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Hey! I’m someone who plays a lot of Dungeons & Dragons, and as a result, I tend to write a lot of fantasy worldbuilding. I’m writing a group of people who revere nature (called druids in-game) and have really powerful magic that allows them to befriend the wilderness, shapeshift into animals, etc. They live in nomadic hunter-gatherer groups, which I would describe as “tribes,” because it’s much faster than “small, tight-knit nomadic hunter-gatherer groups.” Is this usage of the word “tribe” offensive?

Hi there! Thanks for writing in.

This service is for Native youth but we do try to answer all questions when we can. Your question is a complex one, and I’m happy you’re reaching out to try to make the most informed decision you can. There are multiple things to consider here. There is no one universal opinion on the usage of the word “tribe” for non-cultural meanings. Some indigenous groups and people find it to be a form of cultural appropriate and erasure when it’s used for non-indigenous purposes, or believe it’s simply a misuse. Others believe it’s a word that shouldn’t have such cultural significance and it’s fine if it’s used outside of an indigenous context. But I think the issue here is larger than the word itself.

Regardless of one’s beliefs, the word “tribe” is intrinsically related to indigenous people. Tribe is a word used in constant connection to native people. It’s a word that has huge important in the everyday lives of Native people in the United States and it is incredibly important to our sense of belonging. When someone says the word “tribe”, most people (native and non-native alike) conjure thoughts of indigenous people. There is a common trope that exists called the “noble savage” (you can learn more about that here: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NobleSavage). In media, games, and literature, indigenous people are often portrayed as the “noble savage”, which perpetuates outdated and mystical views of how indigenous people exist in the world. Connecting the word “tribe” with a group that fits into that sort of mystical noble savage idea could further perpetuate this stereotype, whether you mean for it to or not. Perhaps you could consider using an alternative term that does not have such a direct association with indigenous people, such as “band” or “clan”.

This is a complex answer for a complex issue. It’s okay if it seems hard to process. I highly suggest taking a look at the link I included above and doing your own research on the concept of the “noble savage”. Once you understand it, it’s hard not to see it in TV, books, and conversations everywhere.

Take Care,

Uncle Paige

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Hey! I’m someone who plays a lot of Dungeons & Dragons, and as a result, I tend to write a lot of fantasy worldbuilding. I’m writing a group of people who revere nature (called druids in-game) and have really powerful magic that allows them to befriend the wilderness, shapeshift into animals, etc. They live in nomadic hunter-gatherer groups, which I would describe as “tribes,” because it’s much faster than “small, tight-knit nomadic hunter-gatherer groups.” Is this usage of the word “tribe” offensive?

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