Stop using these Indigenous references and terms they’re offensive

The number-one question Aboriginal people get asked these days is What the hell should we call you guys now? Its.


The number-one question Aboriginal people get asked these days is What the hell should we call you guys now? Its a complex question because the answer varies, depending if you are on the reserve, in the city, at a university, working in government or getting a pedicure.

In this age of equity, diversity and inclusion, its becoming more and more difficult to understand what is socially acceptable when referring to Indigenous people. You might say natives are getting restless. Then again, you might not.

The latest shot in an ongoing battle against what many consider to be the politically incorrect was fired in a Toronto courtroom Monday: Indigenous activist and world-renowned architect Douglas Cardinal lost his bid in Ontario Superior Court to stop the Cleveland Indians baseball team from using its racist name and Chief Wahoo mascot logo during the American League Championship Series games being played in Toronto against the Blue Jays this week.

The application also names Rogers Communications Inc., which is broadcasting the games. Cardinals lawyer, Michael Swinwood, argued that the Cleveland Indians team name and mascot are offensive and discriminatory to native people.

Hard to disagree. The logo is a cartoonish image of a man with red skin, a toothy, imbecilic grin and a feather in his headband. Its a symbol of a bygone era. Add to that the fact that I doubt there are many Indians (North American or South Asian) on the actual team.

A judge rejected Cardinals application. Reasons were not immediately released. But Cardinal has also filed complaints with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

We had hoped the court would recognize the immediate harm that the Cleveland baseball team racists name and logo would cause, especially since the team has already demonstrated its ability to wear a jersey without an offensive name and mascot, Cardinal said in a statement following Mondays decision.

The standard argument from opponents of native team logos is that you dont see other ethnic names peppering the sports pages, like the New York Jews or the Detroit Blacks or the Phoenix Latinos. Just native people.

The counter-perspective is that the monikers honour Indigenous people. However, a good chunk of those people being honoured might disagree. And if those being honoured disagree about being honoured, are they in fact being honoured?

Ive heard a person argue that people of Nordic heritage arent voicing any discontent about the Minnesota Vikings football team.

Theres a small but distinct difference: Vikings, to the best of my knowledge, are no longer pillaging and raping their way along the coastlines of Europe, while native people are still a vibrant and participating presence in North America. I would like to point out, though, that some of my best friends are Vikings.

So in the interest of good community relations and keeping the lines of communication open, I would like to offer a humble glossary of familiar team names and terms no longer acceptable to the average Indigenous person. Lets start with the obvious:

The Washington Redskins

Just a general misnomer. Native people dont actually have red skin. Some believe the name originates from the Beothuk tribe, who used to coat their bodies with red ochre. But native peoples skin colour runs the gamut from snow white to eggshell to cream all the way through to nut brown, wheat and shades of dusty copper. The only red skin seen in our community is on those who come back from vacation in Mexico in February.

The Atlanta Braves

Two words: tomahawk chop. This team also hails from the state that, as part of a land grab, sent most of its Indigenous population on what is known as the Trail of Tears and there was nothing brave about that. Thousands died on the long forced march in the 1830s to what was referred to as the Indian Territories, today called Oklahoma.

The Edmonton Eskimos

A survey conducted a year or so ago asked local residents if they thought the Canadian Football League team should consider changing its contentious name. The answer was a resounding no. So the team will continue to acknowledge the fact that Eskimos come from Edmonton.

Then there are the common phrases that litter contemporary language use:

Having a pow wow

Commonly heard during a baseball game when a coach, catcher and pitcher are in conference on the mound. This is not a pow wow there are no dancers, no drummers, no Indian tacos. Native people do not, on average, meet on large mounds of dirt. This is a gathering of highly paid non-native professionals. This is a board meeting.

Off the reservation

This expression is usually used to describe actions that are not socially or ethically acceptable. In the Canadian native community, however, when we say off the reservation (or, more accurately, off the reserve or First Nation), we mean going to a place with adequate housing, drinkable water, decent education and medical care.

Beat of a different drum

Not as controversial as other sayings since many cultures around the world use drums in their social and spiritual activities. Generally speaking, First Nations are very pro beating different drums. Think how boring the world would be and crowded if there were only one drum to beat.

The cavalry to the rescue

From the Aboriginal perspective, our position on this one should be quite self-evident.

Drew Hayden Taylor is an award-winning playwright and novelist from Curve Lake First Nation near Peterborough.

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