Truth & Reconciliation Assignment
As I considered how to approach this assignment and read through the Indigenous Foundations Terminology recommended in the instructions, I recognized that the terminology we use to designate Canada's Indigenous Peoples are problematic and fraught with difficulties. The terminology is deeply rooted in an oppressive colonial system dating back to the Indian Act of 1876, showing underlying racism not just in its simple view of human connections but also in the problematic methods used to collect data. So, instead of searching for specific phrases in a body of text, I decided to take a step back and examine where the terms originated.
Text 1: Discover Canada Study Guide
I started by examining the categorization that is used in the Discover Canada study guide. While not exactly an educational textbook for teaching Canadian history in schools, the study guide is aimed at immigrants preparing for the citizenship test. This may be the first in-depth exploration of Canadian history and terminology used to describe Indigenous Peoples for many new instructors, myself included. Without going into great depth, the 68-page study guide refers to three different groups under the umbrella term Aboriginal Peoples: Inuit, Métis, and Indian, a term that was changed to First Nations in the 1970s.
Text 2: Statistics Canada
I was interested in attempting to answer the question: How might we find deeper layers of Indigenous identity by looking beyond the three categories mentioned above? However, the Discover Canada guide's brevity made it impossible to attempt to address this properly, so I thought I might expand my research by examining how Statistics Canada and the Canadian Government as a whole classify Indigenous Peoples and the potential problems with doing so. The Canadian Constitution likewise uses the same three categories mentioned above, but maybe more for administrative purposes than for a true representation of the complex and nuanced facets of Indigenous identity.
In order to extend my research, a chapter from the book Indigenous Statistics: A Quantitative Research Methodology (Walter & Anderson, 2013) offered a helpful perspective and a superb and informative direction. The focus on a different configuration of indigeneity in Chapter 5, Indigenous Quantitative Methodological Practice - Canada, was particularly helpful in highlighting how the Canadian census's failure to record Aboriginal social structures is problematic and leaves out three specific groups, which are described in three case studies: one tribal, one urban, and the third within a Métis national context.
The first case study, Example 1: Tribal Affiliations as Ethnic Ancestry, explains how the legal word "Indian" is used to identify a First Nations individual who is registered under the Indian Act, despite being regarded outdated and objectionable owing to its colonial origins. However, the need for determining the respondent's patrilineage meant that status Indian women and their families were disqualified upon marriage to non-status partners (Walter & Anderson, 2013).As I read further, it became clear that the three categories utilized by Statistics Canada and other regulatory agencies are far from adequate in reflecting the intricacies of Indigenous Peoples.
The third case study examines the complexities of the Métis Nation and how centuries of intermixing among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples resulted in many Indigenous peoples self-identifying as Métis in a census questionnaire while having no Métis ancestry. The authors propose a more precise census question, asking respondents if they "are a member of the Métis Nation?" This would allow for a more detailed demographic examination.
There are more than 630 First Nation communities in Canada (Government of Canada, n.d.). These represent more than 50 Nations and 50 Indigenous languages. Classifying Indigenous Peoples into three simple categories that are culturally and politically constructed does not account for the intricacies of human relationships and mobility. Many Indigenous Peoples have been forcibly relocated, assimilated, or otherwise marginalized; therefore, developing such classifications without broad consultation with Aboriginal groups themselves is not only deeply problematic but simply wrong. It is critical for educators to comprehend the challenges raised here and to question the legitimacy of the terminology used to define Indigenous Peoples, which was never intended to reflect the diversity of such.
Canada. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, & Canadian Government EBook Collection. (2021).
Discover Canada: The rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.Government of Canada; Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada; Indigenous peoples and communities. (n.d.)https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1100100013785/1529102490303
Walter, M. (2013; 2016;). Indigenous statistics: A quantitative research methodology. (pp. 144-163). Left Coast Press. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315426570
We need the words, but use them best knowing they are containers forever spilling over and breaking open. Something is always beyond.