Is it Rude to Call Native Americans Indians?

In the United States, the indigenous people who lived there were wrongly dubbed “Indians” by the Europeans who thought they were somewhere in the East Indies. 

Today, most people still refer to the indigenous peoples of North America as Indians… 

But, is it rude? Read on below and learn the actual fact of the matter!

Is it Rude to Call Native Americans Indians?

Calling a Native American Indian runs you the risk of seriously offending them. Most Native Americans prefer to be addressed as simply Americans, or by their tribal affiliation. 

When Columbus wrongly named the indigenous people of North America as Indians, he did so believing he was in the Indies. 

The problem is that today we are educated about this mistake, yet some people continue to ignorantly refer to Native Americans as Indians. 

To make it perfectly clear, Indians come from India, not America. 

Unless you refer to a Native American with their indigenous tribal heritage, such as Cherokee, Miami, or Lakota Sioux, you should refer to them as American only.

How Rude Is it?


On the rude meter’s scale of 1 to 10, calling Native Americans Indians rates 7. 

The primary reason for the mostly high level of rudeness associated with calling Native Americans Indians is that it is the wrong name, and we know better (unlike in the past).

The proper way to refer to a Native American is as an American unless you know their tribal affiliation/heritage (in which case you should call them by their tribal nation, tribe, or band).

Why is it Rude?

Calling a Native American an Indian is incorrect, and it is seen as rude by many Native American people. 

Calling a Native American an Indian is like calling a Chinese person English, or a French person African.

If it is done with such knowledge in mind, there is no denying the fact that it is rude and uncalled for. 

Doing so otherwise is simply ignorant, which most Native Americans will forgive you for (possibly after a bit of education on the subject).

Common Questions

Is it ok to say Indian?

If you are speaking to someone from India, there is nothing wrong with saying Indian (because that is, indeed, what they are; people from India).

However, calling an Indigenous American person an Indian may be highly offensive, as the word itself is defined as derogatory by the majority of Native American nations and their people.

Why don’t Natives like being called Indian?

Native Americans find the term/label “Indian” derogatory and ignorant. In other words, they are not people from India, and it is rude and belittling to call them such.

Now that centuries have passed since their mislabeling, by European conquerors, it is nothing less than rude to call a Native American an Indian.

Is the word Indian offensive in America?

The word Indian is only offensive in America when it is used to address someone who is not from India or the ancestor of Indian immigrants to the United States.

Native American people have never been Indian, and are quite frankly sick and tired of being called such. In their minds, calling a dutch person Russian, knowingly or not, is the equivalent of calling a Native American an Indian.