Re: Natives

Adrian Tanner (atanner@MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA)
Fri, 16 Feb 1996 11:41:11 -0330

I agree with Gudrun Dahl's comment that correct language debates are, in
general, tiresome, especially with this particular medium. So much of the
significance of a term derives from the context in which it is used, and
unfortunately, debates on lists like this do not always offer writers and
readers enough opportunity to take account of the context which a writer
(even unconciously) has in mind. There are many reasons for this. Writers
try to be brief, commentators often interject in mid-thread, bringing in
their own contextual considerations, we do not have access to the speaker's
normal non-verbal cues like facial expression, tone of voice, speaker's
ethnic identity, etc, etc..

As for the particular term 'Native', I used it in my 1966 MA thesis about
Yukon aboriginal people, because I was told by one of my aboriginal friends
there: "I am not an Indian!" [the word was said in a digusted tone, to
indicate that for this person it was habitually used as an insult, as in
"dirty Indian"] "I am a Native!". However, one of my thesis examiners
objected to my use of the term. For him, 'Native' was insulting, because it
was the term habitually used by British colonial officers to refer to
colonized people anywhere in the world, and was used by them with demeaning
connotations. But he agreed to let me keep it in the thesis. In the 1970s I
helped form an aboriginal support organization we called the Native Peoples'
Support Group. The term was chosen because we were involved with three very
different aboriginal groups, the Innu, the Inuit and the Micmac. We needed a
cover term. Indian was a problem, and in any case, there were Inuit
involved. (For some reason about which I can only speculate, while
historically (early 1700s) the Eskimo were generally classified, at least in
Labrador, as a tribe of Indians, this is no longer the case.) However, in
the mid 1980s, after aboriginal land claims had been filed, there was a
backlash from local non-aboriginal people, who employed the rhetorical
argument "I was born here. I am a native. I should be entitled to have a
Native Land Claim." The term Native as cover term for several aboriginal
groups had thus been co-opted. La plus ca change ...

Adrian Tanner

Adrian Tanner, Dept of Anthropology, Memorial University, St John's,
Newfoundland, Canada. A1C 5S7. email Tel 709 737
8868 fax 737 8686