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Indigenous: What’s in a name?

Brian Calliou, director of Indigenous Leadership and Management, shares stories and traditions with children in The Banff Centre tipi on National Aboriginal Day.

There was a time not that long ago when the world’s Indigenous peoples – in fact ALL of the world’s peoples – were not sending texts and emails, hopping on jets to meet up, and video-conferencing from boardrooms and hand-held devices. Today, however, Indigenous people from every corner of the globe are sharing their wise practices, their artistry and customs, their commonalities, and their differences through technological wizardry that never fails to equally confound and amaze me on a daily basis.

It seems as good a day as any, then, to witness a positive, forward-thinking, planet-embracing announcement here at The Banff Centre. The departments-formerly-known-as “Aboriginal”, are officially renamed Indigenous Arts and Indigenous Leadership and Management, effective Oct. 1, and I, for one, applaud this wise renaming.

As I have worked closely with these two departments for several years, I thought I would consult with my colleague Brian Calliou, who is not only director of the newly re-named Indigenous Leadership and Management, but also a lawyer and a wonderful and warm sort of fellow.

My question: What’s the difference between calling a country’s original inhabitants “Aboriginal” and “Indigenous”?

“’Indigenous’ definitely has a broad connotation of ‘original inhabitants with a connection to a territory’,”  Calliou tells me as we share a coffee on the MacLab Bistro patio in the late September sunshine. “This is a connotation used throughout the world, and is interesting because more and more we are hearing of Indigenous people in places we were not even aware of before.” Here in Canada, the use of “Indigenous” is gaining broader usage, even though “Aboriginal” has carried with it the legal and constitutional definition of rights possessed by our Métis, First Nations, and Inuit people.

Calliou, who led the recently concluded wise practices research project here at the Centre, points to the many connections his department has beyond Canada, in both applied research and programming. A symposium last month sharing the wise practices research involved researchers, academics, speakers, and delegates from the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

Over in Indigenous Arts, there’s an even broader reach of participation and connection to other Indigenous people throughout the world. A good example would be the Indigenous Dance Residency, which has brought together extremely talented dancers and faculty from Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Mongolia, Nepal, and Mexico. Programs for Indigenous artists in music, visual arts, writing, and film also share international interest and participation.

While a name is important, the experience of joining with other Indigenous people in Banff for the purposes of research, artistic creation, or leadership development is what makes these two busy departments tick. “Banff has always been a connection point, a meeting place, and holds spiritual and cultural significance for the many Indigenous groups that have traveled here throughout the centuries,” Calliou says.

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