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From: "Michael (Mickey) Posluns, Ph.D."


Some of you will know that for some time I have been on a campaign to have 
"Aboriginal" and "Native" treated as proper nouns.  Until now my best authority was a 
brief note in an early issue of Canadian Native Law Reporter that this was the usage 
that they would follow.  Logic, it seemed to me, favoured capitalizing both these 
words because they are substitutes for "North American" or "American" or "Americas" 
and were, therefore, proper nouns.  Proper nouns in English are the names of 
particular persons, places or things.  One might quibble as to whether or not the name 
of an entire continent, applied to those who are indigenous to that place, is 
particular.  However, all the names of other continents applied to their inhabitants 
are treated as proper nouns, e.g., European, Asian, Australian.

Today, on a sudden inspiration, I opened a reference work that had long been on my 
book shelf, Guide to Canadian English Usage published by Oxford University Press and 
edited by Margery Fee and Jamie McAlipine.  

Under "Aboriginal people(s)" there occurs a most interesting and useful article.  The 
first two paragraphs of this article are sufficient to sustain my argument that 
capitalizing these words is appropriate if one recognizes and respects the humanity 
and people of those to whom one is referring.  Further, they cite a government 
authority to this very end, of which I will say more in a moment.  First, let me offer 
the text of these two paragraphs:

Aboriginal people(s), Native people(s), Indigenous people(s), Status Indian, 
Registered Indian, Non-Status Indian, First Nations, First Peoples, Amerindian  
[Clearly the longest heading of a reference work entry I recall having seen.]  As the 
political identity and constitutional status of Indians, Metis and Inuit in Canada 
evolve, so do the terms that refer to them.  The Canadian Constitution ACt of 1982 
discussed Indians, Metis and Inuit under the general rubric aboriginal peoples.  In 
1994, the Government of Canada Terminology and Language Standardization Board (Public 
Works) made the following recommendation with respect to general references to 
Aboriginal people(s) in Canada.  Aboriginal and Native should be capitalized to 
parallel other broad ethnic, linguistic and geographic designations such as Asian, 
Hispanic and Nordic.  Aboriginal and Native should be used as adjectives only, as in 
"Aboriginal peoples' and "Native peoples" (not "Aboriginals", "Natives").  Indigenous 
should also be capitalized the term Indigenous peoples, which is often used to refer 
to Aboriginal groups worldwide.

     Since Aboriginal peoples are actively seeking self-government, it is recommended 
that phrases expressing geographical location rather than citizenship be used of them: 
 "Aboriginal people(s) in Canada", "Native people(s) in Canada", "Indigenous people(s) 
in Canada" (not "Aboriginal Canadians" ...).  People, in these phrases can mean either 
a group of individuals ("The Aboriginal people present at the meeting discussed the 
issue"), the entire body of Aboriginal persons ("Aboriginal people today are fully 
aware of their changing position with respect to the state") or a particular group 
that shares ancestry, language and sometimes geographical territory ("The Haida are an 
Aboriginal people").  Peoples, plural, always refers to a number of such groups, not a 
number of individuals."

I have copied these two paragraphs in full not because I think they are perfect but 
because I think that they are good enough to be the basis of further useful 
discussion.  Part of what makes them "good enough" is that they are written with 
respect and consider that there is a need to put references to Indigenous peoples of 
the Americas on a "parallel" with peoples of other continents.  I have, in fact, 
written to the editors with a quibble in the third paragraph but that is on an 
entirely different matter.

Recently, I wrote to the Clerk of the Senate about the use of capitalization in 
reference to "Aboriginal" and "Native" in Hansard.  Mr. Belisle was kind enough to 
reply that the matter had been studied and Hansard now has a practice of capitalizing. 
 I checked some final versions of the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples 
and found that "Aboriginal" had been consistently capitalized in the final version 
though perhaps not so frequently in the blues or draft version.  However, "native" 
often occured not capitalized, e.g., "He then spoke in his native language."

I suspect that those of you who care to check this out will find that most 
non-governmental publications remain in the steadfast denial that there is any need to 
extend the signs of respect embedded in the English language to Aboriginal peoples.  
Should you care to pursue this issue with your favourite print media I would be 
pleased to be kept up-to-date.

Meanwhile, I spent some time this afternoon trying to locate the Terminology and 
Language Standardization Board (Public Works) to which the article above refers.  If 
anyone comes across this body or any successor please let me know about that too.

Best regards,

Michael Posluns.

Michael (Mickey) Posluns, Ph.D.,
The Still Waters Group,
Parliamentary Relations & Legislative History

Daytime:  416 995-8613
Evening:  416 656-8613
Fax:      416 656-2715

36 Lauder Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario,
M6H 3E3

How can we be sure that the unexamined life is not worth living?

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

Native News North
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