By Michaela Whitehawk
The Anishinabek Nation are campaigning against the use of the term “aboriginal” to describe their people, who represent 30% of the total First Nation population in Ontario. On June 25, at the annual Grand Council Assembly on Manitoulin Island, Chiefs supported a resolution that condemned the word as a form of assimilation, which places Metis, Inuit, and First Nations Peoples into one category.
The resolution asserts that the reference to “aboriginal rights” in Section 35 of the Constitution Act of Canada “was never meant to assimilate First Nations, Metis, and Inuit into a homogeneous group.”
“We respect the cultures and traditions of our Metis and Inuit brothers and sisters, but their issues are different from ours,” said Grand Council Chief John Beaucage.
The one-page resolution also points out that “there are no aboriginal bands, aboriginal reserves, or aboriginal chiefs.” When referencing more than one Nation, the terms “First Nations” or “First Peoples” are more appropriate.
When possible, Chief Patrick Madahbee of Aundeck Omni Kaning prefers the specific title of Anishinabek over more generic terms. “Referring to ourselves as Anishinabek is the natural thing to do because that is who we are. We are not Indians, natives, or aboriginal. We are, always have been, and always will be Anishinabek.” The use of specific local terms, such as Chippewa and Algonquin are also acceptable titles.
According to Bob Goulais, Executive Assistant to the Grand Council Chief, the response to the resolution has been positive. “Our people want to be identified by who they are and their traditions,” said Goulais. He believes the rest of the country will also be receptive to a change in terminology. The Anishinabek Nation plans to bring a similar resolution to the Assembly of First Nations as early as November.
“Aboriginal” is not the only word that First Nations have deemed offensive; however, one need only look at the persisting title of “The Indian Act” to recognize that change can be slow. “We have lived with The Indian Act since 1876, but the legislation’s provisions are as archaic as its name,” said Chief Beaucage, who hopes that the resolution will lead to changes in organizational names. The Anishinabek Nation’s corporate arm has been referred to as the Union of Ontario Indians since 1949. “Those terms were acceptable then, but today we recognize them as confusing and inappropriate,” said Beaucage.