Intercultural Tips

Some general comments concerning Indigenous oral traditions.

  • The Courts allow Aboriginal oral history as admissible evidence in rights and titles cases such as the Delgaamukw ruling.
  • Historically, storytelling was a seasonal tradition which was practiced in the winter when the hunting and gathering activities had slowed, food was processed and stored, and people had time to relax and share stories.
  • Aboriginal storytellers were the first performance artists. The drama of the stories is enhanced by the storyteller so that the audience can experience the drama. Enactment keeps ancient stories alive.
  • Stories, like songs and dances, are often owned. Hearing a story does not give one the right to retell that story, just as watching a dance or listening to a song does not equate as the right to perform them.
  • Certain stories are never written down, which preserves the tradition of sharing knowledge, culture, and history orally. These stories are the fabric of the community’s history, knowledge and culture, and some are thousands of years old. In some cultures, if a story is written down it is degraded.
  • Certain stories are very protected and only retold to select audiences. This, and not writing them down, protects the story. If you are selected to be part of the audience, consider it an honour.
  • Certain stories are much more than mere entertainment - they are used as lessons and provide a moral, through the form of a traditional belief, that will help guide people through their lives.
  • Many communities had “memorizers” whose role was to memorize history, witness and memorize current events (including what happened, who attended, even what key figures wore), and identify and train up young people to become memorizers.
  • Knowledge is one of the greatest gifts an Aboriginal person has to give - the telling of oral traditions requires the storyteller to trust the listener to take away the proper message of the story.
  • When being told a story, do not interrupt with questions, do not seek or expect constant eye contact and do not ask questions - questions can imply disbelief, which is an insult - remember the saying “there’s a reason you have two ears and only one mouth”!
  • When being told a story, be sure the storyteller has finished speaking before saying anything.

 



  • The Courts allow Aboriginal oral history as admissible evidence in rights and titles cases such as the Delgaamukw ruling.
  • Historically, storytelling was a seasonal tradition which was practiced in the winter when the hunting and gathering activities had slowed, food was processed and stored, and people had time to relax and share stories.
  • Aboriginal storytellers were the first performance artists. The drama of the stories is enhanced by the storyteller so that the audience can experience the drama. Enactment keeps ancient stories alive.
  • Stories, like songs and dances, are often owned. Hearing a story does not give one the right to retell that story, just as watching a dance or listening to a song does not equate as the right to perform them.
  • Certain stories are never written down, which preserves the tradition of sharing knowledge, culture, and history orally. These stories are the fabric of the community’s history, knowledge and culture, and some are thousands of years old. In some cultures, if a story is written down it is degraded.
  • Certain stories are very protected and only retold to select audiences. This, and not writing them down, protects the story. If you are selected to be part of the audience, consider it an honour.
  • Certain stories are much more than mere entertainment - they are used as lessons and provide a moral, through the form of a traditional belief, that will help guide people through their lives.
  • Many communities had “memorizers” whose role was to memorize history, witness and memorize current events (including what happened, who attended, even what key figures wore), and identify and train up young people to become memorizers.
  • Knowledge is one of the greatest gifts an Aboriginal person has to give - the telling of oral traditions requires the storyteller to trust the listener to take away the proper message of the story.
  • When being told a story, do not interrupt with questions, do not seek or expect constant eye contact and do not ask questions - questions can imply disbelief, which is an insult - remember the saying “there’s a reason you have two ears and only one mouth”!
  • When being told a story, be sure the storyteller has finished speaking before saying anything.
  • The Courts allow Aboriginal oral history as admissible evidence in rights and titles cases such as the Delgaamukw ruling.
  • Historically, storytelling was a seasonal tradition which was practiced in the winter when the hunting and gathering activities had slowed, food was processed and stored, and people had time to relax and share stories.
  • Aboriginal storytellers were the first performance artists. The drama of the stories is enhanced by the storyteller so that the audience can experience the drama. Enactment keeps ancient stories alive.
  • Stories, like songs and dances, are often owned. Hearing a story does not give one the right to retell that story, just as watching a dance or listening to a song does not equate as the right to perform them.
  • Certain stories are never written down, which preserves the tradition of sharing knowledge, culture, and history orally. These stories are the fabric of the community’s history, knowledge and culture, and some are thousands of years old. In some cultures, if a story is written down it is degraded.
  • Certain stories are very protected and only retold to select audiences. This, and not writing them down, protects the story. If you are selected to be part of the audience, consider it an honour.
  • Certain stories are much more than mere entertainment - they are used as lessons and provide a moral, through the form of a traditional belief, that will help guide people through their lives.
  • Many communities had “memorizers” whose role was to memorize history, witness and memorize current events (including what happened, who attended, even what key figures wore), and identify and train up young people to become memorizers.
  • Knowledge is one of the greatest gifts an Aboriginal person has to give - the telling of oral traditions requires the storyteller to trust the listener to take away the proper message of the story.
  • When being told a story, do not interrupt with questions, do not seek or expect constant eye contact and do not ask questions - questions can imply disbelief, which is an insult - remember the saying “there’s a reason you have two ears and only one mouth”!
  • When being told a story, be sure the storyteller has finished speaking before saying anything.
  • Tip #5     The Indian Act

    "The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion as speedily as they are fit to change.” John A Macdonald, 1887

     

    Many laws affecting Aboriginal Peoples were combined in 1876 to become the Indian Act. The Act gave Canada a coordinated approach to Indian policy rather than the pre-Confederation piece-meal approach.

     

    Here is a permission slip that would have be required to leave the reserve.  Although specifically not a law or regulation under the Indian Act, the Indian Act gave power to the federal government and its representatives, like the Indian Agent, to implement and enforce policies such as needing a pass to leave the reserve. It certainly is something that not many people would have known about the Indian Act.  

     

    The Indian agent, acting under the authority of the Indian Act, played a key role in the distribution of land, replacing traditional names for “easier” identification and altering traditional and hereditary forms of government, among other actions and restrictions.

     

    The Indian Act has been a lightning rod for criticism and controversy over the years, widely attacked by First Nations people and communities for its regressive and paternalistic excesses. For example, Indians living on reserves don’t own the land they live on; assets on reserve are not subject to seizure under legal process making it extremely difficult to borrow money to purchase assets; and, matrimonial property laws don’t apply to assets on reserve. On the other hand, it has also been widely attacked by non-Aboriginal Peoples and politicians as being too paternalistic and creating an unjust system with excessive costs that are considered uneconomical.

     

    Here are some of the restrictions and impacts imposed on First Nations (some have since been removed in revisions of the Act).

     

    The Indian Act:

    1.       denied women status;

    2.       introduced residential schools;

    3.       created reserves;

    4.       renamed individuals with European names;

    5.       restricted First Nations from leaving reserve without permission from Indian Agent – the pass system was a policy endorsed by the government; it was never an Order In Council or Regulation but was definitely designed to keep First Nations on the reserve;

    6.       enforced enfranchisement of any First Nation admitted to university (in other words, they were no longer Indian);

    7.       could expropriate portions of reserves for roads, railways and other public works, as well as to move an entire reserve away from a municipality if it was deemed expedient;

    8.       could lease out uncultivated reserve lands to non-First Nations if the new leaseholder would use it for farming or pasture;

    9.       forbade First Nations from forming political organizations;

    10.   prohibited anyone, First Nation or non-First Nation, from soliciting funds for First Nation legal claims without special license from the Superintendent General. This 1927 amendment granted the government control over the ability of First Nations to pursue land claims);

    11.   prohibited the sale of alcohol to First Nations;

    12.   prohibited sale of ammunition to First Nations;

    13.   prohibited pool hall owners from allowing First Nations entrance;

    14.   imposed the “band council” system;

    15.   forbade First Nations from speaking their native language;

    16.   forbade First Nations from practicing their traditional religion;

    17.   forbade western First Nations from appearing in any public dance, show, exhibition, stampede or pageant wearing traditional regalia;

    18.   declared potlatch and other cultural ceremonies illegal;

    19.   denied First Nations the right to vote

    20.   created permit system to control First Nations ability to sell products from farms;

    21.   is a piece of legislation created under the British rule for the purpose of subjugating one race – Aboriginal people.

     

    Major amendments were made to the Act in 1951 and 1985. In the 1951 amendments, the banning of dances and ceremonies, and the pursuit of claims against the government were removed. In the 1985, Bill C-31C-31 was introduced reinstating women who had lost their status by marrying non-indigenous partners.

     

    The Indian Act imposed great personal and cultural tragedy on First Nations, many of which continue to affect communities, families and individuals today. So why keep this anachronistic legislation? While many non-Indigenous people would willingly repeal the Indian Act, many indigenous scholars and politicians caution that whatever legislation replaces the Indian Act will have to be carefully considered in order to protect the hard-won rights currently asserted by First Nations. 

    Tip #4     The Doctrine of Discovery

    The Doctrine of Discovery was used by European monarchies, beginning in the mid-fifteenth century, as a means of legitimizing the colonization of lands outside of Europe. It was issued by the Pope in 1493, the year after Christopher Columbus arrived on the shores of what is now known as North America. The Doctrine of Discovery continues to impact Indigenous Peoples throughout the world.


    The Doctrine of Discovery provided a framework for Christian explorers, in the name of their sovereign, to lay claim to territories uninhabited by Christians. If the lands were vacant, then they could be defined as “discovered” and sovereignty claimed.


    The prevailing theory of the time was that Indigenous Peoples, because they were non-Christians, were not human and therefore the land was empty or terra nullius. When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, it is estimated that the Americas were actually occupied by 100 million Indigenous Peoples - which is about one fifth of the human race at that time - who had been living their traditional lives on the land since time immemorial. But, because they were not Christians the land was deemed terra nullius.


    In May of 2012 the United Nation’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues “concluded its eleventh session with the approval of a set of nine draft recommendations, highlighted by a text approved on the special theme, the ongoing impact of the Discovery Doctrine on indigenous peoples and the right redress. That fifteenth century Christian principle was denounced throughout the session as the “shameful” root of all the discrimination and marginalization indigenous peoples faced today.

     

    The Permanent Forum noted that, while such doctrines of domination and “conquest”, including terra nullius and the Regalian doctrine (the notion that all lands that were not acquired from the Government, either by purchase or by grant, belong to the public domain.  All lands and water of the public domain are owned by the state), were promoted as authority for land acquisition, they also encouraged despicable assumptions: that indigenous peoples were “savages”, “barbarians”, “inferior and uncivilized,” among other constructs the colonizers used to subjugate, dominate and exploit the lands, territories and resources of native peoples.” (United Nations: Impact of the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ on indigenous peoples)

     

    The Doctrine of Discovery is still relevant in contemporary Canadian legal arenas.  “On 26 June 2014, in a unanimous 8:0 decision that marked the first time the highest court has recognized the existence of Aboriginal title on a particular site, the Supreme Court of Canada made clear that: “The doctrine of terra nullius (that no one owned the land prior to European assertion of sovereignty) never applied in Canada, as confirmed by the Royal Proclamation (1763), R.S.C. 1985, App. II, No. 1.” See Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia, 2014 SCC 44 at para. 69.

     

    The case concerned an Aboriginal title claim to lands within the province of British Columbia and as the Court explains: “At the time of assertion of European sovereignty, the Crown acquired radical or underlying title to all the land in the province. This Crown title, however, was burdened by the pre-existing legal rights of Aboriginal people who occupied and used the land prior to European arrival. … The Aboriginal interest in land that burdens the Crown’s underlying title is an independent legal interest, which gives rise to a fiduciary duty on the part of the Crown.”” (Currie, Forcese, Oosterveld, Harrington, International Law, Doctrine, Practice and Theory.)


    The Doctrine of Discovery continues to impact Indigenous Peoples in Canada.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls-to-Action, released in 2015, includes two references to repudiate the concept of the Doctrine of Discovery:

     

    1. We call upon the Government of Canada, on behalf of all Canadians, to jointly develop with Aboriginal peoples a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by the Crown. The proclamation would build on the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Niagara of 1764, and reaffirm the nation-to-nation relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown.
    2. Repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.

     

    As people of faith we also have a commitment to keep:

     

    1. We call upon all religious denominations and faith groups who have not already done so to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius."  (Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls-to-Action)

     

    Tip #3     Heavy Laden Phrases

    Language has the power to respect and honour, or, hurt and offend and that is particularly true when working across cultures. Within that frame of reference, we respectfully recommend that when working with Indigenous Peoples you have an understanding of how the historical context of certain phrases can affect your communication and relationships with Indigenous Peoples.  The following are four phrases that come loaded with baggage to avoid in your communications:


    Historical timeline


    Avoid usage of “pre-history” as it implies the history of Indigenous Peoples began with the arrival of Europeans. In reality, each individual Indigenous culture has its own creation story that certainly pre-dates the arrival of Europeans in what is now known as Canada. A better way to divide the timeline is pre- and post-contact.  A related caution is to avoid the concept that the Americas were “discovered”. When Christopher Columbus “arrived” in the Americas there were an estimated 100 million Indigenous Peoples living there at the time.


    Canada doesn’t own Indigenous Peoples


    Avoid the possessive “our” when referring to Indigenous Peoples in Canada. They are not “our” Indigenous Peoples and they are not “Canada’s Indigenous Peoples”. Try using “Indigenous Peoples in Canada” or "First Peoples in Canada".  

     

    Indigenous Peoples are not “stakeholders”


    Indigenous Peoples are “rights and title holders” not “stakeholders” so avoid this term at all costs. Aboriginal title was first recognized by King George III in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 yet Indigenous Peoples continue to struggle to have their constitutionally protected rights recognized.

     

    We’re all equal, right?


    “Equality” is another term to avoid. When Indigenous Peoples hear the term “equality” or “equal’ they hear that they have to give up their constitutionally protected rights, or they hear we can be equal only if they give up their human rights to be who they are as a people.  If you take a look at the long history of federal policies used to control Indigenous Peoples you will notice not one of them was designed with “equality” in mind.


    With thanks to the Indigenous Corporate Training Inc © 2016

    Tip #2 Language Forms and Informs

    A respected professor once taught me that language forms and informs.  Language is a powerful but completely inculturated medium.  Keeping this in mind, think about the presuppositions that you bring to your communication and relationships with Indigenous Peoples.  

    Take a few moments to consider the following and do a self-analysis to determine your degree of cultural competency.

     Ask yourself the following questions:

    1. Do I understand the generational impact of residential schools?
    2. Have I read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls-to-Action?
    3. Do I understand the significance of Prime Minister Trudeau says he seeks to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples?
    4. How do I react to uncivil dialogue?
    5. How do I react to stereotypical imagery and statements?
    6. Do I, intentionally or otherwise, use colloquialisms?
    7. Do I recognize and understand the impact of cultural appropriation?
    8. What do I actually know about the history, culture, worldviews and challenges of the Indigenous Peoples of the area in which I live and work?
    9. Do I understand the difference between empathy and sympathy?

    With thanks to the Indigenous Corporate Training Inc © 2016

    Tip #1 Use of Colloquialisms

    Few things will tarnish you faster than the thoughtless use of colloquialisms. Many colloquial expressions used in popular communication carry connotations that may offend at least some of the people you will meet. Use these 8 colloquialisms at your peril!

    1. Indian giver

    2. Circle the wagons

    3. Low man on the totem pole

    4. Rain dance

    5. Too many Chiefs, not enough Indians

    6. Pow wow

    7. Indian Summer

    8. Indian Time

    With thanks to the Indigenous Corporate Training Inc © 2016
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