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Native vs. Indigenous: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on January 1, 2024
Native refers to someone or something originating from a particular place, while indigenous pertains to groups or species that are originally found in a region and not introduced from elsewhere.

Key Differences

The term native generally denotes belonging or originating from a specific place by birth, often implying a deep connection with the place of origin. In contrast, indigenous specifically refers to groups, people, or species that are not only native to a particular area but also have a historical continuity and cultural connection with that area.
In the context of people, a native individual can be someone born in a certain country or locality, irrespective of their ancestors’ origins. Indigenous, however, is a term that encompasses the first inhabitants of a region and their descendants who maintain a cultural identity distinct from those who arrived later.
When discussing plants and animals, native species are those found in a region as a result of natural processes, without human intervention. Indigenous species are a subset of native species that have evolved or existed in an ecosystem over a long period, integral to that ecosystem's balance.
The term native can also be used in a broader sense, referring to anything that originates from a particular place, like a native language or tradition. On the other hand, indigenous is often used in a more specific and respectful context, acknowledging the historical and cultural significance of indigenous peoples and species in their native lands.
All indigenous entities can be considered native, not all natives are necessarily indigenous. The distinction lies in the historical, cultural, and often spiritual connection indigenous groups or species have with their native land, which is not a requisite for being merely native.

Comparison Chart


Originating from a particular place
Originally found in a region, with a long history and cultural ties to that place

Context of Use

Can refer to anyone or anything from a particular place
Specifically refers to first inhabitants of a region and their cultural and historical continuity

Relation to Human Intervention

Does not imply absence of human intervention
Often implies presence without external human introduction


Broader usage, can refer to language, customs, etc.
More specific, usually related to people or species with deep roots in an area

Cultural Connection

Not necessarily culturally specific
Strong cultural and historical ties to the land or region

Native and Indigenous Definitions


Existing in or belonging to one by nature.
His native intelligence helped him excel.


Originating or occurring naturally in a particular place.
The kangaroo is indigenous to Australia.


Belonging to a person by birth.
He is a native New Yorker.


Native to a land or region, especially before an intrusion.
The indigenous peoples of the Americas.


Inherent, innate.
She has a native elegance about her.


Existing, growing, or produced naturally in a region.
These plants are indigenous to the Mediterranean.


Originating naturally in a particular country or region.
Tomatoes are native to South America.


Innate, inherent, natural.
He has an indigenous sense of style.


Born in a specified place.
She is a native of France.


Of, relating to, or characteristic of a particular place or its inhabitants.
Their art is uniquely indigenous to the region.


Being such by birth or origin
A native Scot.


Originating, growing, or produced in a certain place or region.


Being a member of the original inhabitants of a particular place.


Being a member of the original inhabitants of a particular place.


Of, belonging to, or characteristic of such inhabitants.


Born or originating in, native to a land or region, especially before an intrusion.


In particular, of or relating to a people (or their language or culture) that inhabited a region prior to the arrival of people of other cultures which became dominant (e.g., through colonialism), and which maintains a distinct culture.
The Ainu are the indigenous ethnic group of Japan's Hokkaido Island.


Innate, inborn.


Native; produced, growing, or living, naturally in a country or climate; not exotic; not imported.
Negroes were all transported from Africa and are not indigenous or proper natives of America.
In America, cotton, being indigenous, is cheap.


Native; inherent; innate.
Joy and hope are emotions indigenous to the human mind.


Originating where it is found;
The autochthonal fauna of Australia includes the kangaroo
Autochthonous rocks and people and folktales
Endemic folkways
The Ainu are indigenous to the northernmost islands of Japan


Are all indigenous people also native?

Yes, indigenous people are native to their ancestral lands.

Can something be native but not indigenous?

Yes, if it originates from a place but lacks historical or cultural ties.

Can "native" be used for languages?

Yes, to refer to a person's first language or a language originating from a region.

Can "native" imply foreign ancestry?

Yes, it can refer to the birthplace regardless of ancestry.

Can "native" be used for people?

Yes, to denote someone born in a specific place.

Does "indigenous" imply a lack of external influence?

Often, as it denotes original inhabitants before external influences.

Can "native" refer to non-living things?

Yes, like native traditions or crafts.

Is "indigenous" only for people?

No, it applies to people, animals, plants, etc., with a deep connection to a region.

Is "indigenous" a politically sensitive term?

Yes, it carries implications of historical and cultural respect.

Can "native" be used interchangeably with "local"?

Sometimes, but "native" often implies a deeper connection to the place.

Are indigenous rights internationally recognized?

Yes, through various international declarations and treaties.

Does "native" have different meanings in different contexts?

Yes, its meaning can vary based on context.

Is "indigenous" used in ecological contexts?

Yes, for species that are naturally found in specific ecosystems.

Does "indigenous" include cultural practices?

Yes, it encompasses cultural practices specific to a region or people.

Can "native" imply exclusivity to a region?

It can, but not as strongly as "indigenous."

Is "indigenous" used in legal contexts?

Yes, often in discussions of rights and recognition of indigenous peoples.

Can "native" signify a deep cultural connection?

Not inherently, unlike "indigenous."

Can someone be a native of more than one place?

Yes, if they have a strong connection or were born in multiple places.

Are indigenous communities diverse?

Yes, encompassing a wide range of cultures and traditions globally.

Does "indigenous" always mean ancient?

Not necessarily ancient, but with a long-standing presence in an area.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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