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What is the Difference between Aboriginal and Indigenous?

Updated on October 18, 2012
Old postcard of an Australian Aboriginal
Old postcard of an Australian Aboriginal | Source

Australian Aboriginal or Indigenous?

Most people are familiar with the term aboriginal immediately associating it with anything native and some understand it to pertain to the Australian aboriginals. Indigenous also denotes a similar definition having a meaning of “originating or occurring naturally”. However, there is a difference in its connotation.

When one hears the word aboriginal it usually precludes a derogatory implication for the Aboriginal people as it doesn’t show any distinction between the different tribes but rather comes off as a general term for people that have not assumed the modern way of living. It’s also had a negative impact because of its use by people who defined it as being those with an unsophisticated means of living.

The word Indigenous not only refers to people but to animals and plants. This term though more widely accepted as an appropriate reference is not preferred by Aboriginal Australians because of its inclusion of plants and animals in its meaning. Internationally, this is the more accepted term and is also preferably used by the United Nations.

Aboriginal people are familiar to most by having dark skin. This in fact is not the case but it does make for another negative association to the term Aboriginal. Aboriginal is not defined by color but by descent.

The Aboriginal identity was once classified by certain castes. A “full blood” would be someone with no white blood, a “half caste” as someone with one white parent, a “quarter caste” as someone with an Aboriginal grandparent, and an “octoroon” as someone who had a great-grandparent who was Aboriginal. These distinctions were no longer used after the 1960’s but the underlying suggestion is still present today.

The William Rickets Sanctuary- a sculpture of an Aboriginal person
The William Rickets Sanctuary- a sculpture of an Aboriginal person | Source

Being the oldest living culture in the world, it is their ability to adapt over time without sacrificing their identity that has given them significant recognition. The Aboriginals or Indigenous people have chosen their way of life to preserve what has been handed down to them.

They have kept their knowledge, rituals, and sacred objects within their culture. Their traditions are carefully portrayed through their works of art and have served to help us understand their way of life.


Locations of Indigenous Protected Areas in Australia | July 2012
Locations of Indigenous Protected Areas in Australia | July 2012 | Source

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      Aneke 2 years ago

      Perhaps you could tell us what term IS acceptable and respectful?

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