1860 Sat. Rev. X. 149/1 ― Most of them [the Red Indians] believe themselves to be autochthonous.

So you could speak of the indigenous or autochthonous inhabitants of the present-day American state of California. There are related nouns for each, respectively indigene and autochthon. You might have Californian indigenes, or even Californian autochthons for maximal opacity.

But all these are just fancy words for native, so you might want to try to find a way to use the normal native.

BTW, the indigenous peoples of California Alta and of California Baja appear to differ substantially, so you should probably also make sure people know which people, and place, you’re talking about. They were all (reasonably) native to the Americas, and to North America in particular, so could rightly be called Native Americans — even the ones in the Mexican half of that equation.

  • maximal opacity did you mean opacity or is it a typo? – Noah Sep 13 '12 at 1:32
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    @Noah I was teasing: many speakers of English find words derived from Latin easier to recognize than those derived from Greek. Plus anything that’s chthonic is automatically obscure. :) – tchrist Sep 13 '12 at 3:12

Among anthropologists, I think the term "Precontact indigenous peoples of California" covers those natives at least as far back as 17,000 BC but prior to contact with people from outside North America.

You might also refer to the tribal populations of California. This would include current residents known as native Americans. There are reportedly over 100 "native" tribes in California (and nearly every one of them operates a casino!).

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