Indigenous People: A collective noun for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people in Canada. Also, an inclusive term used to describe the diversity of First Peoples in an international context. While “Indigenous” may be considered the most inclusive term since it identifies peoples in similar circumstances without respect to national boundaries or local conventions, it remains a contentious term since it defines groups primarily in relation to their colonizers. Although Indigenous people are defined as having a set of specific rights based on their historical ties to a particular territory, and their cultural or historical distinctiveness from other populations, these rights are not recognized by all States. The term ‘Indigenous’ is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

First Nation: First Nation is a term used to identify Indigenous Peoples of Canada who are neither Métis nor Inuit. According to the Assembly of First Nations, “this term came into common usage in the 1970s to replace the term ‘Indian’ and ‘Indian band’ which many found offensive. Many communities have also replaced ‘band’ with ‘First Nation’ in their names. Despite its widespread use, there is no legal definition for this term in Canada.”

“First Nations people” applies to both Status and Non-Status Indians, so it is important to be careful with its usage, especially if in reference to programs that are specifically for Status Indians. Similarly, caution should be used when using this term, as many First Nations communities have publicly and politically expressed that they now prefer the term “Indigenous.”

First Nation is acceptable as both a noun and a modifier. It can be:

  • Used to refer to a single band (First Nation) or many bands (First Nations)
  • Used in reference to a specific geographic location
  • Used instead of “Indian” when referring to an individual

“First Nation community” is a respectful alternative phrase. The term should not be used as a synonym for Aboriginal Peoples because it does not include Inuit or Métis. Inuit: Inuit are an Indigenous circumpolar people found across the North. The Inuit are one of three recognized Aboriginal peoples in the Constitution Act, 1982.

In Canada, Inuit primarily live in the Inuit Nunangat – the Canadian Inuit homeland. The term “Inuit Nunangat” refers to the land, water, and ice of their homeland and describes the Inuit territory comprised of four regions. Nearly half of the Inuit live in Nunavut, followed by Nunavik in northern Quebec, Nunatsiavut in Labrador, and the Inuvialuit region in the western Arctic. The majority of the Canadian Inuit population lives in 53 communities spread over two provinces and two territories. Inuit have lived in this homeland since time immemorial.

The word “Inuit,” which means “people,” is sometimes confused with the Innu. The Innu are another Indigenous People who live primarily in northeastern Quebec and southern Labrador and whose language belongs to the larger Algonquian language group.

Note:

Use “Inuk” to refer to an individual person.
Use “Inuuk” when referring to two people.
Use “Inuit” when referring to three or more people.

In the Inuktitut language, the term “Inuit” translates to “the people,” making the term “Inuit people” redundant.

Métis: Métis are included as one of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which reads:

35 (1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.

(2) in this Act, the aboriginal peoples of Canada includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

The Métis emerged as a distinct people or nation in the historic Northwest during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. This area is known as the “historic Métis Nation Homeland,” which includes the 3 Prairie Provinces and extends into Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and the northern United States. This historic Métis Nation had recognized Aboriginal title, which the Government of Canada attempted to extinguish through the issuance of “scrip” and land grants in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

The Métis National Council consequently adopted the following definition of “Métis” in 2002:

“Métis” means a person who self-identifies as Métis, is distinct from other Aboriginal peoples, is of historic Métis Nation Ancestry and who is accepted by the Métis Nation.” In 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that Métis are a rights-bearing Aboriginal people. Its judgement in R. v. Powley set out the components of a Métis definition for the purpose of claiming Aboriginal rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. These are:

  • Self-identification as a member of a Métis community.
  • Ancestral connection to the historic Métis community whose practices ground the right in question
  • Acceptance by the modern community with continuity to the historic Métis community.

Important Terminology

Aging out of care: “Aging out of care” is a vernacular phrase used to describe the transition period when a young person no longer requires, is eligible for, or is provided care under the foster care or child welfare system due to the fact that they have reached a certain age.

Assimilation: Assimilation is the process whereby individuals or groups of differing ethnic heritage are absorbed into the dominant culture of a society. The process of assimilation involves taking on the traits of the dominant culture to such a degree that the assimilating group becomes socially indistinguishable from other members of the society. Assimilation may be compelled through force or undertaken voluntarily.

Bias: Bias is holding a prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

Blood Memory: Blood memory is a term often used by Indigenous Peoples to refer to memories stored in one’s body cells and passed on genetically. It is also referred to as genetic memory or cellular memory. Blood memory is often described as one’s ancestral or genetic connection to one’s language, songs, ceremonies, land, teachings, etc.

Ceremony: The ritual observances, set out by custom or tradition, performed to mark or honour certain events or occasions. Ceremonies differ by Indigenous Nation but often share common purposes such as seeking direction or guidance, healing, distribution of wealth, or honouring individuals, life events, or occasions such as birth, naming, puberty, death, etc. Colonialism / Colonization: Colonialism is the attempted or actual imposition of policies, laws, mores, economies, cultures or systems, and institutions put in place by settler governments to support and continue the occupation of Indigenous territories, the subjugation of Indigenous Nations, and the resulting internalized and externalized thought patterns that support this occupation and subjugation.

Colonialism is not to be confused with colonization.

Colonialism is the ideology advocating colonization. Colonization generally refers to the process by which Europeans invaded and occupied Indigenous national territories. Decolonization / Decolonized / Decolonizing: Decolonization is a social and political process aimed at resisting and undoing the multifaceted impacts of colonization and re-establishing strong contemporary Indigenous Nations and institutions based on traditional values, philosophies, and knowledge systems.

It is the meaningful and active resistance to forces of colonialism that perpetuate the subjugation and/or exploitation of Indigenous minds, bodies, and lands. It requires individuals to consciously and critically question the legitimacy of the colonizer and reflect on the ways we have been influenced by colonialism.

The term “decolonizing” is preferred over “decolonization” or “decolonized” to demonstrate that the process is ongoing.

Discrimination: Discrimination is unequal or different treatment or harassment that causes harm. This includes behaviour towards or against a person of a certain group based solely on class or category involving exclusion or restriction of members of one group from opportunities that are available to other groups.

Discrimination has been based on the following grounds: race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, citizenship, ethnic origin, religion, receipt of social assistance, disability, age, marital status, family status, sex or gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, etc. Overt discrimination is discrimination that is open, deliberate, and intentional.

Systemic discrimination is the creation and perpetuation of systems (that is, knowledge, education, governance, laws) based on the values and mores that are central to one fragment of a society and to which it assumes all societies subscribe.

It can also be understood as the application of criteria, or a “standard practice,” that creates an adverse impact on an individual or identifiable group.

Eurocentrism: Eurocentrism is the tendency to interpret the histories and cultures of non-European societies from a European (or Western) perspective.

In-care: A vernacular term to describe a young person’s living situation when they receive state-mandated care from the foster or child welfare system.

Indian Act: The Indian Act, passed in 1876, combined all existing policies affecting Indians and outlined the responsibilities of the federal government, established by the British North America Act of 1867.

The Indian Act, since it was first passed, has subjected generations of Indigenous women and their children to discrimination. Despite amendments, it continues to do so today.

While there have been numerous amendments to the Act, Indian status continues to be transmitted by males and not by females. The 1876 Indian Act defined the criteria for being an Indian as: a male Indian, the wife of a male Indian, or the child of a male Indian. Under the Indian Act, if an Indian woman married a Non-Status Indian man, she lost her status and the children of her marriage were denied Indian status.

The three principles that guided the amendments to the Indian Act were:

The removal of discrimination
Restoration of status and membership rights, and
Increasing control of Indian bands over their own affairs.

Bill C-31 (1985) provided a process by which women could have their lost status reinstated and their children could apply for status. However, the criteria by which status is passed on have resulted in continued discrimination against women.

In addition, Bill C-31 expanded band control over membership and community life, enabling Indian people to take an important step toward self-government.

Bill C-3, introduced in March 2010, was intended to remedy the discrimination women continued to face under Bill C-31 by ensuring that eligible grandchildren of women who lost status as a result of marrying non-Indian men will become entitled to registration (Indian status).

However, in practice discrimination has continued. Grandchildren born before 1951 who trace their Aboriginal heritage through their maternal parentage are still denied status, while those who trace their heritage through their paternal counterparts are not.

Residential Schools system: In Canada, the Residential Schools system was a network of boarding schools for Indigenous students administered by the Canadian government and Christian churches. Initiated in the 1880s, these schools operated until the 1990s, with the last school closing in 1996. Residential Schools removed Indigenous children from their homes, families, and communities, with a purpose of educating and assimilating Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture.

It is estimated that over 150,000 First Nation, Métis, and Inuit children attended Residential Schools. In recent years, former students have pressed for recognition of abuses suffered at Residential Schools. This resulted in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007, a formal apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008, and the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008.

Inherent rights: Inherent rights are the pre-existing rights that an individual inherits from their nation upon their birth. Inherent rights are officially recognized under Sec 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Aboriginal Peoples have the right to govern themselves in relation to matters that are internal to their communities, integral to their unique cultures, identities, traditions, languages, and institutions, and with respect to their special relationship to the land and their resources. Intergenerational trauma: Intergenerational trauma is transmission of the effects of trauma across generations, affecting the children and grandchildren of those initially victimized. This includes the transmission of historical oppression and colonization that continues to impact the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples today.

Racism: Racism is a social construct that has social, political, and economic consequences. Racism is an ideology that directly or indirectly asserts that one group is inherently superior to others, that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by their biological characteristics.

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, racism can be openly displayed in racial jokes and slurs or hate crimes, and it can also be more deeply rooted in attitudes, values, and stereotypical beliefs. In some cases, these are unconsciously held and have become deeply embedded in systems and institutions that have evolved over time. Racism operates at a number of levels, including individual, systemic, and societal.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination defines racial discrimination or racism as any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, or any other field of public life.

Settler colonialism: Settler colonialism is a form of colonialism that functions through the replacement of Indigenous populations with an invasive settler society that over time develops a distinctive identity and sovereignty.

Settler colonialism, like colonialism, is an ideology or structure, not an event. Settler colonialism persists in the ongoing elimination of Indigenous populations and the assertion of state sovereignty over Indigenous Peoples and lands.

Settler colonialism refers to settler colonizers who come to new lands with the intent to permanently occupy and assert authority over Indigenous lands. When settling, an imperial power oversees the immigration of settlers who consent, often only temporarily, to the authority of the imperial power. When allegiance to the imperial power is severed, however, settler colonial societies continue to exercise power.

This power has often been based on racially constructed narratives, such as the hyper-sexualization of Indigenous women or the portrayal of Indigenous men as savage, which portray Indigenous people as being in need of care from the “civilized settler state”. This dehumanizing narrative supports the parallel narrative of “peaceful” frontier settlement and expansion.

Settler colonialism begins with perception that lands in long-term use by Indigenous Peoples are empty or unused, which justifies the division of Indigenous-held lands into private property.

The power of settler state structures is often embodied in the form of frontier police forces and bureaucratic agencies, such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Indian agents, or other government officials. These agencies wielded (and in some cases, continue to hold) power over Indigenous Peoples, including the ability to apprehend children, to prevent people from leaving official “reserve” lands (or conversely, to expel individuals or families from reserved territories), to control employment, and even to summarily direct police or military forces against Indigenous people.

Seven Sacred Teachings: The Seven Sacred Teachings is a term used by many, but not all, Indigenous peoples within the lands now known as Canada. The term refers to the foundational concepts by which we should all live our lives in the best interest of ourselves, our families, our communities, and all living things. The Seven Sacred Teachings are: love, honesty, courage, wisdom, humility, truth, and respect.

Sexism: Sexism is prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination based on gender or sex, typically against women or girls.

Stereotypes: Stereotypes are commonly held public beliefs about a certain social group or type of individual. Stereotypes include images, understandings, or categorization of groups or individuals based on simplified or generalized understandings of the characteristics, nature, or descriptions of the individuals or groups. This categorization, which denies diversity, results in a skewed, false, or incorrect understanding about the characteristics, nature, or description of the individual or groups in question.

Trauma informed: A trauma-informed approach supports healing in a way that aims to do no further harm and to ensure that families and survivors are not re-traumatized.