CONTRIBUTION · 24th May 2011
Shawn Atleo Fiddles with Words while his People Burn
The so-called government of Canada has just changed the name of its “Indian Affairs” department to “Aboriginal Affairs”, and their top token red skin wants to know why.
Shawn Atleo heads the government-funded “Assembly of First Nations” – lovingly known to most Indians as the “Around the Fort Natives" – and he’s mildly concerned about the name change.
Shawn’s a pretty mild guy, with his fancy suit, closely cropped hair and $120,000 a year salary, which of course doesn’t include the first class air travel. Calmly, he told reporters today that it is “incumbent” on him to find out what his employers intend by officially calling Indians “aboriginals”.
Shawn, my boy, I’ll save you the time and effort. Just open any dictionary. “Aboriginal” means “not of the original group”: in short, somebody like you. If your family in Ahousaht hadn’t have spent all their time selling off their peoples’ land to logging companies like Weyerhauser for lucrative kickbacks, they might have taught you that.
I think the change in name fits, actually, and is a surprisingly honest thing for a Canadian government to do: simply telling it like it is. Indians in Canada have by and large become thoroughly ab-original, thanks to smallpox, compulsory sterilizations, and the general massacre of their soul, language and children’s lives in the Indian residential schools. They are not who they were.
Take a look at your own life, Shawn. Instead of bringing home your relatives’ remains from those murderous schools, or going after the police who keep killing native men and women, you’ve spent your time demanding more money from the feds so you and your AFN buddies can go on pretending you represent something.
But I’ll be fair. Life can get pretty insular and bizarre from the inside of a private jet, or in ceaseless $500 lunches with other bureaucrats.
And it’s best you stay in that world, anyway, Shawn. The last time one of you guys tried hobnobbing with actual Indians – when your predecessor “Flying Phil” Fontaine did a half hour photo-op stroll through Vancouver’s skid row – the mostly homeless native guys there ended up jeering at him so much he just scurried away.
So stick to what you know best: talking. In the meantime, let the real, remaining indigenous people find their own voice, and way. Most of you may have become as thoroughly ab-original as my own people; but let’s not make things worse by pretending you’re still Indians.
That word, after all, has nothing to do with India. It’s taken from the Diary kept by Christoper Columbus, who referred to the original peoples of this continent as “In Dios” - People of God – because they shared everything with one another, and were strangers to private property, poverty and warfare.
Once upon a time, all of our peoples were like that. Maybe we can be so again – but only if we start speaking the truth of what we have become, and of who and what made us that way.
In the meantime, Shawn, why not use this sudden trend towards honesty by the Tory government to everyone’s advantage, and start naming things as they truly are?
Try calling Indian Residential Schools the Christian Death Camps.
Or the RCMP the License to Kill Indians Police.
Or Weyerhauser and the other rapacious logging companies who you’ve signed secret deals with The Eco Terrorist Corporations.
Maybe the Tories could even gain the appropriate appellation Suppositories.
Who knows? Enough such honesty, and our words may begin to actually mean something, Shawn.
Comment by Val on 30th May 2011
I couldn't figure out which side Kevin is on... Seriously he reminds me of some prissy chick who is trying to be popular by feeding the ills of two parties. And in the process undoing a great deal of good.
Comment by Val on 24th May 2011
The original definition of indian was "someone who is not a person" not people of god. As per the Indian Act. Although people of god sounds much more civilized and NICE.
The insult taken was that and not because we were mistaken for the east indian.
Leave it to the white men again like Kevin Annett
Comment by Who made who on 24th May 2011
Leave it to NON First Nations to again "instruct" us about who we are. I believe the majority of Indians, Ab ORIGINALS....prefer to be known or labeled by the Nation we are "from". Sioux, Cherokee, Gixtsan, Haisla, Haida -- FIRST NATION!
Why do white men care anyways??? Oh that's right YOU DON'T.