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Why are American Indians and Alaska Natives also referred to as Native Americans?

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Our Nation’s American Indian and Alaska Native Citizens

When referring to American Indian or Alaska Native persons, it is still appropriate to use the terms “American Indian” and “Alaska Native.” These terms denote the cultural and historical distinctions between persons belonging to the indigenous tribes of the continental United States (American Indians) and the indigenous tribes and villages of Alaska (Alaska Natives, i.e., Eskimos, Aleuts, and Indians).  They also refer specifically to persons eligible for benefits and services funded or directly provided by the BIA.

The term “Native American” came into broad usage in the 1970's as an alternative to “American Indian.”  Since that time, however, it has been gradually expanded within the public lexicon to include all Native peoples of the United States and its trust territories, i.e., American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, Chamorros, and American Samoans, as well as persons from Canada First Nations and indigenous communities in Mexico and Central and South America who are U.S. residents.

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