Native Canadians, First Nations or Aboriginals: The Effect of Labels on Attitudes toward Native Peoples

By Donakowski, Darrell W.; Esses, Victoria M. | Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, April 1996 | Go to article overview

Native Canadians, First Nations or Aboriginals: The Effect of Labels on Attitudes toward Native Peoples


Donakowski, Darrell W., Esses, Victoria M., Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science


Abstract

The labels that we use to identify groups may play a role in the attitudes that are expressed toward members of these groups. Based on a multicomponent model of intergroup attitudes, 108 university students responded to a questionnaire assessing attitudes toward Natives, as well as three important components of these attitudes: stereotypes (characteristics attributed to the group), symbolic beliefs (beliefs that the group promotes or threatens cherished values, customs, and traditions), and emotions. Five different labels were utilized for the group: Aboriginal Peoples, First Nations People, Native Canadians, Native Indians, and Native Peoples. Results indicated that attitudes toward Natives were less favourable when the labels Native Canadians and First Nations People were utilized, and this effect was partially mediated by the symbolic beliefs that came to mind in response to these labels.

Labels and language are believed to affect our perceptions of people and events. An important example is our sensitivity to the names used to designate certain minority groups in our society. It has been proposed that the labels we use to identify members of various groups can go beyond the identification process to elicit positive or negative associations. Therefore, there is currently a great deal of concern as to the labels that are most appropriate to use in identifying groups (e.g., Allen, 1990; American Psychological Association, 1994).

Although it is generally believed that some labels have negative associations whereas others are neutral or positive, there are few data by which to evaluate these claims. One exception is the work that has been conducted to examine the potential consequences of the labels used to identify Blacks in the United States. For example, studies have examined the effect of the label applied to a Black confederate on the amount of help offered by White subjects (Katz, Cohen, & Glass, 1975) and the effect of labels on the stereotypes expressed by Whites toward Blacks (Fairchild, 1985). An additional study examined the effect of self - identification by Blacks on own - group perceptions (Larkey, Hecht, & Martin, 1993). These studies have consistently found that labels do affect attitudes and behaviour toward Blacks.

Using studies such as these as a starting point, the current research uses a relatively new model of intergroup attitudes (Esses, Haddock, & Zanna, 1993) to investigate the effect of labels on perceptions of Canada's Native community. We were interested in the effect of five labels often used interchangeably for Natives (Aboriginal Peoples, First Nations People, Native Canadians, Native Indians, and Native Peoples) because of the current disagreement both within the Native community and in Canada in general as to which is the most appropriate and preferred term.

Confusion regarding the appropriateness of these labels may be partly attributed to their origins. The terms "Indians" and "Aboriginals" have their official origins in government documents and legislation dating back to the 1800s (see Valentine, 1992; Waldram, 1986). Although perceived by many to be externally imposed categories, the National Indian Brotherhood has also used the term "Indian" to refer to status Indians under the Indian Act (Waldram, 1986). While still used by many, these labels have been somewhat superseded by the more current terms "First Nations People" and "Native Canadians," especially as used by Native people themselves (Hedican, 1991; Valentine, 1992). The present study contributes relevant information as to how these different labels may affect attitudes toward Natives as a group.

The framework for this research was recently developed by Esses et al. (1993). Based on developments in the general attitude literature (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993; Zanna & Rempel, 1988), it was proposed that attitudes toward social groups are multifaceted. People may have specific emotions toward members of a group (e. …

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