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Aug 15, 2012

Indigenous, Aboriginal or Aborigine? It’s not black and white

Indigenous Australian, Aborigine, Aboriginal, blacks -- unpicking the terminology around how Australia's first people are reported in the media means navigating a minefield packed with political explosives.

Amber Jamieson — Freelance journalist in New York

Amber Jamieson

Freelance journalist in New York

Indigenous Australian, Aborigine, Aboriginal, blacks — unpicking the terminology around how Australia’s first people are reported in the media means navigating a minefield packed with political explosives.

13 comments

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13 thoughts on “Indigenous, Aboriginal or Aborigine? It’s not black and white

  1. Gavin Moodie

    Thanx for this, which I find most helpful. So its back to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander for me unless otherwise suggested. I presume most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people dislike the acronym Atsi.

  2. John Bennetts

    What a horrid and devisive issue this has become, a true exercise in name-calling. You were so very right, Amber, to describe this subject as a minefield.

    Maybe we should just put this topic aside for another decade or two before we try to discuss it.

  3. SBH

    F*ck me. In all this fraught area there was never a better illustration of people’s failure to focus on important things and get tangled up in useless minutiae instead. You due have to wonder how long before we start saying ‘autochthonous’ in an effort not to upset anyone.

    I remember (recently) a senior Aboriginal public servant being abused by his own community for calling himself Aboriginal. I am also mindful of the white seat on Limestone avenue celebrating the Australian Native Society which has nothing to do with Ngunnawal or plants

    Small point Amber but if you are using any of the above descriptors you need to capitalise it when describing people. Therefore ‘Aboriginal policemen’ as opposed to ‘indigenous issues’.

  4. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    It’s impossible to topic on hold, John. Some of us don’t have a choice in the matter. As a whitefella (I guess I can use it to describe myself 😉 the subject fascinates me, rather than terrifies.

    I don’t know what’s so frightening about discussing the best words to use for the A & TSI folk. The first national folk I know aren’t into taking offense, as long as no malice is intended.

  5. Arty

    Until we have an agreed term I will continue to describe them as neighbours and fellow Australians.

  6. David R

    It is important to be aware of the different meanings and interpretations of various terms. It is something of a minefield though. No matter how careful you are there is still a chance you may offend someone.

    One thing I would like to note is that one should never refer to a person as “part Aboriginal” even though some people self-identify using the term. When someone is asked the question “Are you and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person?” the answer is either yes or no.

    1. [email protected]

      Actually that is plain wrong. If a person is white, has 6/7 white great-grandparents, they ARE part-Aboriginal, by ancestry and just another regular Aussie mongrel, like most of the rest of us.

  7. jmendelssohn

    Good article, a pity about the malapropism in the fourth paragraph (Torres Straight).

  8. Amber Jamieson

    @jmendelssohn oh damn, thank you, it has been updated.

  9. marcfranc

    The mix-up of the singular and plural in ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ (twice in the story) seems a consequence of using what is essentially an adjectival form (‘Aboriginal’) as a noun. Pedantic perhaps but this has bugged me since seeing the expression embedded in a logo for a major government program a decade ago.

    1. Gail Artley

      Hi Mardfranc. I have the same issue, of the word ‘aboriginal’ which is an adjective, being used as a noun in ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’. The problem, as I see it, is that ‘islander’ can be used as an adjective and a noun. However, the correct noun for our first inhabitants, is ‘aborigine’ or ‘aborigines’. I’d love to get this sorted correctly. I know that I’m a pedant.

      1. Gavin Moodie

        Surely ‘Aboriginal person’ and therefore ‘Aboriginal Islander’ is grammatically correct.

        But in my view this misses the point. People should be called what they want to be called regardless of its conformity to grammatical norms.

  10. Kevin Tyerman

    We’re Aboriginal, a separate group of people to Australian people.

    I don’t know how to take this statement in the context it was quoted … it undermines much of my
    personal belief system, and makes me feel like a total scumbag for not treating the Aboriginal people I have met and known as “different”, or simply seeing them as Australians (like myself)..

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