I just read two magazine articles and one newspaper story on the long plane ride over to London. I’ll talk about one to show why I get so frustrated with Canadian journalists and journalism. It has to do with umbrella terms, one-size-fits-all phrases, generic words that lose all meaning and only confuse. If you want to know what I mean, pick up the latest Walrus (November 2008).
Alright, the story is compelling. The writing is nice, good, really good. It’s about Louie Sam, a Sto:lo in southern British Columbia who was lynched in the late 1800s. Yet despite all of the good things I have to say about the story, I stumble time after time over the words “aboriginal.”
Why? Well, for one thing, what the hell is an “aboriginal?” I thought the word is used to describe all three of the main groups of Indigenous peoples in Canada. You know. Indians, Inuit and Métis. But I flinch every time I read the word, or hear aboriginal used in broadcasting to talk about any one of these groups of peoples singly. What do I mean?
Take that story in The Walrus magazine. The writer is telling a story about a Sto:lo. Louie Sam was not Inuit. He was not Métis. He was clearly Indian, a perfectly good legal term that may be the only legal term recognized in Canadian law. Regardless, he was not an “aboriginal” – an amalgam of all three of the groups. He was a Sto:lo – an Indian. So why do so many Canadian journalists think it’s okay to just throw in this one word even though it will confuse things, lose meaning, and mean something else.
I see the word “aboriginal” used in the North as well when some journalists insist on referring to Inuit as (you got it) “aboriginals.” They ain’t. They’re Inuit, and probably proud of it too.
I know. What’s the big deal? Right? Who is it hurting? Well, my sister feels much the same way but explains the problem this way. “What is a white person? Imagine somebody wearing Dutch clogs, a Scottish kilt, part of a lederhosen, and any number of other national dresses that come from the Caucasian peoples. then expand it to include an Indian sari, a Japanese kimono, and so on. That is one confused bugger. That is the equivalent of what the word ‘aboriginal’ does to us.”
See? We Mohawks had our very own style of national dress. We had a very distinctive hair style but also a very distinctive headdress that set us apart from anyone else. It was our national dress. We didn’t have those big war bonnets that you found out weswt with the Sioux and Blackfoot. Neither did we dress like Inuit or Métis. We were disticntive from the Mi’kmaq or Ojibway.
So you see what bugs me? Words is important. But so many Canadian journalists just don’t seem to understand the tremendous role they play in keeping the vast majority of Canadians so bloody ignorant.
I’m just saying…