Tuesday, May 18, 2010


One of the main things that toasts my goats (statement borrowed from my boyfriend, R.J.) are the things that affect me as Anishinabekwe - and believe me, there are many. That theme is generally the subject of this blog and, hopefully, I will be able to infuse it with some of my own personal flair.

But, this blog is still in its beginning stages and it is necessary at this time to define my terms of reference (does that make it starkly obvious that I work for a board-governed organization? Non-profit is all I will say). Although Turtle Island was comprised of many different nations, upon the "discovery" of the nations (arghhh...) the Europeans needed to erase these distinctions in order to begin the process of colonization/genocide/assimilation (pick your term of choice). It is also important to recognize that while these terms may have had negative impacts on our societies, today, there is solidarity found in terms that bind us together as a collective people. I call these the Terminators.

Indian: Oh my, where to begin. I almost feel silly explaining why this term is problematic because I feel it is (or should be) a well known fact, but perhaps I am wrong. This name has stuck to our people more so than any other - in terms of both the name others call us, as well as the name we call ourselves. But, sadly, the origin of this name dates back to a white man's stupid mistake. Upon Columbus's arrival on Turtle Island, he originally thought he had hit India; hence the name "Indians." The term and imagery of Indians has been used most notably by sports teams.

Cleveland Indians (baseball team)

Admittedly, this is a term commonly used amongst my family and community. Some might suggest that that is evidence of how deep the roots of colonization or assimilation have set, but I wouldn't be so quick to deny the agency of the people. So, I like to believe that there is some subversion of the term "Indian" when used by our people, but that is an entire post in its own right.

Indigenous: This term is also quite popular. I am reminded most of Taiaiake Alfred's use of the term in his works (or Indigenous manifestos). For me, this term has power in its ability to connect Indigenous nations across imposed borders and boundaries. When I think of myself as an Indigenous person, I see myself as part of the group with the greatest number of members; there are Indigenous peoples in countries known today as Canada, the U.S., Mexico, New Zeland, Australia, and more. I learned most about myself as an Indigenous person in 2006 when I had the opportunity to attend the Healing Our Spirit Worldwide gathering in Edmonton, Alberta. If only I could attend this year... It's in Hawai'i!

Aboriginal: This is a popularized term in Canada, as is the derivative "Aboriginie" in Australia. According to the Canadian Constitution, Aboriginal refers to First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people in Canada. It is in my nature to resist, so I am most hostile towards this term simply by virtue that I *detest* the government's desire/need/power/ability to tell me who I am and what I should call myself. Although, in the city I live in (Ottawa) you almost need to use the word to be taken seriously. Sigh.

Native: This term is ambiguous. Although I have an affinity toward it in that I feel it refers to me, that feeling is erased from time-to-time when I hear a settler referring to him- or herself as, for example, "native Manitoban." In that sense, anyone can be "native" with a small 'n.' However, I would adopt this term in an instant if it ever came down to Native vs. Aboriginal. But only in my world would such a showdown take place.

First Nations: This term has heavy political connotations. More than the name of peoples, this term is a statement that we are the first people to walk this land and we are nations - not vulnerable, racialized people in need of government paternalism. I think that this stance must be taken and, more importantly, it is a term that we chose ourselves. Although it is a bit wordy for my liking, I use it when necessary.

Anishinabe: Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! I use this term whenever possible in my writing and in my everyday language. It is a long process of reclaiming and it is difficult, with many of our people being English speakers, to use our language amidst the prevailing one. My understanding is that before contact, "Anishinabe" meant "the people." After contact, suddenly there were "new people." So, "Anishinabe" came to mean "our people" and a new word was created in my language for white people.But, more than anything, I am Anishinabe.

Finally, before I sign off on what has become a very long post, I want to draw attention to my use of the first person plural words, like "our" and "we." While my intent is not to exclude non-Anishinabe or non-Native (I went there) readership of my blog, I speak first and foremost to those who understand where I come from. I think seemingly small endeavours, such as personal blogs like mine, have the power to empower our people and that is important to me.

In the words of Gloria Bird (in regards to Native literary critical theory): "And here I must interject that, yes, I am saying that specifically Native writers and Native academics need to take control of the dialogue, to define their literary traditions in the same manner that other nationalist literary movements have done."

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