In a series of 10 conversational essays in
My Conversations with Canadians (Book*hug) celebrated Indigenous writer and scholar Lee Maracle confronts a multitude of current issues in Canada—from colonialism to basic terminology—through her experiences as a First Nations leader, a woman, a mother, and a grandmother. Below we share a must-read excerpt from "Conversation 6: What do I call you: First Nations, Indians, Aboriginals, Indigenous?"
Conversation 6: What do I call you: First Nations, Indians, Aboriginals, Indigenous?
My first answer is “Call me anything you like, but don’t call me
late for dinner.” Or, “Well, my name is Lee.” But I know that
is not what they mean. According to Columpa Bobb, “We are
the only people on the continent who keep getting our names
changed every ten years or so.” Drew Hayden Taylor also
wrote a number of funny columns about being First Nations,
Indian, Aboriginal, and Indigenous, as well as Ojibway. Most
of us think it is funny, this obsession with what to call us. It did
not work for the world to name us, so now we are being asked
who we are collectively. All of the above are designations for all of us together.
First we were called Indians because Columbus was lost,
and this label hung on our necks for a long time. We had our
own names for ourselves and tried to get the newcomers to use
them, but to no avail—they wanted a generic name for all of us
together. We objected to this name, so we became Aboriginal,
as we were not in the Bible. Then some anthropologist decided
we came from Asia, so we were back in the Bible, but the
settlers were not done with either “Indians” or “Aboriginals,”
so they now had two names for us. Then someone called us
Natives—that didn’t last long—and then finally someone
coined the term First Nations. This is the least insulting name
in a long line of insulting names; it may be the most incorrect
as well, but it is at least the less insulting. Of course, I am not inclined to settle for the least.
When someone asks what to call me, I want to answer: call
me anything you like. I know if I answer “Sto:lo, Coast Salish”
or any of our real names, someone will say, “But I mean all of
you.” “Well, you can do what we do,” I answer. “We call you
white people or Europeans because white people are from Europe.
This is Turtle Island, so we are all Turtle Islanders. Why not call us ‘Turtle Islanders’?”
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North Vancouver–born Lee Maracle is the author of numerous critically acclaimed literary works, including Sundogs, Ravensong, Sojourner’s Truth and Other Stories, Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel, Daughters Are Forever, Will’s Garden, Bent Box, Memory Serves, I Am Woman, and Talking to the Diaspora. Her latest book is My Conversations with Canadians and was a finalist for the 2018 Toronto Book Awards and the First Nation Communities READ 2018-19 Award. Her next book, Hope Matters, written collaboratively with her daughters Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter, is forthcoming from Book*hug in 2019. She is the coeditor of a number of anthologies, including the award-winning My Home as I Remember. A member of the Sto:Loh Nation, Maracle is a recipient of the Order of Canada, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, the JT Stewart Award, and the Ontario Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts for 2014. In 2018, she received both the First Peoples Literary Prize and the Harbourfront Festival Prize. Maracle is currently an instructor in the Aboriginal Studies Program at the University of Toronto, where she teaches Oral Tradition. She is also the Traditional Teacher for First Nation’s House and an instructor with the Centre for Indigenous Theatre. Maracle has served as Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo, and the University of Western Washington, and received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from St. Thomas University in 2009. Maracle lives in Toronto.
Photo credit: Columpa Bobb
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