Student Voices: Aboriginal stereotypes | Work of Arts
Student Voices: Aboriginal stereotypes | Work of Arts

Student Voices: Aboriginal stereotypes

Student blogger Kayla Lar-Son dispels common Aboriginal stereotypes, and discusses how education and dialogue is vital for breaking down those misconceptions

Student Voices is a WOA blog feature that presents the experiences and point of views of current arts students around campus. Get to know our creative and passionate students through their “voices” and get a snapshot of life as an arts undergrad. The views and opinions expressed within these student voices posts are solely those of the author. 

We have all heard the common stereotypes that are used to describe and marginalize Aboriginal people in Canada. Many of these ideas are based on pure ignorance and a lack of education, and are fuelled by racist colonial undertones.

These stereotypes have had an impact on the way that Aboriginals view themselves. When a person is constantly compared to a stereotype, they can become disconnected and ashamed of their own culture.

Stereotypes can even affect the way that Aboriginal people begin to view one another. Aboriginal people should be allies, and not view each other by the colonial labels that have been placed upon us. These stereotypes are so embedded into our brains that when an individual does not fit a stereotype they are often questioned or met with shock and awe.

I felt it was important to write on stereotypes because of the large Aboriginal community at the University of Alberta. Aboriginal students should be celebrated for who they are as individuals and not defined by the stereotypes imposed upon them. It is also important to not generalize the larger Aboriginal population by these stereotypes; Aboriginal peoples are a proud and strong cultural group and should be recognized as so.

Just a few Stereotypes

All Aboriginal people are the same

I remember the first time I was confronted for not conforming to this stereotype: all Aboriginal people are the same.

“If you are Native, then why are you so white?”

Every time I hear these words, they pierce my heart like a dagger. I’m sorry but I was born this way.  There are three different Aboriginal groups in Canada, and each has a specific culture and history. Even within Aboriginal groups individuals can vary in physical traits.


Source: Contemporary Aboriginal artist K.C. Adams’s Perception series (http://www.kcadams.net/art/photography/phtotal.html)

Society has implanted these stereotypical images of Aboriginal people into our heads from a young age. First Nations are often pictured as the stoic, plains Indian, with teepees and head dresses; Inuit as the isolated, fur-wearing primitives to the north; and when it comes to Métis, we think of Louis Riel and Half-Breeds. It is acceptable to ask a person if they are Aboriginal, but only if it is done in a respectful way. Religious practices vary from culture to culture as well, so no, I don’t have a spirit animal (but I secretly wish I did).

Scary, Distant and Mean

One of the most ridiculous stereotypes of Aboriginal people that I have ever heard is that all Aboriginal people are scary, distant and mean. If you consider the long colonial history that Aboriginal people have had to face, you might be distant or angry too. But the truth is that many Aboriginal people are kind and very, very funny.

Aboriginal people don’t pay for Post-Secondary Education

I once saw a post on a U of A social media page, where individuals were complaining about how specific faculties reserve spots for Aboriginal students. The comments that preceded this post were completely shocking to me for I view university to be a place of inclusion and open-mindedness.

Often, stereotypes based on misconceptions about Aboriginal education lead to racially charged accusations about unfairness and favouritism. Yes, faculties hold spots for Aboriginal students, but that doesn’t mean that every student will get accepted to a program — students (including me) still need to hold competitive GPAs.

Aboriginal students in the past were denied their right to a decent education, both primary and secondary. Universities are trying to reverse their colonial pasts by helping Aboriginal students achieve a higher level of education.

Further to that,  not every student has their post-secondary education paid for. Some individuals do receive some sort of funding from their specific bands, but many of us rely on student loans and scholarships just like every other student. For example, I was not eligible for student loans during my first year, and I did not receive any scholarships, which meant that I needed to pay my tuition on my own.

Aboriginals don’t pay taxes

If there was one misconception that I wouldn’t mind falling under, it would be that Aboriginal people don’t pay taxes (seriously who likes paying taxes?). I pay taxes and most Aboriginal people have to conform to the government’s tax rules. Individuals who are exempt from paying taxes are those who are status and live on reserves.


Source: Contemporary Aboriginal artist K.C. Adams’s Perception series (http://www.kcadams.net/art/photography/phtotal.html)

Drunken Indian

These words (in my opinion) are part of the most hateful and derogatory stereotype about Aboriginal people there is. Aboriginal people have been faced with so many social injustices throughout history, which has led to a long legacy of challenges that we are still trying to overcome to this day.

Each person has their own way of dealing with issues in their lives and some deal with these issues in more destructive ways. The label of the “Drunken Indian” can affect those who do not struggle with addiction issues. There have been times when I have been worried that simply having a drink or two at a bar would cause people to judge me by this stereotype.

The way forward

If we want to dissolve Aboriginal stereotypes, there must be a better relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. There must be an open dialogue between these communities to build better trust and understanding with one another. Education about Aboriginal history for non-Aboriginal communities must also be a top priority if we want to dispel these stereotypes.


Source: Contemporary Aboriginal artist K.C. Adams’s Perception series (http://www.kcadams.net/art/photography/phtotal.html)

There also needs to be more education about Aboriginal traditions and culture for Aboriginal youth. Because of the legacy of colonial systems (i.e. residential schools), Aboriginal youth can be disconnected from their cultural heritage.

It all starts with you. If you have questions about Aboriginal history, have an open and respectful conversation with someone who can answer your questions, and become an ally to Aboriginals everywhere. And Aboriginal people — sometimes we need to understand that people are just starting to become more aware of Aboriginal issues and that we need to be receptive to them and guide them as educators.

“There are many more stereotypes out there but I will not let these stereotypes define me. I am a Wife, Friend, Student, Jokester, Tattoo Lover and Karaoke Idol.”
– Kayla Lar-Son

Related link:
For more information on Aboriginal Stereotypes and labels, check out K.C. Adams and her portrait series depicting Aboriginal people and the labels that we associate with them: http://news.ca.msn.com/canada/portrait-series-fights-stereotypes-about-aboriginal-people-1


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About Kayla Lar-Son

Kayla Lar-Son

Kayla Lar-Son is Métis and a 3rd year Anthropology/Native Studies student in the Faculty of Arts. She grew up in Tofield, Alberta, and is currently an Executive on the Arts Aboriginal Student Council and works at the Métis Archival Project.