The Term “Native American”

There is a common misinterpretation that Native American is an actual definition of an individual that is accepted by Native people. Native American is a box that we check on various applications or forms. The indigenous people of North America were and remain tribal people. There are more than five hundred federally recognized tribes in the United States. Each Tribe has their own language and culture. Although there are commonalities that may exist between Tribes, no two Tribes are exactly the same.

For example, I am an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana. I was enrolled in this Tribe prior to the age of 1 year. If you ask for my enrollment information it will state Blackfeet Nation. However, I was born and raised on the Winnebago reservation. I have a Winnebago Indian Name and was brought up in the Winnebago culture. When greeting another Native American I would identify myself as Winnebago. The Blackfeet and Winnebago are very different Tribes in terms of geographical location, language, religion, social organization, social customs, and traditional foods.  The classification of simply Native American in no way captures the diversity that exists among the indigenous people of the United States.

Furthermore, I generally do not go around introducing myself as Native American. This is how the non-Native American world defines me. So what does it mean to be Native American? I am not sure because my identity is that of Winnebago. My blood quantum would suggest that I am Blackfeet. I guess I am a combination of my blood quantum and identity. My blood quantum doesn’t tell me of my culture. My surroundings and upbringing have formed my identity.




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