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Aboriginal Titles

Katherine Barber
(Terminology Update, Volume 36, Number 3, 2003, page 11)

In recent years, there has been a cultural renaissance amongst Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. A renewed sense of identity has left a very marked impression on the language. The most immediately visible result of this is the use of self-designations by various Aboriginal peoples rather than the names imposed on them by outsiders, either other Aboriginal groups or European newcomers. Obviously this phenomenon happened with the shift from Eskimo to Inuit about twenty-five years ago, but in the past ten years the same phenomenon has happened with all of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.

In some cases, the shift has been slight. For instance, the people traditionally known in English as the Micmac have in only the last ten years come to impose Mi’kmaq as the standard Canadian spelling of their name. I can document this from my personal experience. In late 1992 I had a meeting with the editors of the style guide for The Globe and Mail and mentioned that I had recently seen this spelling for the first time. The editors opined that this would not catch on. But seven years later, the Globe started to use it as their standard spelling. Most Canadians are still pronouncing it the same way as Micmac [MICK mack]. However, in Cape Breton Island, I heard academics in 1998 saying MEE maw. Indeed, another variant is Mi’kmaw. As luck would have it, the acrimonious dispute that broke out in the Atlantic Provinces over native versus non-native fishing rights in September 1999 received much national coverage, and the pronunciations MIG maw and MEE mak started to be used by CBC reporters. The Canadian Press Style Guide editor reports that as a result of this, she has changed her recommendation from "Micmac unless the specific community prefers Mi’kmaq" to a blanket use of Mi’kmaq. And on October 7, 1999 MIG maw became the official Canadian Press pronunciation.

In the way of dictionaries, we first found ourselves confronted with this challenge when we were working on the letter A in 1993. Suddenly we were encountering in our corpus and citation files evidence of a word we had never seen before: Anishnabe. We started looking for more, and before we knew it, we had 32 spelling variants for the word. A recent search yielded five more (see sidebar). This is the "new" word for the people traditionally known in Canada as the Ojibwa or the Ojibway (they are called the Chippewa in the US). It means simply "people" in the language of the Anishnabe. An interesting phenomenon with the use of this word was the fact that it was almost always unglossed. It was as if writers had learned that this was the now politically acceptable name and no reference should be made to the previous name at all to help people make the connection. Indeed The Canadian Oxford Dictionary lexicographers for a while thought that we were dealing with a totally new Aboriginal group that for some reason we had never heard of before.

Canadian Citations (total of 37 variants)

1982 Flowers of the Wild (Oxford)
1982 Indians, Inuit, and Metis of Canada (Gage)
1986 Native Peoples: The Canadian Experience (McClelland & Stewart)
1988 The Canadian Encyclopedia
(spelling uncertain) 1993 heard on an episode of the CTV program "ENG"
1994 Anishinabek News
1989 Toronto Star
n.d. Anishinaabemodaa: Becoming a Successful Ojibwe Eavesdropper (Manitoba Association for Native Languages Inc.)
1995 First Nations: The Canadian Experience
1994 Anishinabek News
1992 Anthology of Canadian Native Literature (Oxford University Press)
1992 Canada’s First Nations (M&S)
1990 The Province (Vancouver)
1990 Ottawa Citizen
1990 BC Bookworld
1989 Toronto Star
1988 Native Peoples and Cultures of Canada (Douglas & McIntyre)
1993 Ottawa Citizen
1988 The Canadian Encyclopedia
1994 Anishinabek News
Anishnabemowin (language)
1998 Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English
1993 Wildflower
Anishinaubaeg (plural)
1998 Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English
1993 book title (M&S)
Anishinaubaequae (feminine)
1993 Crazywater (Penguin)
1990 New Republic of Childhood (Oxford)
1989 Toronto Star
Anishnaabe (name of organization)
1994 Winnipeg Free Press
1990 Ottawa Citizen
1989 Toronto Star
Anish Nabai
1992 Nations Within
1992 Canadian Living
1990 Ottawa Citizen
1989 Toronto Star
1988 The Canadian Encyclopedia
1988 The Canadian Encyclopedia
1988 The Canadian Encyclopedia
1993 Calgary Herald
1993 Ottawa Citizen
1989 Toronto Star
1993 Wildflower
1989 Toronto Star
1994 name of choir
1994 name of organization: Anishnawbe Health Toronto (Toronto phone book)
1994 Anishinabek News
1989 Toronto Star
Anishnaybak (plural)
Anthology of Native Literature
Anishnaybay (plural)
Anthology of Native Literature
1988 The Canadian Encyclopedia
1993 Globe and Mail
1989 Toronto Star
1990 The Gazette (Montreal)
1990 The Gazette (Montreal)
1990 Ottawa Citizen
1989 Toronto Star
1993 Kanawa
1989 Toronto Star
Nishnawbs (plural)
1986 The Rez Sisters (Tomson Highway, Cree author)

Anishnabe clearly presented some challenges, but they paled in comparison with the lexicographical treatment of the numerous Aboriginal peoples living in BC. These people, traditionally known by such names as the Shuswap, Nanaimo, Carrier and Thompson, have opted for spellings of their names that seem impenetrable to anglophones:

Secwepemc (formerly Shuswap)

Xne Nal Mewx (formerly Nanaimo)

Ktunaxa (formerly Kootenay)

Stl’atl’imx (formerly Lillooet)

Nlaka’pamux (formerly Thompson)

It remains to be seen how successful these names will be in surviving in English when they seem to insist so heavily on their very un-Englishness. Of course, I believe that is the whole point. These names symbolize a total rejection of European colonialism. However, other names that are somewhat less daunting to anglophones, though still quite unusual, such as Nis’gaa and Nuu-chah-nulth (formerly Nootka) and Kwakwaka’wakw (formerly Kwakiutl), do seem to have caught on generally.

Another consequence of the Aboriginal renaissance in Canada has been an influx of words designating Aboriginal cultural realities into more mainstream Canadian English. The expression "Aboriginal title" has become part of our daily newspaper reading. But Aboriginal spiritual and cultural practices have impinged on our consciousness as well, so that expressions like sweat lodge, dream catcher, sentencing circle, vision quest and hoop dance, which might before have been found only in anthropological texts, are now very much part of general Canadian English. This trend continues: to the 345 words relating in some way to Canada’s Aboriginal peoples in the first edition of The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, we will be adding another 30 or so in the second edition of the dictionary due out in 2004. A striking example is the very recent post-Nunavut name change of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (meaning "Inuit will unite" in Inuktitut) to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (meaning "Inuit are united with Canada").