Both are acceptable terms in general references for those in the U.S. when referring to two or more people of different tribal affiliations. For individuals, use the name of the tribe; if that information is not immediately available, try to obtain it. He is a Navajo commissioner. She is a member of the Nisqually Indian Tribe. He is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
Native American gained traction in the 1960s for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Over time, Native American has expanded to include all Native people of the continental United States and some in Alaska. Native American and American Indian can be used interchangeably; however, the term is used only to describe groups — two or more individuals of different tribal affiliation. Always identify people by their preferred tribal affiliation when reporting on individuals or individual tribes.
Tribal membership is required by the federal government, and each tribe sets its own membership requirements for enrolled citizens. However, enrollment is not the only factor that determines whether someone is American Indian. Connection to one’s tribal community, culture, heritage, language, and history is also important. Additionally, some American Indians may possess blood quantum from several tribes, yet are not enrolled because they do not meet any single tribe’s enrollment criteria.
Tribe, nation, community, and band describe various sociopolitical units; usage also varies based on personal or group preference.
For more guidance, visit the Native American Journalists Association website.
(Sources: AP Stylebook, Native American Journalists Association, Wisconsin First Nations)