De-Nile is a River in Egypt
This post turned out to be too much for me to bite off and finish in a single 30-minute session. The idea is not only complex to present, but it is serious and not something to be taken lightly. This is a post to read with a cup of tea and to be followed by a long moment of contemplation.
My look at the word “indigenous” is yet another look at semantics and language. At meaning and usage. Specifically, I would like to show you how I transitioned from seeing the word “indigenous” as a conscientious word to describe native peoples, to being a word that reeks of White Privilege and Colonial Imperialism. This subject has been brought to us originally by a discussion I had a few years ago with my husband. When our discussion started, I was very very lost on a long ride down the River De-Nile. My guess is that most of my readers are probably also bobbing along on a raft that is not as sturdy as they once thought…
This article has been republished on my main blog read: “Indigenous: Is their a hidden connotation in the popular usage of indigenous” behind this link.
You are correct that language and specific words are critically important, and carry histories and power differentials. I run a program with an annual workshop out of NCAR called Rising Voices: Collaborative Science with Indigenous Knowledge for Climate Solutions (https://risingvoices.ucar.edu/). It’s not an Indigenous effort, but the majority of participants come from Indigenous communities/colleges/organizations around the world. This year, we had folks join us from the International Indian Treaty Council which is lead by, and builds participation of, Indigenous Peoples in the UN and which became the *only* voice for Indigenous people at the Conference of the Parties and was able to get language about Indigenous Peoples into the Paris Agreement (although it’s not enforceable language).
We were carefully told about the long and ongoing fight that the IITC has undertaken to have the words “Indigenous Peoples” became recognized and used in national and international arenas. So, this isn’t at all to deny lived experience and diverse perspectives of what the words mean. It’s just to say that there is often no one, correct way – especially given our imperfect language. The IITC’s work was difficult and they are very proud – and aware of the precariousness – of their success. I think as another person growing up in CO with all the scaffolding of white privilege, I’ve learned our best first step is to listen. We may hear many different, even contradictory, perspectives from many different voices, and that is OK too. We need to be careful not to close out other voices that are also legitimate and fighting hard to be heard.