In many ways, the original peoples of what the Europeans called the “new world” were far more culturally diverse than the Europeans. For example, there were approximately 300 different First Nations languages spoken in what is now known as North America. Despite this diversity, Europeans in many ways saw the Indigenous peoples as one group and for this reason used general terms to describe them.
One word created by the newcomers to describe the original inhabitants of many different First Nations was Indian. One theory is that the term resulted from a case of mistaken identity: When Christopher Columbus arrived at the islands around Cuba he mistakenly thought he was just south of China, and thus the people were from India. The term was then later applied to the surrounding islands and eventually the continent.
The term Indian is sometimes still used today to describe all descendants of the original inhabitants who are not Inuit or Métis. It is, however, considered by many to be outdated and offensive. The Government of Canada now uses the term First Nations, but Indian is still used if it is a direct quote, a discussion of history, or a legally-defined term.