Facebook fixes 'half-breed' translation of Métis after MMF complaint

Facebook has fixed a translation that saw the word Métis changed into English as "half-breed" on social media posts.

Manitoba Metis Federation complains to social media site after Radio-Canada report

The Métis flag flies at Fort Gibraltar as part of Festival du Voyageur. The Manitoba Metis Federation is calling on Facebook to update its translation software to translate Métis into Metis instead of the current translation of 'half-breed.' (Bert Savard/CBC)

Facebook has fixed a translation that saw the word Métis changed into English as "half-breed" on social media posts.

The move happened after the Manitoba Métis Federation complained to the social media site, calling the translation shameful, derogatory and unacceptable.

"It was intended as a racial slur — dehumanizing language. It's from an era of intolerance," said Allan Benoit, chief of staff for the Manitoba Metis Federation.

The translation was discovered by Radio-Canada in a Jan. 23 Facebook post containing the word Métis.

The phrase "Vous êtes Métis ou bien vous pensez l'être, voici comment obtenir votre carte de Métis" was translated by Facebook's translation tool as "You're a half-breed or you think you are, here's how to get your half-breed card."

The term Métis is normally not translated when used by English speakers in Canada.

On its website, Facebook says its translation function uses external translation tools like Bing and does its own translations, which are at least in part influenced by users.

"Volunteer translators help make Facebook available in new languages, and can help improve the translations for existing languages," the company says.

When Facebook provides a translation, such as in Radio-Canada's recent post, there is an option to rate the translation. The company says it uses star ratings from users to improve the quality of translations.

The translation was discovered by Radio-Canada in a Jan. 23 Facebook post containing the word Métis. (Facebook)

The Manitoba Metis Federation said it has complained to Facebook about the translation error. 

Facebook Responds

CBC contacted Facebook for comment, in an emailed response a spokesperson said "this was a deeply regrettable mistake. Our translation of the word Métis has now been fixed and we apologize to anyone affected."

Benoit believes Facebook should reconsider a model that relies on users to help the company translate between languages.

"This really underlines the importance of knowledgeable, informed people … being able to determine what is the right word."

​Métis can mean different things in different contexts. For some, the term simply means "mixed," said Benoit.

"People think if they have an ancestor who happens to be First Nations and European that all of a sudden they're ​Métis," he said.

This is why, he said, the Manitoba Metis Federation prefers calling its members "citizens of the Métis nation" to dispel confusion.

Paulette Duguay, president of the Union nationale métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba, said she was surprised Métis was being translated into "half-breed" in 2018.

"We don't use that term anymore," she said flatly.

"A hundred or 150 years ago, the Métis people were referred to as half-breeds."

Language has evolved since then and Duguay said she has never seen the term except in history books.

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With files from Holly Bernier and Remi Authier