Native Americans, or American Indians, are the people descended from the various peoples who lived in North America before European colonization.
- Lakota (Sioux)
What to call these people
Anthropologists originated the term, and prefer it to the former apellations of "Indian" or "American Indian", which they consider inaccurate, as these terms bear no relationship to the actual origins of aboriginal Americans, and were born of the misapprehension on the part of Christopher Columbus, arriving at islands off the east coast of the North American continent, that he had reached the Indies. Of course, "Indian" and "American Indian" continue to be widely used in North America, even by Native Americans themselves, many of whom are not offended by the terms.
One minority view has been that a more accurate term might be "Asiatic Americans" because of the popular theory that such peoples migrated to the Americas from Asia accross an ice bridge covering the Bering Straits some 20,000 years ago. There is competent fossil evidence that this may have been the case. The strong tradition among archaeologists and anthropologists, however, is to indicate the geographic origins of a people as relating to the region where they (or their remains) were first encountered by researchers.
One difficulty with the term, however, as a substitute for "American Indian," is that there are at least two peoples who certainly are natives of the Americas, but which are not properly considered American Indians: the Inuit and the Aleut people of the far north of the continent.