Words that respect

Published February 6, 2012

I had just settled into reading the January 2012 Anglican Journal, when I was struck by the letter from Patricia Brush [The words we choose, p. 5]. The point Brush made was that those in power get to control the language. She then went on to say, “The use of ‘aboriginal’ when referring to people is a mark of disrespect.” Here, I beg to differ. Aboriginal peoples in Canada comprise many uniquely different linguistics and kinship collectives with varying rights and legal recognition. They do not appreciate being painted as one homogenous group. It is this usage that First Nation, Inuit and Metis peoples find disrespectful. The more specific one can be-e.g., “He is Cree”-the more respectful. Given that, however, when you want to speak of all Canada’s First Peoples and their descendants and relatives regardless of beneficiary status, the only terminology that is inclusive is either “aboriginal” or “indigenous.”  This usage is very respectful. (See www.fnmr.gov.sk.ca/community/glossary/.) It is also legally recognized in Canada’s constitution.Speaking of terminology, one should not use “Inuit people,” as Inuit means people, so saying “people people” is not only redundant but disrespectful.As Brush noted, we all need to be mindful of the language we use. I would just add: be as specific as you can and if you mean to be inclusive, use the right words. That is respectful.

P.S. The term “aboriginal” is normally spelled with a capital “A” in Canada out of respect. However, press wire services have dictated that it is not capitalized-such is the power of the press!


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