Tuesday, September 28, 2021

On Using Correct Terms

"Indigenous Peoples", "First Nations", "Native Americans", "Aboriginals", "Indians": What Terms Are Correct?

Guest Editorial Guest by Arinn Dembo

This discussion came up with a large mailing list of professional colleagues recently. When referring to the first human inhabitants of the western hemisphere, what terms are correct?

There were many responses to this, all of them illuminating. The short answer is that when you're addressing an individual, the preferred mode of address is whatever they tell you it is!

Different people prefer different labels, and they will have their own reasons for their preference. Not everyone belongs to a Nation, Tribe, or some formally organized group. And many people prefer not to be lumped in with all Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, and will identify with no label except their specific heritage--Mi'kmaq, Inuk, Métis etc..

That being said, there are some general rules that everyone can follow to be as courteous and respectful as possible.

  1. "Indigenous Peoples" is probably the most inclusive and respectful term presently available, as it covers people with many different affiliations and personal histories. Whether it is your preferred term or not, however, the word “Indigenous” should always be respectfully capitalized when referring to human beings. This is also true of any other term you may use in its stead.
  2. Most people agree that the word “Indian” has a long and troubled history, bound to an ongoing legacy of racism and genocide. That said, many Indigenous People do use the word “Indian” or “NDN” in their own daily lives--ironically, defiantly, proudly, etc.. They have the right to reclaim racist terms that have been historically used against them in any way they wish, just as Black people and other racialized people do. However, the fact that they reclaim those terms for their OWN use has no bearing on whether non-Indigenous people can use those same terms in public or in private and still be considered civilized.
  3. Many, many people have wisely pointed out that Indigenous People are not a monolith. They do not all belong to a Nation, they are not all enrolled into any government-recognized political unit, they do not share a single language or culture, and they have widely various religious beliefs and personal values. They will not all agree on ANY subject, including how non-Indigenous people should behave toward them and around them.

    If you are fortunate enough to have friends who tell you how to address them privately, that is wonderful for you. But please don’t assume that their personal choices will always put you in line with current standards of public courtesy or "correct" terminology. No individual person could bear that weight, and no one should be asked to do so.

    I can tell you for a fact that I would not be comfortable trying to teach anyone the One True Way to be inoffensive to all Jewish people, to all LGBTQIA+ people, or even to all women—even though I belong to all those categories. All I can tell you is what I personally prefer, and explain why some terms will make a lot of people in my communities uncomfortable.

    Example: many LGTBQIA+ people do not like the word “Queer” to be used by anyone, but particularly not by straight people. They find the word offensive because it is a slur that was used historically to harm them. I personally do use "Queer" myself, however, and I find it more comfortable than other terms that might be more clinically specific descriptions of my sexuality. That's a personal choice for me, and I can reserve the right to use the label myself without granting blanket permission to anyone else.

  4. Finally...this topic is an important one, and professional writers should recognize that use of respectful terms is an issue of craft, not just "political correctness". We should all be familiar with the basic resources on this subject that are currently available to non-Indigenous writers, agents and publishers. Here’s a few that I have looked at:
    • Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing by and about Indigenous Peoples, by Greg Younging, is a textbook that has been recommended to me many times. I own a copy, and it has been helpful, but no single reference volume is complete.
    • The Canadian Press (CP) Style Guide for Reporting On Indigenous People can also be read for free at this link: http://jhr.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/JHR2017-Style-Book-Indigenous-People.pdf
    • Questions Agents and Editors Can Use to Evaluate American Indian Content can be read for free at this link: http://writernity.blogspot.com/2017/02/questions-agents-and-editors-can-use-to.html. It's a long and comprehensive blog post written to help non-Indigenous agents, editors and publishers evaluate content that has Indigenous characters or themes, but by extension it can also help non-Indigenous writers realize that writing about Indigenous Peoples is not a casual undertaking.

      I would also encourage everyone to make use of the free resource links and inexpensive webinars that are provided at the Writing the Other website. I watched this webinar from author Debbie Reese and found it accessible and valuable. It is worthwhile both as a chance to educate myself further, and as an opportunity to support Reese's work as an educator.


    There are many other websites, essays, blogs and videos on this topic that are educational as well. If you've found something that was eye-opening or helpful, why not share the link in the comment section?

Thursday, September 16, 2021

My Story, "Time in the Garden" published.

My story, "Time in the Garden" was published in Lamp Lit Underground Vol 6, pp. 8-12.

The story is semi-autobiographical, but told from my Mom's point of view (or, at least, how I imagined it must have felt like for her).

Friday, September 3, 2021

Another story appearance

My short story, "Day Three", is up at Metastellar. The story is a reprint from Pulp Literature #21. (The lion on the mug in the background is by Kasia, my daughter.)

Many writers make the mistake of thinking that once they've placed a story, it's done. But there are many publications that take reprints (unless your story is freely available online--but even then, some audio markets might be interested) because their audiences seldom overlap. Putting some time into marketing your already published stories to reprint markets makes sense in terms of both potentially increasing readership and in gathering validation for your eventual collection of short stories. If I pick up a collection in a bookstore and see that all the stories were previously published, that increases my assurance that least one editor liked each story, even if the collection is now self-published...if there are reprints in "best of" collections or other journals, that's again as good as a testimonial... I still might not buy the collection if I don't know the publications or they don't seem to be my genre, or whatever, but at least I know it's not first draft vanity self-publishing.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

New short story published

My short story, "The Prince and Pauper of Bay Street" has been published in the Collection, THE FICTION JUNKIE Vol 2 (2021) edited by Daniel Hodgson.

(This particular story is mainstream, not SF.)