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aboriginal

According to the dictionary I’m using, aboriginal means indigenous, particularly, but not exclusively, Australian aborigines. For the benefit of those who don’t know what indigenous means, it basically means that you are a descendent, possibly a very distant descendent, of the first humans to settle in that area.

When someone, often a crazy someone, from the dominant ethnic group in a region, which is typically not the indigenous people, spouts off loudly in public about “immigrants” coming in and taking over and/or ruining the country, if an indigenous person is present he or she may, with some justification, mention that the speaker is also an immigrant. They may then go on to say that only people who aren’t immigrants are the aboriginal peoples.

This brings up an interesting question that hinges on the definition of the word immigrant, which I won’t get to in this project for years, if ever. So, I’ll have to make a guess about it.

If the word immigrant means that you or your ancestors—no matter how distant those ancestors may be—came to the region from somewhere else then everyone almost everywhere is an immigrant, including aboriginal peoples. Humans, or possibly the protohumans who preceded us, almost certainly first evolved in Africa and then dispersed from there. So, by that definition of immigrant, unless you’re living in Africa, you are almost certainly an immigrant.

But, never mind. I got sidetracked. We’re talking about the word aboriginal here, not immigrant.

One question I have that I was hoping someone could help me out with is, has “aboriginal” become a derogatory term? That happens to words sometimes.

I remember that when I was a kid I never thought the word “negro” was derogatory. I thought it was the formal term for a particular human race. There is a derivative of that word that is, and was when I was a child, definitely derogatory. I won’t use it here, but I didn’t think negro was.

When negro fell out of fashion, the politically correct term became “black.” Now, some people consider it politically incorrect to say black. I can see that. No one is truly black-skinned; dark brown, at best. Now we’re supposed to say African-American or, here in my country, African-Canadian. I’m cool with that, but I wonder how long it will be before African-American and African-Canadian become politically incorrect too and some other term takes over.

What I was wondering was, has the term aboriginal become politically incorrect yet in the same way? I’ve lost track, but I think it might have.

Here in North America “redskin” is definitely a no-no term, and has been all my life, but it’s still, for whatever reason, not considered as derogatory as that derivative of the word negro that I refused to use here. Then, when people became more sensitive to bigotry, what was called redskins in North America were called Indians. Now that is also often, but not always, considered to be derogatory. Then it became aboriginal peoples. Now, the most politically correct term here in Canada is First Nations peoples.

What I was wondering was, in the shift to First Nations, did aboriginal become politically incorrect? If anyone knows the generally accepted answer to that question please leave it in a comment on this entry.

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