One of the greatest challenges we face in creating our publications is trying to write from a point of view and use terminology that is universally acceptable to all of the different races, nationalities ethnicities and other groups of people who have current or historical connection to the articles we write.
We take this responsibility seriously, knowing that our publications are being used by teachers and read by students all across the county. However, our best efforts are sometimes challenged by individuals who have an issue with word choice, perspective or content in our publications. We are always open to this feedback and use it as an opportunity to evaluate how an article has been written and, if needed, are willing to change.
To help readers better understand what this looks like in real life, I will use the example of feedback we received on the use of the word, "Indian" in various articles in several of our publications. We recognize that the stand-alone use of this word has taken on a negative connotation and many consider its use to be sensitive and demeaning. To that end, readers will notice that we will not use the word by itself. However, this doesn't mean that the word "Indian" will never appear in our publication, since there are still valid and accepted uses of this word. So how do we write about this important group of people who share both a tribal and collective identity?
We have several recognized, reliable sources that help us with proper terminology. As a starter, we use The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, usually called the AP Stylebook. Although it is sold as a guide for reporters, it has become the leading reference for most forms of public-facing corporate communication over the last half-century. The Stylebook not only offers a basic reference to grammar, but also includes definitions and rules for word usage.
In addition, we look to groups, themselves, for how they choose to self-identify. For example, we see some tribes use the word, “Indian” in their official name, like the, “Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.” Where other tribes do not use this as part of their name, we do not use it either. These use cases are usually very clear but there are other times when there is disagreement within groups. For example, a study by the Census Bureau (https://www.infoplease.com/us/race-population/preference-racial-or-ethnic-terminology) found that of individuals in this larger group, 50% prefer the term, “American Indian” while 37% preferred, “Native American.”
We also use words that are accepted academic or scientific terms, such as the use of “ Paleo-Indian,” to describe the group of people who inhabited the Americas during a specific time, which was the end of the late Pleistocene period.
Using the right words can be a challenge but we diligently try to do our homework in order to use words and terminology correctly. We respect all individuals and seek to appropriately recognize their heritage in a respectful way.