Sunday, March 31, 2024

Referencing Indigenous Communities

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The language that is currently used in many cultural resource survey reports, newsletters and even professional archaeological publications is outdated and inaccurately references communities or perpetuates stereotypes and misconceptions. Language is a means of expression and documentation, however the terminology used frequently reflects ongoing themes of discrimination or prejudice. Language evolves over time to reflect the changing values and attitudes of a society. The labels that are used influence interpretation and understanding and can directly influence the perception of a community or group.  The goal of the NYAC Nomenclature Committee is to create a guidance document that outlines a respectful approach to the language used in archaeological reporting at all levels of the industry.

Since May 2021, the NYAC Nomenclature Committee has worked diligently to create a guidance document that would encourage archaeological professionals to utilize more respectful language in their reporting. The Nomenclature Committee consists of Beth Selig, Carol Weed, David Witt, Linda Stone, Allison McGovern and Kate Whalen. Dr. Joe Stahlman has been present at many committee meetings and has provided significant guidance and input to this project.

The Committee has shared this draft guidance document and searchable Excel spreadsheet with the Federally and State recognized Nations, the Ramapough Lenape Nation, and the Montaukett Indian Nation for their consideration and comment. The Committee has received formal and informal comments, engaged in conversations and discussion, and received input many of the Nations who received the documents. The Committee looks forward to continuing this dialogue so that the document may be further refined and we welcome any and all feedback.

Both the guidance document and the Excel spreadsheet can be downloaded using the links below.  The Excel spreadsheet is a searchable (and filterable) list that will guide the user to a more appropriate word choice, as well as reference information and links to additional sources.

All suggestions for changes and additions to the guidance document and the Excel word list should be sent to Beth Selig at

Context Information

Without the proper context, understanding the why these language changes help address inherent structural inequalities, and how Archaeology as a discipline has continued the perpetuation of these misconceptions is challenging.  Below is a short list of resources that will provide a greater understanding of the Guide for Referencing Indigenous Communities.


Steeves, Paulette.  The Indigenous Paleolithic of the Western Hemisphere. University of Nebraska Press, 2021.

This work is recommended for its critical review of the settlement of the Americas that considers both the results of archaeological investigations and Indigenous culture histories. The text includes numerous illustrations, maps and a robust bibliography making it a worthy investment.

Yellow Bird, Michael. What We Want to Be Called. American Indian Quarterly Vol. 23, No. 2 (Spring, 1999), pp. 1-21 (21 pages).

This article highlights the current racial and ethnic labels that are used to identify Indigenous Community members, and how those labels affect self-determination and identity, institutional oppression, social and communal interaction and solidarity among Indigenous Peoples.  This article provides insight into the impact of ethnocentric labels currently in use.

Younging, Gregory. Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing by and About Indigenous Peoples. Gregory Younging, Canada. 2018.

This work highlights the ever present ethnocentrism that is used in the current dialogue regarding Indigenous Communities.  The author presents information that changes the awareness of the reader, but encourages authors and professionals to make informed and mindful choices about language use.

Broader Topics

Throughout the course of this project, in conversations with Nation Representatives, broader topics have been discussed. Many of the Nations feel that context statements written for CRM and other professional reports need to be improved. Another area of concern are the letters that Nation’s Council members receive regarding consultation and requests to participate.  According to Nation Representatives, these requests much too often contain rude and condescending language. The NYAC Nomenclature Committee recognizes that this is an area where additional work is needed, and will continue to expand the guidance provided to improve archaeological reporting in New York State.

Guide for Referencing Indigenous Communities (pdf) (224.5 KiB)

Terminology Word List (Excel) (156.4 KiB)

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