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5.3.5: American Indian and Indigenous Identity

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    Indigenous Personality 

    Much of this chapter has been dedicated to the etic approach for understanding personality which posits that personality is innate, biological and universal but still acknowledges that culture plays an important in shaping personality by way of geography (environment), resources, and social supports.

    Indigenous Personality is a perspective that suggests personality can only be understood and interpreted within the context of the culture. In this way personality is considered emic, meaning that it is culturally specific and can only understood within the culture from which it originates. This means that personality is not something that can be measured by a universal test.

    The indigenous approach came about in reaction to the dominance of Western approaches to the study of personality in non-Western settings (Cheung et al., 2011). Because Western-based personality assessments cannot fully capture the personality constructs of other cultures, the indigenous model has led to the development of personality assessment instruments that are based on constructs relevant to the culture being studied (Cheung et al., 2011). Although there is debate within the indigenous psychology movement about whether indigenous psychology represents a more universalistic or a more relativistic approach (Chakkarath, 2012), most of these 10 characteristics are advocated by the majority of those in the indigenous psychology movement.

    Indian, American Indian, Native and Native American Identity

    The terms Indian, American Indian, Native and Native American have been used interchangeably in academia to refer to a specific population of people having origins in any of the tribal homeland locations within the United States. These terms can also apply to an individual identity of a person who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation, enrollment or community recognition (Stony Brook, 2011). It is important to understand the legal and political nature of identity terminology for this core group. American Indian is not simply an ethnicity but also a legal status. American Indians are citizens of separate nations, i.e. the Navajo Nation or the Ohlone/Costanoan Esselen Nation, as well as U.S. citizens.

    Indian, American Indian, Native and Native American are all problematic in that these terms were not created by the people themselves and are racialized and political terms employed by the U.S. government to legally lump uniquely diverse nations together. Christopher Columbus began the confusion because he just didn’t know where he was and believed he was in Asia in search of a new trade route and gold, when he landed on Taino shores. The term Indian comes from Indios which was a term used by Spain and Portugal to mean a member of any of the indigenous peoples of America or eastern Asia. A very important point that needs to be made here is that Indians, American Indians, Natives and Native Americans are not related to Indians from India or Indian Americans. Please do not make this mistake.

    Perspective on American Indian Identity Development (Perry G. Horse, 2005)

    Perry G. Horse proposes five influences that affect Native American “consciousness” which can provide a framework for understanding the development of Native American students. Note: Horse does not refer to this idea as an identity model. This is not a linear stage model that youth will progress through in order. 

    1. “the extent to which one is grounded in one’s Native American language and culture, one’s cultural identity” 

    2. “the validity of one’s American Indian genealogy” 

    3. “the extent to which one holds a traditional American Indian general philosophy or worldview (emphasizing balance and harmony and drawing on Indian spirituality)” 

    4. “one’s self-concept as an American Indian” 

    5. “one’s enrollment (or lack of it) in a tribe” (p. 65). 


    8.5: Cultural Considerations and Personality by L. D. Worthy, Trisha Lavigne, & Fernando Romero is licensed CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Original source:

    This page titled 5.3.5: American Indian and Indigenous Identity is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Jennifer Ounjian.

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