bailey macabre

Image for post

how to talk to Indigenous people: A lesson

Have you ever wondered how to talk to Indigenous people? Or why someone was offended by something you said? I spend all day talking to people. It’s a huge part of my job. During my work hours, topics will range from random thoughts that help pass the time, to deep and meaningful conversations that leave a profound mark on both of us. Sometimes, the topic of my Indigeneity arises. I’ve been involved in many conversations around this topic, some have been beautiful and thought-provoking, while others have left me feeling uncomfortable and uneasy.

Language is intrinsically powerful and frequently operates in a way that reinforces socioeconomic and racial inequalities. In an attempt to educate those who may not know that what they’re doing is wrong and to bring attention to some of the issues we face in daily conversation, I’m going to outline many of the things we hear as Indigenous individuals speaking to non-Natives, and explain why you shouldn’t say them.

“I’m part-Native / have Native blood/DNA / have a Native relative too!”

Why You Shouldn’t Say It:

First of all, it is *so* common for Canadians to have an Indigenous ancestor or two somewhere in their family tree, and no, having one doesn’t make you Métis or Native. I’m going to approach the very difficult Métis conversation in a future post, but for now, just… don’t. Having one Indigenous ancestor doesn’t make you Indigenous, and by telling me this I don’t know what you want from me. I struggle not to say “My niece, sister, cousins, mom, aunties, uncles, grandma, great grandpa and great grandma, and pretty much everyone previously are Native too!”

Secondly, being Indigenous goes far beyond our DNA, and to reduce Indigeneity to blood quantum is to define us the way our colonizers have tried to for centuries. Being native is about family, kinship, connection, ancestral knowledge, stories passed down through generations, being involved in the community, and living your life *as* a Native person. It can’t be measured scientifically. If you are “part-Native”, but not enough to have any connection to your family members or their history (aside from those who are adopted, victims of the 60s scoop or the residential school system, or reconnecting individuals) then you aren’t Native at all. When people tell me they’re ‘part-Native’, I always want to ask them, “which part?” Which leads me into the next example…

“How Native are you?”

Why You Shouldn’t Say It:

Asking “How Native” someone is, is to commit the same mistake as above: there is no part of us that *isn’t* Native. To reduce us to parts and DNA is a very colonial way of describing Indigeneity. You are either Native or you aren’t.

I don’t mind it when people ask me about family history and where my Indigeneity comes from, but that is only my experience and opinion. Pressing an individual, especially one you just met, to open up to a stranger about their family history can feel very intrusive. Don’t be surprised if, upon asking these questions, you aren’t given an answer or you can tell the person you’re speaking to is closing themselves off.

One of the unfortunate facts about being Indigenous is that a lot of our family history and our experience is wrought with trauma, genocide, murder, abuse, lost relatives, addiction, lost lives, and pain. Expecting someone to share their history with you just because you asked is very privileged and presumptuous.

If someone denies you this information, the worst response you can have is an emotional one. Don’t get angry, don’t feel slighted, and don’t lash out or press them further. These are symptoms of white-privilege and fragility: feeling entitled to things that are not yours in the first place and then lashing out, crying, or using other forms of manipulation to get what you want. Imagine someone you barely met asking you to dredge up some of your most painful, personal memories and experiences, and when you say no, because you feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, or uncertain, they either get really mad at you, resort to slurs, degrade you, ask you why you don’t want to share, or burst into tears.

“My best friend is Native!”

Why You Shouldn’t Say It:

When you attempt to make a connection to us in this way, it comes across as overcompensating, and trying to gain clout by using your ‘friend’ as a token. Tokenism is a real issue when it comes to how we are represented in mainstream media, so when you throw your ‘friend’ around like that to try and gain our approval or acceptance, all you are doing is showing your ignorance.

Use the colloquialisms/words: “Indian giver”, “Indian Summer”, “circle the wagons”, “lowest on the totem pole”, “savage”, “Chief”, “having a powwow”, “Indian time”, “going off the reservation”, “the beat of a different drum”, “the cavalry to the rescue”, saying your family is “native to the ____ area”, “too many Chiefs, not enough Indians”

Why You Shouldn’t Say [Them]:

Well… most — if not all — of these are racist and if you didn’t know that, you do now.

Indian giver comes from a cultural misunderstanding that took place between Europeans and Indigenous folx in the 1700s. It refers to the fact that when Indigenous people would “give a gift” they would expect something in return, but the reality was that they misunderstood gift giving as trading.

Indian Summer has many varying origins, none of which have been confirmed. There is evidence that it relates to a longer, warmer summer that crosses into autumn, a time when Indigenous people in North America would utilize to prepare for the winter. It has also been called into question because of a stereotype that exists around Indigenous people being late, and when using Indian summer you are talking about a late summer. Regardless of the origin, it is obvious it’s colonial in its nature and shouldn’t be used.

Savage has made its way back into everyday usage thanks to the adoption of AAVE by white people. While BIPOC have the absolute right to use the word, as it has been used against them for centuries and its reclamation can be seen as an important form of empowerment, if you are not a BIPOC, it is *not* okay for you to say. Yes, even in the context of someone saying something harsh and you responding with “oooh, that’s savage!” Yes, even if you aren’t using it to describe a person. The dictionary definition of it is “not domesticated or under human control”, “lacking the restraints normal to civilized beings”, or “lacking a complex or advanced culture”. When looking at the actual meaning behind it and recognizing its use throughout history to describe non-Europeans, it is easy to acknowledge it has no place in the mouths of settlers, both historically and presently.

Circle the wagons, lowest on the totem pole, off the reservation… come on. I’m sorry but if you need to be educated on why this is wrong, I’m going to let you do that research yourself.

It’s with almost 100% certainty I will tell you that if you say any of these things in front of an Indigenous person, they will judge you, myself included.

“My family has been in Canada for several hundred years.”

Why You Shouldn’t Say It:

This one has a double meaning, which I think is important to unpack. First of all, when you find out someone is Indigenous and you say this, you are putting yourself in opposition to our existence. It sounds like you’re trying to compete with the fact my ancestors have lived here for many thousands of years.

Furthermore, that also means that your ancestors were probably involved in the displacement, erasure, genocide, and forced assimilation of my people. Is that really something you want to be proud of, or to try and use this fact as a way to connect with me? Knowing your ancestors were colonizers isn’t going to make me feel like we have a shared connection.

“What’s your Indian name / traditional name, etc. ?”

Why You Shouldn’t Say It:

Well, first of all, don’t say the word Indian if you aren’t Indigenous. Even if it was acceptable when you were younger, it is not okay. Even if you have friends that use it, or you have heard Indigenous people refer to themselves as such. Secondly, not *every* Indigenous person has a traditional name, and to assume so is ignorant and insensitive. This also discredits any reconnecting Indigenous person that was separated from their community for a wide variety of reasons.

You don’t look Native!”

Why You Shouldn’t Say It:

There is no “one way” to look Native. When you tell someone this, you’re basically saying you ascribe to a colonial, stereotypical understanding of how Indigenous people look. There are white Natives. There are Black Natives. There are brown Natives. There are Natives with blonde hair and blue eyes, red hair and green eyes, and everything in between. Just because someone doesn’t have dark skin and long brown hair doesn’t mean they don’t look Native, it means that you probably haven’t spent a lot of time around Indigenous people and have a very limited idea of who we are.

“It happened so long ago”, “Why can’t you just move on?” “I’m not guilty for what my relatives have done”

Why You Shouldn’t Say It:

It is impossible to move on when the extent to which we have been murdered, abused, and displaced at the hands of the Canadian government and your ancestors is not fully understood. I have called my YouTube channel “Truth Before Reconciliation” because I believe nothing will ever be fully reconciled if the truth is not known or acknowledged.

While you may not be personally responsible for the actions of your ancestors, what have you personally done to ensure their atrocities will no longer be committed? What have you done to counteract the actions of your relatives? If you think that you are absolved of their actions solely by the passage of time, without actually doing anything to undo their mistakes, you are complacent.

One of the most important things to remember, which seems strange for me to have to bring attention to, but I do, is that not every Indigenous person is the same. In Canada there are 634 nations speaking over 50 distinct languages. What one Indigenous person believes is in no way indicative of what another does. Sometimes I am asked “Is it okay if…”, but what I may be comfortable with, someone else may not. I use the word Native a lot and I don’t mind if people use it around me, but there are some of us that do.

Another important thing to remember when speaking to Indigenous people is to recognize the racism and genocide we have faced and continue to face. So much of our daily lives are affected by colonialism, and its existence is contextualized in most of our conversations.

If an Indigenous person is willing to share their experiences and stories with you, or taking the time to educate you about something, stop for a moment. Fully allow yourself to stop speaking, to listen, and to take in exactly what is being said to you. Don’t cut anyone off. Don’t try to relate or compare stories. Just listen to what is being told to you. I guarantee you will walk away from that conversation feeling more connected, with a better understanding, than if you attempt any of the approaches I have laid out in this essay.

originally published on, 2018, written by bailey macabre

cedar sage skoden privacy policy


Who we are

Our website address is: It is run by one person, bailey pitt (aka bailey macabre), who you can learn more about at They are the sole operator of this website, the only person behind the scenes at cedar sage skoden, and basically a one-person marching band making all of this come together.


When visitors leave comments on the site we collect the data shown in the comments form, and also the visitor’s IP address and browser user agent string to help spam detection.

An anonymized string created from your email address (also called a hash) may be provided to the Gravatar service to see if you are using it. The Gravatar service privacy policy is available here: After approval of your comment, your profile picture is visible to the public in the context of your comment.


If you leave a comment on our site you may opt-in to saving your name, email address and website in cookies. These are for your convenience so that you do not have to fill in your details again when you leave another comment. These cookies will last for one year.

If you visit our login page, we will set a temporary cookie to determine if your browser accepts cookies. This cookie contains no personal data and is discarded when you close your browser.

When you log in, we will also set up several cookies to save your login information and your screen display choices. Login cookies last for two days, and screen options cookies last for a year. If you select “Remember Me”, your login will persist for two weeks. If you log out of your account, the login cookies will be removed.

If you edit or publish an article, an additional cookie will be saved in your browser. This cookie includes no personal data and simply indicates the post ID of the article you just edited. It expires after 1 day.

Embedded content from other websites

Articles on this site may include embedded content (e.g. videos, images, articles, etc.). Embedded content from other websites behaves in the exact same way as if the visitor has visited the other website. 

These websites may collect data about you, use cookies, embed additional third-party tracking, and monitor your interaction with that embedded content, including tracking your interaction with the embedded content if you have an account and are logged in to that website.

Who we share your data with

bailey has decided not to allow customers to make accounts to cut down on the amount of information being stored in our database.

How long we retain your data

If you leave a comment, the comment and its metadata are retained indefinitely. This is so we can recognize and approve any follow-up comments automatically instead of holding them in a moderation queue.

For users that register on our website (if any), we also store the personal information they provide in their user profile. All users can see, edit, or delete their personal information at any time (except they cannot change their username). Website administrators can also see and edit that information.

What rights you have over your data

If you have an account on this site, or have left comments, you can request to receive an exported file of the personal data we hold about you, including any data you have provided to us. You can also request that we erase any personal data we hold about you. This does not include any data we are obliged to keep for administrative, legal, or security purposes.

Where we send your data

Visitor comments may be checked through an automated spam detection service, otherwise none of your data will be sent or sold to any third-party website.

cedar sage skoden terms and conditions policy


Welcome to Cedar Sage Skoden. These terms and conditions outline the rules and regulations for the use of Cedar Sage Skoden’s Website.

By accessing this website it is assumed you accept these terms and conditions in full. Do not continue to use Cedar Sage Skoden’s website if you do not accept all of the terms and conditions stated on this page.

The following terminology applies to these Terms and Conditions, Privacy Statement and Disclaimer Notice and any or all Agreements: ClientYou and Your refers to you, the person accessing this website and accepting the Company’s terms and conditions. The CompanyOurselvesWeOur and Us, refers to our Company. PartyParties, or Us, refers to both the Client and ourselves, or either the Client or ourselves.

All terms refer to the offer, acceptance and consideration of payment necessary to undertake the process of our assistance to the Client in the most appropriate manner, whether by formal meetings of a fixed duration, or any other means, for the express purpose of meeting the Client’s needs in respect of provision of the Company’s stated services/products, in accordance with and subject to, prevailing law of so-called British Columbia.

Returns and Refunds

I would absolutely love to be able to offer refunds and returns, but unfortunately I am unable to at this time. These products are made to order, which means it is up to You to check the sizing charts and ensure you are ordering the correct size.

However, if an order does not show up, or it shows up damaged or misprinted please email me at and we can discuss a replacement product for you.

Shipping and Fulfillment Times

The turnaround time on ordered items can vary from 7-28 days, however I am pleased to say my average fulfilment and shipping time is 2.5 days.

These items come from a print-on-demand company, and sometimes the orders are not fulfilled within Canada. As a result, some items may require you to pay a small duty fee upon delivery. The cost of this is set by Canada Border Services and unfortunately cannot be waived.

Shipping can take 7-14 days, so please be patient as your orders fill. If it has been longer than that or you have any questions, feel free to email me at

Bulk Orders

Please contact me at if you are interested in doing a bulk order.


Unless otherwise stated, Cedar Sage Skoden and/or its licensors own the intellectual property rights for all material on

All intellectual property rights are reserved. You may view and/or print pages from (Add URL) for your own personal use subject to restrictions set in these terms and conditions.

You must not:

  • Republish material from
  • Sell, rent or sub-license material from
  • Reproduce, duplicate or copy material from
  • Redistribute content from Cedar Sage Skoden (unless content is specifically made for redistribution).


To the maximum extent permitted by applicable law, we exclude all representations, warranties and conditions relating to our website and the use of this website (including, without limitation, any warranties implied by law in respect of satisfactory quality, fitness for purpose and/or the use of reasonable care and skill).

Nothing in this disclaimer will:

  • Limit or exclude our or your liability for death or personal injury resulting from negligence.
  • Limit or exclude our or your liability for fraud or fraudulent misrepresentation.
  • Limit any of our or your liabilities in any way that is not permitted under applicable law.
  • Or exclude any of our or your liabilities that may not be excluded under applicable law.

The limitations and exclusions of liability set out in this Section and elsewhere in this disclaimer:

  1. are subject to the preceding paragraph; and
  2. govern all liabilities arising under the disclaimer or in relation to the subject matter of this disclaimer, including liabilities that arise in contract, tort (including negligence) and for breach of statutory duty.

To the extent that the website and the information and services on the website are provided free of charge, we will not be liable for any loss or damage of any nature.