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Created by the authors of the exhibit, this glossary is an attempt to better provide audiences with the language to explain the interlocking nature of terminology, self-definitions and the impact of photography, removals, treaties, recognition, and settler colonialism. It stands as a resource to tie the exhibit together, to refer to and to learn from.

Terms Relating to Native American Studies


A piece of land deeded by the U.S. government to an individual American Indian, as a way to break up the communal ownership of a reservation. In giving individuals their own parcels of land, the amount of land given to a tribe as a whole could be reduced, and the process of assimilation greatly increased through pushing farming upon the newly split lots in order to generate enough food to survive without wild plants or hunting. Allotment also led to the loss of land over generations in two crucial ways. First, many individuals were assigned multiple parcels that were geographically far apart, leading squatters to claim land. Second, allotments carried many stipulations about how the land could be passed on within a family or who it could be sold to — if any of these complicated restrictions were not met, the land was removed from Indian trust.


Refers to a group of culturally and linguistically related, though distinct, tribes whose historic lands encompass the Great Lakes on both sides of what is now the US-Canada border. While this exhibit does not focus solely on Anishinaabe peoples, the collection lent itself to an intentional focus on the Council of Three Fires (also known as Niswi-mishkodewinan, the People of the Three Fires, or the Three Fires Confederacy), which is a long-standing alliance between three Anishinaabe tribes: the Ojibwe (also known as Ojibwa, Chippewa, or Saulteaux), Odawa (also known as Ottawa, or Odaawaa), and Potawatomi (also known as Bodewotomi, Pottawatomi, or Pottawatomie).


In a cultural context, appropriation is the taking of an element of another group’s culture for one’s own benefit without acknowledging the culture that element came from or representing that element in the proper way. For example, dressing up as a Native American for Halloween or a music festival appropriates regalia, reducing it to a costume, with no regard to the significance of certain clothing articles like feather headdresses. Other examples would be mass-produced plastic dreamcatchers, moccasins bought from tourist shops, ‘tribal’ home decorations, and the concept of having a ‘spirit animal,’ among many other elements of pop culture today.


The act, whether by choice or by force, of a cultural group or person adopting traits from a more dominant cultural group. In the boarding school era, students were expected to assimilate to American culture through practicing Christianity and speaking English or other colonial languages. While some individuals choose to assimilate, as a whole Native Amerians have been forced to assimilate to Euro-American culture. To counteract this forced assimilation, there are many initiatives today that revive Native languages suppressed during the boarding school era and beyond, as well as other cultural revitalizations.

“Authentic” Indian

The belief that a Native individual who embraces Euro-American concepts of a Native person, relying on stereotypical features such as long dark hair and pan-Indian regalia like buckskins or large bonnets, is a more legitimate Native person than one who does not fit this inaccurate ideal created by non-Native communities.

Blood Quantum

A measurement derived from faulty race science and is still in use by many tribal and non-tribal entities. Blood does not constitute a Native identity, however, many treaty rights rely on it to determine how ‘Indian’ an individual is. Blood quantum (BQ) relies on oversimplified division: with each generation the amount of ‘Indian blood’ is halved. For example, a person with one full-blooded Native American parent would be ½ BQ; a person with one full-blooded Native American grandparent would be ¼ and so on. Blood quantum is related to, but can be distinct from, tribal enrollment: some tribes require a certain BQ to enroll, others rely on engagement with the tribe or trace ancestral lineages differently. Blood quantum often affects treaty rights.

Among other requirements, the state of Michigan requires a minimum ¼ BQ in one federally recognized tribe in order for a Native student to obtain the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver. If a student were to have a ¼ BQ in a non-federally recognized tribe or to have ¼ BQ from multiple different federally recognized tribes, they would not qualify for the tuition waiver. There are many problems: intertribal BQs usually do not overlap, which is a major issue for people descending from several tribes. In addition, many individuals know that their BQ is incorrect or are unable to document it. Both of these scenarios could result from ancestors not having a recorded BQ, adoptions in or out of Native communities, unknown family histories, or a variety of other reasons  — most of which are the result of oppressive systems, like boarding schools and removal, that disrupted families and communities.


Refers to one nation establishing its presence in another, usually by force. Said otherwise, it refers to the policy of one or more countries seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories, generally with the aim of economic dominance by benefitting from the colonized region’s people and resources. In the process, colonizers often impose their cultural practices and ideology on indigenous peoples. There are different forms of colonialism, depending on the methods used and the goals of colonization, including: settler colonialism, exploitation colonialism, surrogate colonialism, and internal colonialism. The methods and forms typically overlap.

Settler Colonialism

Involves large scale immigration to a new region with the goal of replacing any existing populations with a new society of settlers. It can involve any combination of violent depopulation and assimilation tactics. While other forms of colonialism are highly motivated by the extraction of natural and human resources, settlers typically view themselves as racially superior to indigenous populations, lending a perceived legitimacy to violent interactions, including forced assimilation.


The people and ideology that colonized the United States of America. More than skin color, this encompasses the political structure, religion, and beliefs of the colonizers from Europe to North America.

Federal Recognition

An American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity that is recognized as having a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations. Federally recognized tribes are recognized as possessing certain rights of self-government (i.e., tribal sovereignty) and are thus not subject to state laws, only to federal laws. This status is usually achieved through historical documents proving sovereignty, such as treaties, court decisions, and other government documents. There are many more tribes that are not recognized and are working towards recognition, and many tribes are state recognized without federal recognition. In addition, many tribes were ‘terminated’ under the Termination Policy of the 1940s-1960s.

Indian Boarding School

Unlike modern boarding schools, Indian Boarding Schools were a system created in the early to mid 19th century with the intent of fully assimilating Native American children (and at times adults, as it was not uncommon for children to be held well into their 20s) to Euro-American culture. Many times, the children and their parents did not want the child to attend said schools but were forced by government policy. At these schools children commonly suffered emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of the ‘educators,’ and were usually banned from speaking their Native language or practicing any religious customs as Christianity was used as a main agent in assimilation. Most coursework at these schools focused on religion and labor such as farming or domestic housework. These schools continued to exist into the late 20th century, but their peak ended around the 1920s. Trauma from these schools is still felt deep within Native communities, noticeably in the desperate attempts at language revitalization. Canada had a similar system, known as the Canadian Indian Reservation School system.


A portmanteau coined by Curtis Kekahbah (Kaw Nation) and Daniel Wildcat (Muscogee Nation) that combines the terms indigenous and ingenuity. Emerging from climate science, systems thinking, and spatial knowledge discourses, indigenuity is a mode of problem solving that centers local indigenous knowledges and seeks to ensure the continuation of both indigenous knowing and doing. The term has also been used to characterize the creative ways that indigenous peoples have asserted their resilience and resisted assimilation or extermination.

Land Acknowledgement

A statement made by an individual, organization, or institution that addresses their location on Native land, the dispossession of Native people, and possibly the way in which said individual, organization, or institution has benefited from the colonization of said land. At best, these should be active statements requiring the deliberate thought of those involved and not filled with empty, broad statements. A land acknowledgement is not an apology nor is it a simple statement that should be stamped on all creations by the individual, organization, or institution without intent and thought.


A description of Indigenous activities tied to no specific tribe, at times being a cultural distinction or others a religious viewpoint. Made more common after wars in the 19th century and the mixing of youths of hundreds of tribes at boarding schools, a concept of overarching beliefs and practices emerged. This is not to say that individual tribes have relinquished their identity into pan-indianism; it is to explain similar cultural and other practices that exist among Native people outside of tribal or regional descriptions. For instance, certain styles of dance, certain pieces of clothing, and some cuisine are pan-Indian.


A single or multi-day social gatherings that typically involve dancing, singing, drum circles, and other activities that allow specific tribes to honor their culture. They often feature large dance competitions showcasing traditional dances and regalia.


Regalia is the clothing worn by Native individuals during ceremonial and special occasions, such as powwow dancing, sitting for a photograph or going on a delegation trip. It is usually hand made by the individual wearing the regalia, or made by someone close to them. There are several types of regalia, and these change between tribe, region, and occasion. Regalia is not a costume. Costumes are worn as a way to pretend, imitate, and/or culturally appropriate. Because of non-Native people costuming themselves in stereotypical concepts of Native dress during events like Halloween, football games, and Thanksgiving, movements such as “Culture Not Costume” have formed in recent years.


A designated (or ‘reserved’) parcel of land for Native American tribes. An Indian reservation is a one of three types of reserved federal lands: military, public, and Indian. A federal Indian reservation is a legal designation for an area of land managed by a federally recognized tribe (rather than the state governments in which they may be geographically located). Reservations can only be established or disestablished under treaty or other agreement with the United States (for example, an act of congress or an executive order). Laws on reservations vary because tribal councils (not the US state or federal government) often have jurisdiction over reservations. Many reservations were established in exchange (frequently under duress) for large swaths of land in more eastern regions and includes many parcels of land that tribes were forcibly relocated to. Land allotment policies  — which created loopholes that expedited the sale of reservation lands to non-Natives — led to substantial fragmentation of some reservations. There are currently 326 land areas administered as Indian reservations (this includes reservations, pueblos, rancherias, villages, etc.) in the United States. Not every federally recognized tribe has a reservation and the majority of Native Americans and Alaska Natives live off reservations.

Settler Guilt

Settler guilt is a common aftereffect when a non-Native American, mixed-race American, or immigrant begins to recognize settler privilege in their own lives. It is the guilt that comes with the recognition that all land is Native land and that each individual chooses (or in limited cases, is forced by circumstance) to remain occupying Native lands every day. It also comes with the awareness that tribal communities with ancestral claims to these lands exist and continue to be subjugated by systems founded on structural and systemic white supremacy. Settler guilt is one way this complicity reveals itself to individuals with complicated relationships to the geographic spaces we all encounter. Like most forms of privilege and oppression, settler guilt is complicated and affects people in individually distinct ways.


The right or authority for a body to govern itself, without interference from others. Tribal sovereignty refers to the fact that the U.S. Constitution recognizes American Indians and Alaskan Native tribes as distinct governments, with rights on par with state or federal governments depending on context. It includes any given tribe’s right to self-rule its people and territories, without interference or oversight.


Originally used in Native American Studies by scholar Gerald Vizenor (Minnesota Chippewa Tribe), survivance is a deliberately imprecise term that emphasizes the continued and active presence of indigenous cultures and individuals. While survival is bound by tragedy and victimry, survivance recognizes a history of oppression while emphasizing the active and continuing vitality of tribal cultures.

Tribal Belonging

The concepts of belonging to, being a member of, being affiliated with, and being related to a tribe or tribes have a long and complex history perforated with blood quantum requirements, intermarriage, removal, boarding schools, (formal and cultural) adoptions in and out of tribes, recognition of tribes, and sovereignty. The decisiveness of being a member or not a member of a tribe excludes these complex histories and is mainly a concept perceived by a non-tribal understanding of belonging. Therefore, while definitions can be fluid, a brief distinguishing between words could be as follows:

    • Tribal Membership: being an official (‘carded’) member of a tribe or tribes. As each tribe is a sovereign nation, requirements to be a member vary from blood quantum, lineal descent, and other factors. Other terms may include belonging to a tribe, tribal recognition, or carded tribe member.
    • Tribal Affiliation: a broader concept, in which communal ties are favored over official understandings of membership. While someone may not be a member of a tribe because of blood quantum or missing paperwork, being involved with members of that tribe and being accepted as a community member could be defined as affiliated. This concept could also include Native people belonging to one tribe but having ancestry in others. Other terms may include tribal relationship or tribal ancestry.

Asking people which tribe they are is a politically loaded and personal question. Native people have the right to define their own tribal identity within their communities and to reserve what information they are willing to share. If necessary, refrain from asking what tribe an individual ‘belongs’ to or what their blood quantum is and refer to being ‘affiliated’ or ‘having a relationship with’ instead.


The terms tribe, nation, and band all hold relevance to many tribal communities and carry their own connotations. All three refer to the political independence or sociopolitical organization of a group of people. Historically, the word tribe refers to a group who share a common descent or ancestry, community customs, and major leaders. Tribes typically share aspects of additional aspects of culture, such as a shared ancestral language or religious beliefs, but a shared language alone does not demarcate a tribe. A tribe can contain one or more bands.

  • Nation: the word nation is historically more associated with a physical territory or geographic region. It was adopted into the mainstream discourse on American Indians around the War of 1812. The British felt referring to Native communities as nations elevated them politically and took power out of the US’ claims to expansion. Today, some groups refer to themselves as tribes and others nations, and, colloquially, the two terms are often used interchangeably despite different connotations.
  • Band: a tribe or nation can contain multiple bands, which tend to be groups that are smaller in population. Bands frequently began as smaller kinship groups and can have their own distinct variants on language or traditions. They sometimes have their own governing bodies which legislate independently or in tandem of the larger tribe.

[See ‘Federal Recognition’ for more information]

‘Vanishing’ Race or Indian

Forwarded by famed photographer Edward Curtis and ideas such as the Frontier Thesis by Frederick Jackson Turner, the concept of Native Americans as a race that would be extinct upon the climax of Manifest Destiny was a commonly held belief at the turn of the 20th century. This belief ingrained itself into the American consciousness, freezing Native Americans in the past. Clearly untrue, this concept mitigates feelings of settler guilt by framing Native Americans as a past people. This is further enforced by the majority of education, representation, and presentation of Native Americans as focusing on pre-1900s history.

Wild Westing

William Cody, nicknamed Buffalo Bill, created his famous cowboy, Indian, and battles theater group named Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1883. This group employed Native Americans such as Sitting Bull to tour the U.S. and parts of Europe. While dramatizing events and exoticizing members, the Wild West gave an opportunity for Native Americans to earn substantial amounts of money, garner fame, travel the world, and perform. Many other traveling groups cropped up around this time as well.

* (asterisks)

The asterisks in this exhibit mark historically used terms that are either slurs, carry more general derogatory connotations, or are associated stereotypes or caricatures about Native Americans. They were all common at the time that most of the photographs in the exhibit were taken. Since some of these terms are still heard today, this exhibit does not remove them and instead attempts to show how language is one component of a larger ideological project that has attempted to subjugate and define Natives since European contact. Some individual Natives may use these terms today in attempts to reclaim them in different ways, but outside of that specific context, they remain derogatory.

  • Brave: braves, warriors, and savages are part of the stereotype of adult males who prove their strength and courage in hunting or battle. While it may appear to have positive elements (i.e. strength, courage), it is a long standing caricature that defines Native masculinity in one, limiting way. Further, the perception of Native Americans as fierce braves or warriors stokes fears about Nativeness, criminalizes Natives, and has the possibility of ‘justifying’ unprompted violence against Natives.
  • Half-breed: at a basic level, a half-breed describes someone who is mixed race. In the US, it frequently refers to people who are half Native and half non-Native (typically Euro-American). The ‘breed’ part is derogatory in that it refers to Native individuals with the same language as tamable animals. The ‘half’ part has a history of being used to imply that mixed-race individuals are lesser than, or inferior than any ‘full-blood.’
  • Noble Savage: the noble savage trope is part of a larger narrative claiming there were once primitive men who lived in noble harmony with nature before European contact. In contrast to the stereotype of the brave, the noble savage is frequently depicted as more pacifist — savage because of his proximity to wildlife, rather than his actions toward Euro-Americans. Thus, as the frontier and continent were ‘tamed,’ the noble savage hypothetically faded from existence leaving only the violent, poor, or otherwise non-noble Natives, easing settler guilt about occupying the lands belonging to others. This concept is deeply embedded in The Song of Hiawatha, as mentioned in the exhibit.
  • Squaw: the term squaw typically either refers to a quiet and subservient Native woman who serves her husband, maintains a household, and raises children. This version places Native women as second-class citizens. In other uses it is thought to exoticize Native women, as some believe that the linguistic origins of the word itself has sexual connotations. Either of these uses alone proves highly derogatory and demeaning, but the combination of both, of subservient and exoticized, proves even more threatening. The squaw is commonly depicted alongside her ‘papoose,’ a term only accurate in Algonquian, when it means child.

Terms Relating to Photographic Studies

Albumen Print

The most widespread photographic printing paper in the 19th century, most often paired with wet-plate collodion glass negatives. Albumen photographs were commonly used in carte de visite, cabinet, and stereographic formats. 

Cabinet Card

Larger than the carte de visite but similar in terms of composition: paper photographs made from glass negatives mounted to a card (16.5 x 10.5 cm). Very popular format of photography from the 1870s-1890s.

Carte de Visite

French for “visiting card,” these small (10 x 6 cm) paper photographs were made primarily from glass negatives and mounted on thin cardstock. Introduced in the United States ca. 1859 and remained popular throughout the 19th century. Frequently referred to as ”card photographs” after the 1860s. Much of their appeal was due to the ease at which multiple copies could be made of the same image, allowing for an explosion in visual popular culture that took place shortly after their invention.

Dry-Plate Process

Process used to create photographic negatives with pre-sensitize glass plates. Did not require chemical processing in the field. In use circa 1870s-1920s.


A style of photography popularized in the early 20th century that emphasized aesthetic elements of an image rather than the documentation of reality.

Real Photo Postcard

Photographic prints on postcard stock. First introduced by Kodak in 1902, but became widespread in 1907. Used for both commercial reproduction and individual images. Because anyone with a Kodak camera could produce these images, many real photo postcards are one-of-a-kind. The format remained popular throughout the 1920s. 


Latin terms meaning “front” and “back.”


Two almost identical photographic prints, that when paired together on the same mount produce the illusion of a single three-dimensional image (if viewed through an optical device called a stereoscope). Almost always paper photographic prints, but may also include other photographic processes such as daguerreotypes. Widespread in the United States ca. 1859-1920s.


A one-to-one photographic process in which an image is made directly on a sensitized thin iron or tin sheet using a variation of the wet-plate collodion process. Popular in the 1850s-1890s and in use as a novelty format through the first half of the 20th century. 

Wet-Plate Collodion or Process

The most widespread photographic process used to create photographic negatives circa 1855-1880. A glass plate was chemically sensitized on the spot and placed in the camera and exposed while still damp. Positive prints from these negative were often on albumen paper.

For those interested in learning more about the history of photography and photographic formats, please visit the Graphics Atlas, curated by the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Image Permanence Institute