There is a problem of language. A
study done for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples
examined over two hundred commission and task force reports
issued between 1966 and 1991. The researchers pointed out
that even when we used the same words, Aboriginal people and
government representatives were often talking about
different things. The research also traced remarkable
consistency in the issues and positions that Aboriginal
people were articulating over those twenty-five years. I
will return again to the issue of historical continuity in
Aboriginal peoples’ priorities. I first want to focus on the
nature of discourse between our cultures. By discourse I
mean the way we carry on conversations.
The Language of God
Interviewer - Earle Waugh, PhD.
Inter-cultural discourse is carried on
predominantly in English or French. Since this requires
translation of concepts and experience, there is the normal
problem of finding words in a second language that
approximate the meaning we want to convey. But beyond that,
the discourse has been framed in terms that are often
fundamentally alien to the way we think about an issue. Take
"land claims" for example. Elders in our nations find it
strange that younger leaders launch "claims" to lands that
have supported our peoples since time immemorial.
"Comprehensive and specific claims" are the terms around
which the Government of Canada is prepared to engage in
legalistic dialogue. Aboriginal people have had to work with
the prescribed terms in order to get land questions on the
policy agenda, even though the language distorts our
reality. The discourse is driven by an imbalance in power,
and considerations of strategy. In other areas as well -
governance, health, education - Aboriginal people have been
required to adopt language that is not quite our own.
I want to take most of this hour to
suggest how dialogue with Aboriginal people might be framed
in different terms, looking for language that expresses
Aboriginal perspectives and also connects with the
aspirations of a wide spectrum of Canadians.