Is 'Indian Country' an Offensive Term? Trump Sparks Debate After Tweet Thanking 'Indian Country'

President Donald Trump sparked debate after using the term "Indian Country" on Twitter, with many accusing him of being racist, while some others said the term is very common among Native Americans.

Thank YOU Indian Country for being such an IMPORTANT part of the American story! I recently signed 3 bills to support tribal sovereignty....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 27, 2019

After signing three bills to support tribal sovereignty and native culture, Trump tweeted his thanks to "Indian Country."

"Thank YOU Indian Country for being such an IMPORTANT part of the American story," he wrote.

The bills signed required the Bonneville Power Administration to compensate the Spokane Tribe for their loss of tribal lands nearly 80 years ago, offered grants to preserve Native American languages, and gave federal recognition to the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Montana.

After Trump tweeted his thanks, many people took to Twitter to voice their disapproval of what they said was a racist term.

Trump just referred to Native Americans as "Indian Country."

Sounds deliberately racist to me.

— Sergio Síano (@siano4progress) December 27, 2019

When you openly state a people's genocide as an 'Important part of the American story' ...

Then all caps thank them for participating ...

Then are derogatory calling them Indian Country thus grouping separate tribal nations together as one ...

— AJM (@AustinJMitch) December 27, 2019

Despite the anger, many others were quick to correct the upset Twitter users, stating that "Indian Country" actually is not a racist term or slur. One user noted that the term is often used by Native Americans and pointed out that there is a newspaper called Indian Country Today. "It's all about how we choose to label ourselves," another user wrote, noting that they were "not giving Trump a pass." Some respondents also said that the outrage over the issue was caused by lacking knowledge of how Native American people identify themselves.

Sergio, "Indian Country" is an inclusive term used by Native Americans to describe themselves and their sovereign nations, especially in the western US. A popular newspaper in Rapid City, SD is called Indian Country Today.

— LittleLute (@Ptcabe) December 27, 2019

I'm not giving Trump a pass, but "Indian Country" is a thing and yes, some natives call themselves "Indian." It's all about how we choose to label ourselves.

— PRINCE CAYDEN🏹 (@babyvolk) December 27, 2019

The only reason why people are offended on behalf of Natives for Trump's use of "Indian Country" is because they themselves don't understand indigenous issues or how indigenous people choose to identify.

— PRINCE CAYDEN🏹 (@babyvolk) December 27, 2019

Yes, seriously. #IndianCountry refers to any self-governing community of American Indians. I am Cherokee Indian. I work in Indian Country. What is offensive to you about the term Indian Country? Are you Indian or are you just being pejorative for pejorative's sake?

— JtheGreat (@jeremyhowelldha) December 27, 2019

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, "Indian Country" refers to federal reservations, dependent Indian communities, land allotted to Native Americans, and some special designations.

John Two-Hawks, a mixed ancestry Oglala and Lakota Native American and spokesperson for Native American education website Native Circle, told Newsweek that Native people don't see "Indian" as an offensive term, "although it's not really an accurate term," and 'Indian Country' is a fairly common term for native people to use.

"You'll hear native people themselves will say 'Indian Country,'" Two-Hawks told Newsweek. "It's more of a pan-Indian collective term."

Two-Hawks also theorized that the offense came more from the fact that the term was used by Trump, rather than the term itself. "I don't know any native person that's going to be really offended by the use of the term 'Indian Country.' Maybe some of the offense is because it came out of Trump's mouth, because he's done a lot of bad things to native people," Two-Hawks told Newsweek.

"Native people as whole are not offended by the term 'Indian' these days, but the term is definitely not a culturally specific term. It's a 500-year-old term," Two-Hawks said.

A press release given to Newsweek by the National Congress of American Indians stated that the term is an official term used often. "It is important to understand that the term 'Indian Country' is leveraged broadly as a general description of Native spaces and places within the United States, and it is inclusive of the hundreds of tribal nations that occupy these spaces. The term is used with positive sentiment within Native communities, by Native-focused organizations such as NCAI, and news organizations such as Indian Country Today. In law, the term Indian country (lower case 'c') is found in several areas of the United States Code, and is also an official legal term referenced in many Supreme Court opinions, collectively articulating the meaning as it pertains to federal law relating to American Indian land and people," the statement read.

Update, 12/29, 9:39 a.m. EST: This story has been updated to include comment from the National Congress of American Indians and , which was received after the story was published.

Lakota Chief
Lakota Chief Two Bears (R) looks over as the Mayor of Jerusalem Uri Lupolianski, inspects a Peace Pipe with Native American Black Feet Chief Gayoka Nichi Ayala, at his office in Jerusalem, May 22, 2006. PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty