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University of Manitoba asks: What should I say?

How to use terms like Native, Indigenous and Aboriginal


 

Photo by kwankwan on Flickr

After Deborah Young was appointed the Executive Lead, Aboriginal Achievement at the University of Manitoba in April, she quickly changed her title to Executive Lead, Indigenous Achievement.

That’s caused the school to explore in a podcast, “What do I say?” Local experts explain that there are important nuances in the terms we use to describe the decendents of those who lived in Canada first. Here are just a few of their ideas.

Young says that she chose the term Indigenous because it’s more uniting than Aboriginal. Indigenous is a term that crosses borders and recognizes a shared history. Indigenous is the word used by the United Nations. Aboriginal is not wrong. It’s simply an umbrella term used for First Nations, Metis and Inuit people in Canada. But, warns Young: “One of my pet peeves is that people don’t capitalize Aboriginal.”

Aboriginal is the term the federal government uses. The Prime Minister recently changed the name of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

Renate Eigenbrod, Head of the Department of Native Studies, says that the term Native is not racist either. In her view, Native is an acceptable umbrella term, just like Aboriginal. But like Aboriginal, it must be capitalized, she emphasizes. Most Canadians are natives, but most are not Natives.

She said that if her department ever changed its name, Indigenous would likely be included.

“I think the real racist word is “Indian,” says Eigenbrod, “but we still have Indian Act and [say] Indian Residential Schools.” Still, she notes that some Indigenous people have “reclaimed” the word.

The term First Nations, which emerged in the 1980s, is incorrect when used as an umbrella term, says Eigenbrod. A person may be Metis or Inuit, for example, but not part of any nation.

So how can a person refer to Indigenous heritage without the risk of offending anyone?

“I think the best way to talk about a person is their specific nationhood,” Eigenbrod argues, giving the examples of Cree, Anishnabe or Okanagan. Even better, ask: “Which nation are you from? What culture are you from?,” she says. “I think the person would appreciate that.”

Young concurs. “Ask questions,” she says, “as long as you’re doing it in a respectful way.”


 

University of Manitoba asks: What should I say?

  1. What an excellent article!
    Thank you for writing this.

    I do have to share my opinion. I HATE the word “Aboriginal”. I started thinking of this word in my Abnormal Psychology class, and it got me thinking, if Abnormal is defined as “deviating from what is normal”.
    So I went further and looked at what the pre-fix “Ab-” means-this is defined as from, away, away from, or off.
    So looking back at the word “Aboriginal”, I really do not like how it breaks down. Away from original? Historically, that is not correct at all.
    I feel very uncomfortable using the word Aboriginal for those reasons and prefer Indigenous or First Nations.
    Just my two cents, what are your thoughts?

  2. I am accustomed to saying First Nations, but as a U.S. citizen, I keep thinking that The People (upper case) is correct.
    Having read the breakdown of ab-original, what about using the term Originals (upper case)?

  3. When identification of the race or nationality of a person is relevant to what we are saying about that person then it has a place. But if we are just going to say something about a person that is not related in any way to that person’s race or nationality then there is no need to state such race or nationality. e.g. “The head of the firm for which I work is Angus McLeod, who a Scot and has University degree”. The fact that Angus is a Scot is irrelevant to his standing in the firm so it need not be mentioned. When speaking about people who are citizens of, or simply live in, Canada it is usually only necessary to identify their roots when what is being reported is in some way affected by the person’s ancestral origin.

  4. Buster, you can rest easy about the origin of the word “Aboriginal.” It does not break down to “not original.” Just the reverse, in fact. The word comes from the Latin phrase ab origine which means “from the beginning.”

    So etymologically speaking, aboriginal people would be the people who were there from the start.

    • :) Oh thank you for clearing that up for me. It is something I had always wondered when trying to connect words I have heard before and their meanings…my attempt at critical thinking I suppose.

  5. Why not simplfy the nameing game to “CANDIAN” OR “ALIEN”. My ancestors go back to 1654 and that quafies me as a Canadian.

    • RIGHT ON

  6. VERY RELEVANT COMMENTS…BUT AS I SEE IT – WE ARE CANADIAN IF WE HOLD CITIZENSHIP AND ANY DEVIATE CLASSIFICATION IS IRRELEVANT FOR THE MOST PART…
    I AM FIFTH GENERATION AND IN THE 60’S IT WAS A HIRING PRACTICE TO ASK HERITAGE OR CULTURE………IF MY BIRTH CERTIFICATE SAYS CANADIAN, WHEN DID I BECOME OTHERWISE.

    THE REASON FOR THE DISTINCTION I BELIEVE IS THE TAX FREE BENEFITS

  7. It really Does not matter what word is used. Sooner or later it will be used by someone in a derogatory sense as is the fate of any name. Then the owner of that name will want it changed and society will use the new name in order to be “politically correct”. REPEAT FROM THE BEGINING.
    I don’t like being politically correct. Come to think of it I don’t like politicians either.

  8. Pingback: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 | Current Topics in First Nations, Metis, & Inuit Studies 40S

  9. Pingback: Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 | Current Topics in First Nations, Metis, & Inuit Studies 40S

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