A teen recently told me that using the phrase “find your tribe” or using the word “tribe” is offensive to Native Americans. I wanted to ask a reliable source if this is true or is simply an opinion. What are your thoughts?

Hi there,

Thanks for reaching out. It’s wonderful that you’re looking for more information.

As we move forward as a society, we are starting conversations with great talking points like the ones that were brought up to you. What was once okay, or seen as normal can shift as we start to learn more about ourselves (which the teen seems to be doing) and other cultures. What was generally accepted by our parents and elders may no longer be acceptable to the younger generations as we move further away from our colonial past. This is a good thing.

So, let’s talk this through.

First, what is a tribe?

Tribes are significant cultural and political groups for Indigenous People. Every tribe has a unique history and traditions. Per the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), “A federally recognized tribe is an American Indian or Alaska Native Tribal entity that is recognized as having a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with the responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations attached to that designation. Federally recognized Tribes are recognized as possessing certain inherent rights of self-government (i.e., Tribal sovereignty) and are entitled to receive certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of their special relationship with the United States. Currently, there are 574 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes and villages.”

For Indigenous people, tribal identity is important. So when non-Native people say “find your tribe” or “tribe” to describe groups of shared interest, it is offensive because it erases the significance of Tribal sovereignty, identity, and people. Instead, we can use words like: group, crew, friends, or circle.

I’d encourage to continue the conversation with the teen and perhaps share what you may have learned here. Thanks for writing in!

Take care,

Auntie Amanda

See more from Auntie Manda
Topics: Education|Identity|Non-Native Allies

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