It makes me wanna holler!

Not exactly as shown.

Not me, but it fits otherwise.

I have noted, preached against, argued about, condemned, aimed jokes at, and pulled my hair over the continuing laziness, ignorance or stupidity of people (notably journalists and others who work with words and language) over their constant misuse of generic, all-encompassing, one-size-fits-all terms like “Aboriginal.” 

I don’t discriminate with my complaints. I don’t care if they’re aimed at Caucasian, Indian, Métis, Black, Asian, Eurasian, South Asian, Inuit or any number of other peoples. Individuals who work with words are supposed to make things clear – not confuse things even more. They are expected to agonize over limited space or time; to condense and simplify. In the end though, they should explain things so people may understand. 

Instead, I keep complaining about people who think that “Aboriginal” can be used instead of “Indian,” that there are such things as Aboriginal reserves, and that an inukshuk is Aboriginal. 

(brrrppp) WRONG!  Everyone who agreed with that last sentence take one giant step backward. 
I don’t know how many times that I’ve picked up a newspaper, watched a TV program, heard on the radio someone – very often a highly paid someone – talk about an “Aboriginal treaty” or an “Aboriginal non-status person.”  On that first term, there ain’t no such thing. Only Indian NATIONS made treaty with the British, U.S., French, Spanish and later Canada in North America. That is a crucial legal and historic distinction from which many other distinctions flow. 

Before I really get fuming… here’s an example from a draft book that crossed my computer HD. It isn’t written by some ignoramus but by a respected, highly educated and well-paid mixed-race professional person. Part North American Indian she says, and someone who should know better. Read on, McDuff…

When the French and British first took control of the land in what is now Canada, the land was considered to be owned by the King or Queen. Until it was granted or sold to individuals it was called Crown land.

Early Crown land records held by provincial governments include many references to Aboriginal peoples. When members of Aboriginal bands entitled to reserve land allocations married non-Aboriginals (or non-Status Indians), there was often some disagreement over entitlement to the land, and thus documentation of the relationships was produced. This documentation can be found in correspondence with representatives of the Crown and the records of special commissions set up to handle disputes. 

There are also inspection and valuation reports in the Crown land records. In cases where these cover regions settled by Aboriginal peoples, their names may be listed, often identifying them as members of a First Nation Band, Métis or White. These records can be helpful for establishing identity and residence, although they do not tend to describe relationships between individuals.

There are so many things wrong with these three paragraphs that I shudder. “Aboriginal bands”? Do Métis or Inuit have reserves? Who the frig gave the King or Queen the right to… well enough of that! 

In the last paragraph, she states that Aboriginal peoples settled on Crown lands!? WTF? Indians and Inuit are the original owners and inhabitants of the land. They didn’t settle on Crown land but were herded onto postage stamp reserves so the government could give their land to mostly European settlers. 

Oh, then there’s an additional kick in the head with “First Nation band.” 

Oy. Has the Canadian education system ever failed her.  I need an aspirin.



Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canada, Canadian politics, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights, journalism, writing

7 responses to “It makes me wanna holler!

  1. Pingback: Ingenius Idiot » Blog Archive » It makes me wanna holler!

  2. KevinG

    “Instead, I keep complaining about people who think that “Aboriginal” can be used instead of “Indian,” that there are such things as Aboriginal reserves, and that an inukshuk is Aboriginal. “

    Well, I would have thought that Aboriginal was a generic term — something like indigenous. If Aboriginal includes First Nations, Inuit and Métis ( I had to look that bit up ), why can’t they be used interchangeably in some circumstances? As an example, why does Aboriginal band not work? Should it just be replaced by First Nation?

    I get the problem with “First Nation band”, I think.

    Why is inukshuk not aboriginal?

    Not being deliberately provocative, just genuinely ignorant.

  3. I think that pic looks JUST like you. It’s not you?

    On a less philosophickle but more obsessive note, what drives me nuts is use of the word “Aboriginal” as a noun, as in, “She has these terrifically mystical qualities, but of course, she would, since she’s an Aboriginal”. Shudder.

  4. shmohawk

    I think that pic looks JUST like you. It’s not you?

    It does NOT. It IS not. Damn pesticus.

    I agree with the use of it as a noun. I cringe whenever I hear reporters or announcers use the word as a noun, and I freak when I see it written as though “Aboriginals” were a single celled animal. It just DRIVES me!

  5. shmohawk

    Kevin, consider how diverse eastern Europe is. We don’t think or use the term European when what we actually mean to say is Irish, if the story is about Ireland. Or if the subject has something to do with the fine folks from Scotland, we don’t use the umbrella term. If we did – and I mean constantly – use the generic European term whenever we wanted to refer to something in the general area between Russian and North Africa, we would be causing great consternation with the audience.

    Greeks come from Greece, and they have along and very proud history as Greeks. They don’t want to be confused with Turks. Or Albanians, for that matter.

    Similarly, Indians are not Métis (mixed-race and called halfbreeds in the past) or Inuit (who, trust me, don’t want to be lumped in with Indians). Inuit make inukshuk – not Indians. Just as the Dutch are linked to wooden clogs (I used to own a pair, very uncomfy).

    Reserves are a creation of the Indian Act. They were pens to hold Indians while settlers stole their land (it’s my story and I’m going to stick with it). There’s no such thing as a Métis or Inuit reserve.

    My point is that people should learn to be specific. If journalists and others who use the mass media persist in the use of big, confusing, umbrella terms then people will never see the distinctions, the diversity, the differences. And they will continue to be just as ill-informed, poorly educated, and confused about the people who were here first as they are now – and that’s pretty bad.

    Now, why do I know more about your cultures than you do of mine? As for “first nation”… oh that is the subject for a lot of future hair-pulling.

  6. KevinG

    Thanks for taking the time to answer.

    I had thought your concern was more about usage of the term itself but it seems more about recognition of the distinctness of the components of the term Aboriginal.

    The term European is, it seems to me, used in the same way as Aboriginal but I suspect that you may be right that the collective term is not used at the expense if the component term when the context merits it. Still, while a French man would not want to be confused with a Spaniard but both are happy to be called Europeans

    I wonder how much this varies by region. I think that in BC, the media always uses the name of the First Nation ( and everyone seems to agree that First Nations is the appropriate collective term )

  7. Shmohawk

    My concern is misuse or overuse of the collective term. A news story that originates from Iqaluit should not refer to “Aboriginal” people if it does not mean to include any of the other two groups, Indians and Métis. A story about Mi’kmaq on the right hand of the country, and that does not have anything to do with Métis or Inuit should not use the word “Aboriginal.” Yet most of the news stories I read or hear about use the term “Aboriginal” as though it were a one-size-fits-all term. It ain’t.

    Years ago, while biking in north end Winnipeg, I stopped by a small community centre. Some kids were there and I asked where they came from? Instead of the answer I expected (Saulteaux from Dakota Tipi, or Cree from Peguis), these two kids said they were “Aboriginal.” No, I asked again, “What’s your nation? Where do your parents come from?” They didn’t know.

    People, from whatever culture, from whatever part of the world, who don’t know who they are or have roots in some tribe or another, are lost (IMHO) in so many ways. I still remember people who – with great pride – claimed that their grandmother was a Cherokee princess. I can go on and on about, such as: Why is it always a Cherokee princess? But the point is that people who use words, who write, who work in the mass media, should be looking for distinctiveness if only to make their writing better, meaningful, less generic. And they do with so many other cultures – except with those that were here first.

    Personally, I hate the term “first nations.” I think the term served an educative purpose in the early 1980s. I think that referring to band councils – creations of the Indian Act – as “nations” does tremendous disservice. It hides the fact that the Mi’kmaq, the Lakota, the Salish are nations. “First nations” are band councils for reserves, a part of the whole.

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