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Should the Indigenous peoples of Latin America be called ‘Indians’?

The ASSIST News Service recently received the following message: “I just want to make a suggestion. Even when you use the term ‘Indian’ to describe the natives of Peru, you should know that it sounds no so good for Latin Americans. Those people you may be referring to are not Indians, they are natives or indigenous, but not Indians.”

So I contacted Dr. Dale Kietzman, the founder of Latin American Ministries, who has a PhD, in Cultural Anthropology and Latin American Studies, to get his response to this message, which he has since sent to the person who had contacted us.

Kietzman said, “While you are correct that the term ‘Indian’ is derived from the fact that Columbus thought he had reached India, or more precisely, the Indies, the use of the term is the most common one for the non-indigenous population, and is understood quite broadly to refer to the native population of the Americas rather than of India.

“It is true that the native population of the Americas generally do not use the term because they tend to refer to the individuals they are talking to or about by the name of the tribe to which they belong. A general term, when used, is apt to be ‘Amerindian’ in the United States, ‘Native’ in Canada, or ‘Indigene’ in Latin America.

Dan Wooding with Dr. Dale Kietzman during a recent interview on ‘His Channel Live’

“Since there are approximately 600 individual nations involved, there has never been the possibility of a conclave in which they themselves might decide on a common term to refer to all of them as a group. So that is left to common usage of those who communicate about them.

“The terms ‘native’ or ‘indigenous’ are problematical, because after multiple generations born in the land, many of us feel we also are native and indigenous.”

Dr. Kietzman is the former US Director of Wycliffe Bible Translators and was previously a translator amongst the “Indian” tribes in both Peru and Brazil.

He can be contact at: Latin American Indian Ministries, 626-795-0902 / or by e-mail at:

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