Aussie Life

Language

26 March 2022

9:00 AM

26 March 2022

9:00 AM

Have you noticed the trend to refer to some Australians as ‘First Nations’ people? Those Australians were once called ‘Aboriginal’ and then ‘Indigenous’ – but those terms seem to have been dropped and replaced by ‘First Nations’. So, what is the source of this expression? Well, it appears to be Canadian. The first appearance in print of the expression ‘First Nation’ is in the Toronto Globe and Mail in August 1980. The definition in the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘the North American Indian peoples of Canada, considered collectively’ or ‘A particular community of Canadian Indians, especially one recognised as an administrative unit by the federal government’.(The editors of the OED may well face a firing squad for using ‘Indian’ in that definition!) And a web search warns me that the very concept of a ‘First Nations’ identity is inherently tricky. Prior to the arrival of Europeans ‘First Nations’ groups shared no sense of common identity. They were ethnically, linguistically, and culturally diverse. When European settlement began in Australia it’s estimated there were probably around 250 different languages spoken here. That’s 250 different tribal and cultural groupings. The Oxford suggests the word ‘nation’ means a political state, while the Collins Dictionary says a ‘nation’ is an individual country considered together with its social and political structures. Is the claim being made for those 250 linguistic and cultural groupings that they were individual countries?

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