Skip to Main Content

Indigenous Health

What term do I use?

Terms used to refer to Indigenous populations vary by country, by database, by discipline, and by whose perspective is privileged.

Community term use:

  • "For most tribes, there is one tribal term of self-reference and one other term, either corrupted from the original or entirely foreign. Sometimes those corrupted terms are more common than the more accurate ones tribes and tribal people use. Such is the case for the people the Spanish called Navajo but who call themselves Diné". Anton Treuer, Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid To Ask


(Structure your search to include both perspectives by using the Boolean operator "OR":)

community term corrupted/foreign term database search including both perspectives
Diné Navajo (Diné OR Navajo)
Ojibwe Chippewa (Ojibwe OR Chippewa)
traditional medicine ethnopharmacology ("traditional medicine" OR ethnopharmacology)


**Some historically racist aspects of medicine (ie, the spirometer) remain embedded in modern practice. Be wary of "evidence" that ties health outcomes to race, rather than racism or socioeconomic inequity.

Terms by country:

  • In United States research literature, as well as coloquially, people use "Native American", "American Indian", "Alaska Native", "Native", and very rarely, "Indigenous".
    • The US government Office of Management and Budget established "American Indian or Alaska Native" as terms to be used in official US government documents in 1977.
    • The categories used by the US Census have varied over time, and the current category used is "American Indian or Alaska Native", with other categories available for Indigenous peoples of Hawaii and the Pacific ocean.
    • These terms were not developed with any kind of group consent from the communities being labeled, and may not reflect what these communities prefer to be called
  • In Canada
    • "First Nations" was used in the past, though it does not include Métis nor Inuit people
    • "Aboriginal" is used as a general term to refer to all ethnicities of people native to Canada, and has a legal definition in that country
    • "Indigenous" is also used as a general term to refer to all ethnicities of people native to Canada, though it is most often used to refer to people in an international, transnational, or global context
    • As in the US, within Canada the term "Indian" has a legal definition, and in CA refers to a person registered under the Indian Act

the above information on terms in Canada sourced from The University of British Columbia's First Nations & Indigenous Studies Indigenous Foundations "Terminology" webpage.

Terms in databases

  • Databases use different terms to form subject headings for Indigenous peoples
  • To be both efficient and thorough, use both the database's subject heading for an Indigenous population as well as locally preferred terms

PubMed example:

("Indians, North American"[Mesh] OR "Three Affiliated Tribes" OR Mandan OR Hidatsa OR Arikara OR "Fort Berthold")

CINAHL example:

((MH "Native Americans") OR "Three Affiliated Tribes" OR Mandan OR Hidatsa OR Arikara OR "Fort Berthold")


  • PubMed Medical subject headings (Mesh) relevant to Indigenous health

"Alaskan Natives"[Mesh]

"American Native Continental Ancestry Group"[Mesh]

"American Indians or Alaska Natives"[Mesh] - NEW TERM - use for articles published in 2022 or later.

- for articles published 1990 to 2021, use "Indians, North American"[Mesh]


"Health Disparity, Minority and Vulnerable Populations"[Mesh]

"Health Services, Indigenous"[Mesh]

"Indians, Central American"[Mesh]

"Indians, North American"[Mesh] - OLD TERM - only used on articles published 1990 to 2021

- for articles published in 2022 or later, use "American Indians or Alaska Natives"[Mesh]

"Indians, South American"[Mesh]

"Indigenous Canadians"[Mesh]

"Indigenous Peoples"[Mesh]


"Medicine, Traditional'[Mesh]

"United States Indian Health Service"[Mesh]


  • CINAHL subject headings relevant to Indigenous health

(DH "Arctic Peoples") (up until 2021, the subject heading was "Eskimos [Note: "For genetic and physiological as well as cultural and social discussion of Eskimos.")

(DH "First Nations of Australia")

(DH "First Nations of Canada")

(DH "Health Services, Indigenous")

(DH "Indigenous Peoples")

(DH "Inuit")  [NOTE: "Group of culturally similar indigenous peoples of Arctic and near-Arctic Canada, Alaska, and Greenland."

(DH "Medicine, Traditional")

(DH "Medicine, Native American")

(DH "Maori")

(DH "Native Americans")  [NOTE: "For native peoples of the United States and non-Arctic Alaska regions"]

(DH "Traditional Healers")