Description: From 'Indian' to 'Indigenous' : the historical pursuit of one umbrella term that applies to all.
Date: February 7, 2017
If we go back to the time of contact and Europeans coming over to the Americas, there has always been this idea of—and again, it's referred to as the imaginary Indian—the Indian that was created by Europeans when they came over to the Americas. Part of that imagery, which later turned into stereotypes, part of that imaginary Indian was the idea that Indians were all the same. This universal idea that there's a one. So, everybody from North to Central to South America who was there at the time got one term: Indian.
There has always been a push from that very first contact to try to find a term, one umbrella term, that describes all, which has led to incredible layers of complexity. It requires a depth of understanding, but history… Again, that's like trying to say, "Well, if they were all one, then I guess everybody from England to Japan was one." They say, "That's incredible. Everybody was different and there were thousands of nations, languages and cultures." Well, yeah. It was true here too.
So the quest has always been to find a singular term, a singular umbrella term, that describes all as one. In the early 50's, it was Native. Well, first it was Indian. Then it was Native. In the constitutional talks it became Aboriginal.
Then there's status and non-status.
So that search for the latest umbrella term is Indigenous. Indigenous meaning that we're still searching for that one term that describes all, but they will never fit. We have that sort of juxtaposition against there's no one-size-fits-all, and we always try to find one size that fits all.
So the struggle to find that one all-encompassing term will probably continue. The counter-trend to that is to identify people by their nations. So whether you're Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Omgohomi, however you want to do it, the correct terminology, from my perspective, is to identify and to greet or acknowledge people from the nation that they come from, as opposed to try to find one term that describes all.
We've always tried to shoehorn a very large piece of information into one particular… Square peg, round hole. It's never worked. It probably never will work. It doesn't mean we stop that search. But I said the more correct terminology from my perspective is one that acknowledges the nation or the people that they come from. That usually keeps you on safer territory.
A lot of people asked me this question after the new government came in: What is Indigenous, and is that the appropriate term now? People want to be correct and so on. I explained that it doesn't include, necessarily, Inuit and other groups and so on.
So, I identify myself when I introduce myself as Algonquin. I'm a member of the Algonquin Nation. That's how I choose to introduce myself, but I don't put a lot of thought or much care, actually, into whatever I'm described as. First Nation, Indigenous, Indian, status, all of the above… I have been called all of the above. What I suggested to people who got really wrapped up in this is to not err too much into that because, quite frankly, at the community level, this is not a big deal.
It's a big deal for those who want to be overly politically correct, and I think recently Indigenous has exemplified the importance of the UN DRIP, the international relationship that we've promoted on the world stage. So it has its time, but who knows 20 years from now what we'll be called?