The Politics of Terminology

Richard Poulin

THE TERM “MOHAWK” is an Algonquin word that the French and British adopted to refer to the Agniers. They conferred on it the meaning “man-eaters.” Today this term is synonymous with Agnier and is more in use than the name the Agniers gave themselves.

Throughout the crisis, the French-language press used only English words to describe the key players and institutions of the Mohawks, except for territories where Indian names had been in use. So the Societe de Guerriers was dubbed “the Warriors,” la Maison longue, “the Longhouse,” and so on, as though the Agniers were a small group of English speakers defying prerogatives of the Quebec government and thus posing a challenge to Quebecois national aspirations.

During the Vietnam war the same media termed the North Vietnamese communists, or Viet Cong, while those in the south were called Vietnamese, and not capitalists. These choices of phraseology are not innocent. For more on this, see my article “A Question of Words or of Polities,” published during the week of September 17-in Le Droit (Ottawa), Le Devoir (Montreal) and Le Soliel (Quebec).

The Longhouse authorized the creation of the Warriors Society in the mid-1970s, according to the tradition whereby military chiefs are subject to the authority of the representatives of the clans and the nations. This Society was to replace the white police force and defend the rights of its people.

November-December 1990, ATC 29