Language, namely the words we use and how we use them, is a central feature for the foundations of our relationships. Yoga gurus claim that language effects our brains, provides us the ability to heal, and also helps us determine how we perceive our world. Social service practitioners will often say that how we say things and how we use language can create and/or deter positive social responses. Our grandmothers have repeatedly told us to consider our words before we speak them.
The commonality between our ancestors and professionals in the fields of relationships is that language does matter. And it matters most in Indigenous communities where language has often been used to harm or oppress. Worse yet, the aggressor alleges that the Indigenous party is “simply oversensitive”.
The truth is, our words are conduits of powerful messages that indicate whether our intentions are good and what our values are. Individuals acting as allies must take great care to avoid language such as “running on Indian time” or “lowest man on the totem pole”. For Indigenous communities and individuals, these micro aggressions have great impact. For non Indigenous communities these statements may be a reference point that have been learned, but the meaning behind the words creates greater divide between themselves, Indigenous peoples, and their true allies. Words do matter. In fact, the words we speak will convey messages to our listeners of who we are, what we stand for, what we will not tolerate, and what our core beliefs are.
Be the leader who carefully considers their words and avoids use of words and phrases that convey culturally relevant connotations which may be offensive. When uncertain, refrain from using clichés or learned phrases that you do not know the historical origin or significance of. Better yet, find safe and respectful spaces where meaningful conversation can be had that addresses micro aggressions and their impact in Indigenous communities.
Rachelle Dallaire, Executive Director, Indigenous Perspectives Society