So I wrote a fantasy novel, with an American Old-West kind of setting. Looks a lot like Earth, is not Earth.

In this not-Earth, different races and groups of people have different magic powers / abilities. A little bit like the Avatar cartoon.

That includes different groups of indigenous people. For example, there's a nomadic group whose members are incredibly hardy, can go for days without food or water or sleep. There's another group who can communicate empathically, another who have super-keen sight and hearing, etc.

Here's what's freaking me out, though. In my original setup, I had given a lot of these groups (not all) an animal association - so, for example, the people with the super-awesome enhanced senses and the ability to run like the blazes are called the deer people.

As I've been reading more on indigenous people in fiction, though, one of the biggest issues I've seen is that they are SO often portrayed as mystical savants with animal/nature powers, and while that might sound good on paper ("they have magic powers, isn't that empowering?"), the Unfortunate Implication of animal associations is that they are therefore not fully human beings.

So what I'm trying to understand is whether 'natives with animal powers' is inherently offensive no matter how you slice it, or whether the major problem with Twilight, for example, had less to do with the fact that the Quileutes had werewolf-shapeshifting powers and more to do with their portrayal as savage, emotional, dangerous brutes.

Because at the end of the day, I'm not trying to be Sherman Alexie, but if I roll with this and find out after the fact that I pulled a Stephenie Meyer, I will pretty much have to gut myself in shame.