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Aboriginal Law Bulletin

Aboriginal Law Bulletin (ALB)
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Fesi, Eve D. --- "'Aborigine' and 'Aboriginal'" [1986] AboriginalLawB 39; (1986) 1(20) Aboriginal Law Bulletin 10

‘Aborigine’ and ‘Aboriginal’

by Eve D. Fesl

Have you ever wondered why sometimes we are described as 'Aborigines' and sometimes 'Aboriginals'? Let’s look at the question:

The word 'aborigine' refers to an indigenous person of any country. If it is to be used to refer to us as a specific group of people, it should be spelt with a capital 'A', i.e. 'Aborigine'.

The word 'aboriginal' is an adjective (or describing word) used to describe something associated with aborigines,for example 'aboriginal paintings'.It should be spelt with a capital 'A' when it refers to something associated with our people.

So why is the form 'Aboriginal' used, ungrammatically, as a noun when the word should be 'Aborigine'?

With a few exceptions, e.g. Commonwealth and Victorian Departments of Education, you will notice government departments always refer to Australian Aborigines as ‘Aboriginals’. This is because they were instructed to do so. To find out the reason we must go back to 1901.

The law at the time gave the Commonwealth power to legislate in relation to any race of people except 'aboriginal natives'. Thus, through British law and the use of the term 'aboriginal natives', we were denied an identity as a race of people (popular belief otthetime being that Aborigines were dying out anyway): An 'opinion' was sought from government legal officers, who advised that 'aboriginal natives' should continue to be excluded from that law and that we should be known as aboriginal citizens or natives (note the small 'a'). The term 'aboriginal' (meaning aboriginal native or citizen) came into use as a noun and in the case of more than one person was changed to aboriginals (meaning aboriginal natives).

Later when we demanded that Aborigine be spelt with a capital 'A', the capital 'A' was also used on Abodginals(which still implies Aboriginal natives) and a denial of our identity.

The worst thing about the use of 'Aborigirals' is that it places us into the category of being a non-existent people, thus sustaining, (as is no doubt intended), the 'legality' of the terra nullius annexation of our land.

Remember that at the time government employees were directed to use the word in this way, the white population were trying to put us out of existence with guns and were forcing us onto reserves out of the way where we couldn't be seen.

Misuse of the English language in this word reinforces the attempts to wipe out our identity and our race.

'Just as we demanded capital 'A' for Aborigine, we demand Aborigine not 'Aboriginal' except in the correct place as an adjective.

Eve D. Fesl is of the Gabi Gabi Tribe

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