Curious Kids: What Makes Someone Indigenous? | Kiowa County Press

Participants in the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas Parade in New York, October 15, 2022. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Torivio Fodder, University of Arizona

curious children is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to [email protected]


What makes a person indigenous? – Artie, 9, Astoria, New York

“In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the blue ocean.”

You may have heard that in school. The rhyme makes it easier to remember that 1492 was the year an Italian explorer named Christopher Columbus from Spain and landed in a chain of islands near modern Florida called the “West Indies”.

Europeans called the huge landmass we know today as North and South America the “New World” because, before the very end of the 15th century, no one on the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean even knew it existed. A few Viking explorers had reached the Americas hundreds of years earlier, but little is known on their visits.

From the perspective of Europeans, Christopher Columbus had discovered something new. But for millions of natives, or natives, who already lived there, the “New World” was not new at all.

Connected instead

In the most basic terms, the fact that a person or a group of people is indigenous amounts to where their ancestors lived and how long they lived there.

People are considered indigenous to a certain place when their ancestors have existed and thrived there since time immemorial – basically, for longer than anyone can remember, or before people began to retain written historical records.

Indigenous peoples are the original inhabitants of a certain region. Their villages and territories were the first to be established in a particular place and existed long before modern cities, states or countries existed.

In 2007, the United Nations adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to help ensure the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples around the world.

Cultural identity

There is an estimate 476 million Indigenous people in about 5,000 indigenous groups around the world. They live in almost every corner of the globe, including the frozen Arctic in northern canada and Alaskathe United States plainsthe mountains and rainforests of Latin Americathe pacific ocean islandsand throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and just about anywhere else people live – including major cities.

Each of these unique groups has deep historical ties to a particular part of the world. And their experiences have produced so many unique cultures.

Where you live – especially if your family has lived there for centuries – can have a huge impact on your lifestyle. It shapes things like the type of house you live in, the food you eat, the way you cook, and even things like how and who you worship in your religion.

For example, my father’s Aboriginal ancestry comes from Comanche, Kiowa and Cherokee tribes. The Comanches traveled widely, across a vast expanse of land from Canada in the north to the jungles of South America.

They learned to follow the migration of buffalo, which was their main source of food. And they have developed techniques to facilitate movement, such as the creation of mobile shelters called tepees which could be easily installed, disassembled and transported from place to place.

My mother grew up in an aboriginal community known as Taos Pueblo. The people of Taos Pueblo stayed year-round in the same region of northern New Mexico, home to vast mountain ranges and rushing rivers. Since the people of Taos Pueblo didn’t have to move around as much, they constructed large buildings from adobeor fired mud bricks, which were several stories high and could not be moved.

Adobe houses with mountains in the background
Taos Pueblo in Taos, New Mexico is a vibrant Native American community that has been designated both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Although being indigenous is a matter of ancestry and place, different indigenous groups have their own cultures, traditions, languages ​​and religions, just as these things can differ from country to country, state to state. another or even from one city to another today.

political identity

Today, being indigenous does not necessarily mean that your ancestors lived in the same place where you live today. In fact, throughout history, many Aboriginal groups have been removed from their traditional homeland and forced to live elsewhere.

Most of the indigenous groups who were driven from their lands did not want to leave. But settlers from elsewhere saw the lands and resources where Indigenous peoples lived and wanted them for their own country. They often used military force forcing indigenous peoples to leave their homes.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks during a press conference, April 23, 2021.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo member, is the first Native American to serve as U.S. cabinet secretary. She oversees millions of acres of public lands, as well as the nation’s fiduciary responsibility to American Indians and Alaska Natives. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Many of these groups exist today as a type of government known as an Aboriginal tribe or nation. There is at least 574 tribes in the United States alone. Like any other government, tribal governments make laws about how to live together peacefully, decide what it means to be a good citizen, and plan for the future.

Together, these laws form a political community – an understanding of how all members of an Indigenous nation agree to live and treat each other as part of the same Indigenous community.

So, although being indigenous has always been very closely linked to a place, today it is also a question of cultural and political identity. It helps shape a person’s connection to their community and allows them to understand their place in history.


Hello, curious little ones! Do you have a question you would like an expert to answer? Have an adult send your question to [email protected] Please let us know your name, age and the city where you live.

And since curiosity has no age – adults, let us know your questions too. We cannot answer all questions, but we will do our best.

The conversation

Torivio FodderIndigenous Governance Program Manager and Professor of Practice, University of Arizona

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

About Florence M. Sorensen

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