We are witnessing a cultural shakedown right now. The old rules on gender and race are undergoing major transitions, and how we use language is changing too. Updates to the toolkit for bias-free writing are more important than ever for writers and editors. Simply put, language that offends people is going to put your credibility on the line.
In my last blog post, I talked about the techniques writers and editors can use to avoid gender bias. In this post, I’m going to take a closer look at bias in relation to Indigenous Peoples.
Self-identification is crucial to respectful and accurate cover of Indigenous people and communities. Ask what they prefer to be called.” -- Lenny Carpenter, Style Guide for Reporting on Indigenous Peoples
This is a hot-button issue. As our society works out what reconciliation means for Canadian, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities, writers and editors need to stay on top of changes in our language.
Gregory Younging, the publisher at Theytus Books, has written The Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples (forthcoming in March 2018). This will be an essential guide for avoiding bias, finding the best terminology, reading about best practices, understanding the main principles of Indigenous style, and determining how to write respectfully about oral histories and traditional knowledge, including when and how to seek advice from Elders. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this essential guide.
In December 2017, Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) published a Style Guide for Reporting on Indigenous Peoples. This guide came out as a response to the lack of good guidance in The Canadian Press Stylebook—the
standard guide for journalists working in Canada—and the errors, stereotypes, and misrepresentations that continue to make it into print in the media. The JHR Style Guide has been criticized for mistakes (such as, misspelling Inuvialuit and suggesting that the term means a region when, in fact, Inuvialuit refers to the people of the Western Arctic).
Notwithstanding, the JHR Guide serves as a quick reference for complex linguistic territory. Among the words and phrases to avoid are Indian, Native, tribe, Aboriginal, Canada’s Indigenous People, Indigenous Canadians, and Eskimo.
Even the word Indigenous is contested by some, though it is currently the collective noun used most often to refer to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities. As a general rule of thumb, when writing about an Indigenous community, ask what name they prefer and always capitalize.