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AP OKs American Indian and Native American

I was surprised to see the Mail Tribune use the term "Native American" in a story about school mascot names. That particular phrase seems particularly contrived. After all, millions of us who have no indigenous people in our family tree are technically "native" Americans because we were born on this continent.

For years, the preferred terminology in newspapers has been "American Indian." Has The Associated Press Stylebook changed?

I wish we could follow the lead of our friends in Canada, who coined the term "First Nations" for their indigenous people. They're also getting rid of the penny, and they figured out years ago how to use dollar coins.

— B.K., somewhere in the woods near Rogue River

Well, B.K., it appears you have been living in the woods so long that you've lost touch with the latest updates to The AP Stylebook. Times have changed in what's allowed in referring to ... um, er ... Native Americans or American Indians.

In fact, AP now says "Native Americans" and "American Indians" are both acceptable, according to the Stylebook, which sets the standard for word usage for journalists. That's a change from previous Stylebook rules, which, as you noted, said American Indian is the preferred term.

Trying to get to the bottom of this, we went to the source, The Associated Press. Darrell Christian, AP's editor at large, gave us this explanation:

"Native American was adopted as an acceptable alternative to American Indian in 2008 as part of an overall review of ethnic references in the Stylebook and in recognition of evolving usage.

"At the same time, African-American was recognized as acceptable for black, and Latino for Hispanic. The changes were made in consultation with organizations representing those ethnic groups, as well as other major news organizations."

In a follow-up email (wow, you really got his attention, B.K.), Christian noted, "The AP Stylebook added the American Indian preference in 1985 or 1986. I can't pinpoint the exact year but it was after 1984.

"The 1986 edition said: 'Also avoid the use of Native American except in quotations. American Indians migrated to the continent over a land bridge from Asia.'

"By 1990, however, that explanation was dropped from the Stylebook entry."

In perusing our current (2011) Stylebook, the entry on the topic goes on to make this suggestion: "Where possible, be precise and use the name of the tribe." It also notes that "such words as wampum, warpath, powwow, teepee, brave, squaw, etc., can be disparaging and offensive." So be careful out there, B.K.

As for the Canadians, if they are so smart, why don't they have sunny, hot beaches? Seems like poor planning on their part.

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