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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Aboriginals and Immigrants



Canadian Governor-General David Johnston

So now I hear our Governor-General, no less, is in trouble for speaking an obvious truth, and one meant to bring Canadians together: that we are all, including the “indigenous” people, immigrants.

I hear that some commentators have since been demanding his resignation.

Even though he is obviously right. Our best science tells us nobody is indigenous to Canada. Some of us simply came before others. What on Earth can be valid grounds for objecting?

In a Tweeted apology, Johnston said “I want to clarify a miscommunication. Our Indigenous peoples are not immigrants. They are the original peoples of this land.”

This makes no sense. The dictionary definition of immigrant does not exclude the “original” inhabitants of a place. Merriam-Webster: “a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence.”

So what can possibly be the problem?

But even if the term did exclude the original inhabitants of a place, it is quite unlikely that any Indian groups qualify as anything but immigrants on these grounds. Just about everyone supplanted somebody else, even, for the most part, during historical times—which is to say, since the first Europeans have been here.

Let’s put that another way, to make it clear: some European groups, notably the French, the English, the Scandinavians, and the Irish, are more genuinely aboriginal to Canada than most “First Nations.”

Some of us, it seems, have become confused by a euphemism. What we really mean, here and elsewhere around the world, when we refer to a specific group as “aboriginal” or “indigenous,” is “primitive.” That is, “aboriginals” are people whose culture has not advanced over time in material or organizational terms, and is well behind those around them technologically.

In about the Sixties, people decided this term sounded pejorative and unpleasantly “judgmental,” as we said then, and so they substituted the nicer-sounding “aboriginal.” The latter term was never literally true, and nobody thought it was.

It still isn’t.


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