I'm often asked about my home country by Japanese people and wish to discuss the unique polynesian culture of the indigenous people there. How do I describe them in Japanese? I understand that this is a sensitive topic in Japan but there is much interest in foreign cultures and the pre-colonial past of my country.

What's the difference between 土{ど}着{ちゃく}人{じん} and 先{せん}住{じゅう}民{みん}? Why is 土{ど}着{ちゃく}人{じん} considered to be offensive?

Are these terms appropriate to describe the native peoples of Japan such as the Ainu and Ryukyu (Okinawan) peoples? Would it be appropriate for native people of foreign countries?

What is a positive word (that doesn't imply that they're uncivilised) for people who consider themselves to be belong to the land or be the original guardians of it? For example, to describe cultures such as New Zealand Māori, Hawai'ian, and native Americans that view themselves as belonging and European settlers as foreign.

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    I don't feel confident to answer the question but I can say anecdotally as a non-native user of Japanese that the times I've used 先住民 are understood but 土着人 gets a more confused look from people (this could just be my pronunciation). – virmaior Nov 16 at 14:30
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I don't think 土着人 is a word. (On the other hand, you may be able to say 土着の人, but it has little to do with ethnicity of minority. It rather stands for local feature against global power these days.)

Indigineous people in japanese are 先住民, 原住民 or 土人. Among them, the safest one is 先住民. 原住民 is less safe. Some people may not like it. 土人 is a derogatory word today. You mustn't use it.

As for native Americans, they seem to regard themselves as 先住民. But I'm not sure for the rest. In that sense, don't call Okinawan people 先住民, or they'll get mad.

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    In Japanese, 先住民 is most politically correct because 原 may be associated with "primitive". In Chinese, however, 原住民 is preferred because 先 may be associated with "bygone". Languages... – broccoli forest Nov 19 at 4:01

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