Canada’s First Nations… Lesson 101 from Brenda Nadjiwan

January 26, 2015

“What’s in a Name?” —-A whole lot, Brenda Nadjiwan tells CEMA members.

Speaking to members on November 1, Brenda Nadjiwan of the Department Indian and Northern Affairs (Ontario Region), discussed the semantic traps we can fall into when writing about Canada’s first peoples. When should one use “Indian”, “Native” or “Aboriginal?”

Brenda, a member of the Chippewas of Nawash Band, is co-ordinator of the region’s Aboriginal Workers Participation Initiative and has played a founding part in liaison with the broadcast industry in the Strategic Alliance of Broadcasters for Aboriginal Reflection (SABAR), which she chairs.

Brenda outlined the role of Canada’s First Nations in history and modern-day society. There are about 150 nations composed of status Indians who should be addressed by their proper names rather than classed as “native Canadians” or “natives.” Aboriginal, as a generalization can be perfectly correct but not as a label for an individual.

The speaker revealed that she is fiercely dedicated to the preservation of Aboriginal languages, which should be a source of pride to those who speak them.

Dae-Tong Huh shows a copy of his Variety Crossing Magazine to Brenda Nadjiwan.

She asked her audience to jot down their first recollections of the knowledge that Indian Canadians existed and curiosity seemed to be the major reaction, largely engendered through motion pictures.

One member, who first remembered seeing North American Indians in silent movies where “the only good Injun” was “a dead Injun,” stated the stereotypes had aroused fear in his mind. All agreed we have a long way to go to see our Aboriginal peoples objectively.

Brenda recommended the novel Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden as a graphic delineator of the Canadian Indian experience during and immediately after he first World War, an experience that in many ways hasn’t changed.

That Brenda Nadjiwan is a great spokesperson for Canadian Aboriginal peoples is obvious and after the session with her, one wishes that she might be exposed to even more of our ethnocultural groups for it is essential in any understanding of Canada and its diversity to appreciate the presence of human beings whose ancesrry dates back to times long before Europeans came and claimed the land.