Indigenous people

Indigenous people have historically been excluded in media portrayals, and when they are, they have been misrepresented or cast through inaccurate and stereotypical lenses. These insights are meant to address the global Indigenous population. Built with input from community partners, they offer a starting point to help marketers authentically represent Indigenous people, communities, or cultures in their work. Note: As a term of comprehensive inclusion, the word “Indigenous” is used throughout; however, when working in a particular country, please use the name preferred by that country’s Indigenous population.

Developed in partnership with the National Congress of American Indians

Ask for permission

Some Indigenous people and communities are very private. Imagery of regalia, cultural practices, or spiritual ceremonies are typically viewed as sacred and something that only Indigenous people from that community are able to share. Some Indigenous communities do not believe in having their photo taken, and for many others, the recording of ceremonies or other traditional practices is strictly prohibited. It is important to not only collaborate with Indigenous individuals, but also leaders from the community you are representing.

Because of the ceremonial, spiritual, religious, or sacred significance of traditional Indigenous regalia and artifacts, these should not be part of any marketing campaign unless done in full and formal consultation and cooperation with the tribal nations and/or governments in question.


Ask for permission before taking photos of traditional regalia, ceremonies, or practices. Confirm you have the permission of all people documented before publishing. The National Congress of American Indians advocates for acquiring free, prior, and informed consent from Indigenous individuals and communities (defined as “FPIC”) who are impacted by any decisions made in your work. This involves making sure potentially impacted Indigenous individuals and communities are free to grant or withhold consent, that such consent is provided before taking any actions, and that this consent is the result of a fully-informed decision-making process.


Some Indigenous nations in Australia and elsewhere prefer not to show the name, image, or voice of a deceased person. Always ask for permission from the family of the deceased person when working with content related to them.

Prioritize individual identities and names

Naming is incredibly contentious at the country-level. Naming all Indigenous communities within a country is challenging because most options are Eurocentric, post-colonial, and too broad. For example, in the United States, neither “Native American” or “American Indian” are universally accepted, so prioritize the preferred title of the community most closely associated with the representation. The term “Indigenous” is generally accepted when referring to the global community.

Individual groups on a local level have their own names, which should always be prioritized whenever possible or available.


When referencing the global community, use the word “Indigenous.” When in doubt, use the phrase “Indigenous people of” the country you are referring to. However, be as specific as you can. If an individual or community’s specific tribe or nation is known, always prioritize that attribution over broader terms, like Indigenous.

Honor diversity and avoid generalizations

There are between 370 and 500 million Indigenous people in the world, in over 90 countries. There are 574 federally -recognized tribes in the United States alone and more than 630 First Nation communities in Canada. Each group’s cultural practices vary significantly from one to the other. There is no single identifiable way to “look” Indigenous, for example. It is important not to imply that looking a certain way makes someone more or less Indigenous.

At the same time, depictions of Indigenous people often showcase a culturally inaccurate amalgamation of many different tribes. It is important not to generalize Indigenous people under one umbrella, in rhetoric or representation.


After the Battle of Little Bighorn, mainstream representations of Indigenous people, especially in Hollywood, became overly represented as tribes from the Great Plains – ignoring the diversity of cultures, lifeways, and social-political systems of other Indigenous communities.

Indigenous people “are” not “were”

Education about and awareness of Indigenous people is low in most countries, and many people erroneously believe that Indigenous people don’t still exist. Indigenous people have been and often remain in tension with dominant social groups, who throughout time have used methods of genocide, erasure, and forced assimilation as tools to separate Indigenous people from their lands and resources. These tendencies carry over to today, where it is common to hear references to Indigenous people only in the past tense, which reinforces the notion that Indigenous people do not exist, and thus their lands, resources, and cultures are available for the taking.


Do not refer to the existence of Indigenous people in the past tense. If you are representing Indigenous people in their traditional regalia, avoid using black-and-white shading if it’s not necessary, as this can convey a historical setting.

Decolonize your perspective

Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary defines colonialism as "the system or policy of a nation seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories.” It’s important to be aware that colonialism is not something that happened in the past or within a defined historical period. For example, it is common to hear the phrase that “Columbus discovered a new world;” however, this positioning erases the existence of the Indigenous people who existed prior to European contact and those that are still being impacted by colonial laws and policies today.

Referencing colonialism as a historical period that has ended disguises the ongoing and lasting effects that colonialism has produced, and continues to produce today.

Around the world, Indigenous people face disproportionate inequities compared to other populations, such as disparities in poverty, incarceration rates, and health outcomes. Take consideration to represent the socioeconomic hardships experienced by Indigenous communities as symptoms of colonial violence, discrimination, and oppression, rather than indicative of the community itself. Additionally, if you are representing hardships experienced by Indigenous communities, it is critical to also represent the resiliency and communal successes that are required to survive these hardships.


Colonialism refers to the conquering and genocide of Indigenous peoples and the policies and systems that retain power over Indigenous people — both in the past, as well as in the present day.

Avoid “white savior and Indian savage” tropes

Indigenous people have been denied the right to share their own self-concept and self-image due to systems of colonial oppression. Often, stories and narratives are told “about” Indigenous people instead of “from” Indigenous perspectives. Therefore, it is especially important that these communities’ right to self-determination is respected. Indigenous people should represent themselves and be collaborators in any work that represents their cultures.

Most examples of Indigenous people in well-known stories, notably found in the American myths of Thanksgiving, Sacagawea, and Pocahontas, subjugate Indigenous people in “noble savage” or “wild savage” stereotypes compared to “white saviors.” When representing Indigenous people interacting with a brand or a product, it is important to emphasize the Indigenous group’s agency and self-reliance.


Indigenous people are often portrayed as weaker, less intelligent, or with less agency than non-Indigenous people. If you are focusing on an Indigenous culture or community, ensure that they are the protagonist of the story, showcase the story through an Indigenous perspective, and collaborate with Indigenous people to represent themselves in any work that represents their cultures.

#NotACostume, #NotAMascot, and not a fiction

Indigenous people are often represented in the context of fictional characters, implying that they don’t exist. Indigenous people are frequently listed along with pirates or mermaids and are exploitatively used as Halloween costumes, mascots, or logos in the form of damaging ethnic stereotypes. These stereotypes perpetuate romanticized, oversimplified, and misleading caricatures of what Indigenous people and cultures are. Advocates on social media are calling out these exploitative uses with hashtags like #NotACostume and #NotAMascot. While furthering the genocidal agenda of historical erasure, exposure to images of mascots have also been proven to cause psychological harm to Indigenous people.


Do not use Indigenous people, cultural and ceremonial clothing, or artifacts as the basis for a logo, icon, or design element. It goes without saying (see above) that mascots and costumes are also considered offensive applications.


Because Indigenous people have frequently been reduced to cartoons, avoid representing Indigenous people as illustrations or cartoons whenever possible. Even when done well, representing this group of people in an illustration can further the idea that Indigenous people are fictional characters.


If an illustration is required, ensure that this illustration is created by an Indigenous artist. Photography of Indigenous people should be prioritized whenever possible – representing both modern and traditional clothing. Frequently, modern photography only depicts Indigenous people in regalia, but less often as doctors, lawyers, artists, etc.

Don’t appropriate Indigenous culture

Indigenous designs featured in arts, crafts, jewelry, and traditional regalia and other attire are unique to different tribes and carry great cultural, spiritual, or religious meaning. These patterns, designs, or styles have been and continue to be exploited by non-Indigenous people for profit. To address the predatory practice of cultural appropriation, the United States passed the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, a truth-in-advertising law prohibiting misrepresentation in the marketing of arts and crafts products within the United States.

It is wrong to represent someone not belonging to a tribe wearing traditional regalia from that tribe. The most frequent negative example of this is the imagery of a warbonnet or headdress. Only certain members of a tribe are able to wear a headdress, which is considered sacred. This is often an elder male and someone who earned the right to wear a headdress through rigorous training and demonstrated skills or achievements.

Additionally, when casting fictional roles, inclusion advocates note that using Indigenous actors is critical to helping your brand authentically reflect lived experiences and better represent Indigenous cultures and communities.

Cultural attribution

  • If you are representing something from an Indigenous culture in a campaign, be sure to give specific attribution whenever possible to the origin of whatever you are representing, whether it is a photo of a person, an item, a word, or a design. Do not mimic, appropriate, or try to create an Indigenous graphic design. If a design is needed, it should be outsourced and created by an Indigenous artist with the formal approval of the tribal nation to which the design or style belongs.

Empower self-representation

Create roles and highlight voices that empower self-representation for Indigenous people. Great work that celebrates Indigenous identities will always be grounded in contextual awareness of the current and historical issues that Indigenous people face. Indigenous people, and women especially, have often been sexualized or romanticized as metaphors for the land or resources that could be appropriated from Indigenous communities and people through the colonial doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Be aware that missing and murdered Indigenous women have become an epidemic around the world.


Be thoughtful about the language and terminology that you use when referring to Indigenous people and avoid offensive or appropriated terms.


Be specific if you’re representing distinct tribes.

Always prioritize the preferred title of the community most closely associated with the representation.

Use the term “Indigenous” when speaking about the global population.

Be mindful of your application of the word “Native” (e.g. native application, “I’m a native New Yorker”).


Don’t use the term “r*dsk*ns,” also known as the “R-word.” This word is a dictionary-defined racial slur and was widely used in association with policies of genocide designed to exterminate Indigenous people and take their lands and resources.

Don’t use equally offensive terms like “savage,” or “redmen.”

Don’t use the term “Eskimo” to describe Indigenous tribes of the Arctic. This is an offensive term and not an authentic description of Yup’ik, Aleut, and Inuit peoples.

Don’t use the term "Aborigine" to describe the Indigenous people of Australia. Instead use recommended terms created by or approved by Indigenous communities.

Don’t use terms that are culturally appropriated from their intended meaning: powwow, chief, totem pole, potlatch, tipi, etc.

Build work without stereotypes

Social context


Showcase Indigenous agency.

Highlight stories of sovereignty and self-determination.

Showcase a global Indigeneity if your work is global.

Portray Indigenous people as appropriately modern to the setting.

Treat Indigenous spirituality with respect, not mythicism.



Conduct research on a tribe’s material culture in direct consultation with that tribe.

Collaborate with the community of origin for any object considered sacred, including illustrations or photos of sacred items.

Show a variety of body types, socioeconomic conditions, and skin tones.

Consult with tribal leaders, citizens, or experts.

Represent Indigenous and non-Indigenous people playing instruments, wearing clothing, or using objects according to cultural norms. For example, didgeridoos are an instrument from Australian Indigenous peoples that only certain members of a tribe are allowed to play.