Glossary of Terms

Aboriginal: An English word that actually means “not original.” In many cases the preferred term is Indigenous. Typically people refer to themselves and their identity more specifically as Cree, Dene, Anishinaabe, or another heritage.

Colonization occurs when a new group of people migrates into a territory and then takes over and begins to control the Indigenous group. The settlers impose their own languages, cultural values, religions, and laws, seizing land and controlling access to resources and trade and monopolize the political power that would enable Indigenous peoples to change the structures that subjugate them .

Comprehensive Land Claims: The Government of Canada’s term for modern treaties.

Cultural appropriation: The inappropriate adoption or use of culturally significant items or ideas by someone from another culture. Usually, during this process the original meaning is lost or distorted, or the user/adoptee receives a social, economic, or political benefit. An example of cultural appropriation is the wearing of costume headdresses at a sports venue. Another example is using Indigenous artwork without permission or compensation on designer-labelled goods.

Douglas Treaties: 14 land purchase completed between 1850 and 1854 by James Douglas, governor of the British colony of Vancouver Island. They applied to territories on Vancouver Island and covered small tracts of land around Victoria, Nanaimo, and Port Hardy.

Eskimo/Esquimaux: A settler term historically used to refer to Inuit. It is neither accurate nor respectful and should not be used.

FNMI: This acronym stands for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. It is often used interchangeably in Canada with the broad term Indigenous.

First Nations: The accepted term for people who are Indigenous and who do not identify as Inuit or Métis. Today there are around 630 First Nations in Canada.

Historic treaties: Treaties signed by First Nations and the British and Canadian governments between 1701 and 1923.

Historic Métis Nation Homeland: The historic Métis Nation Homeland encompasses the Prairie Provinces  of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta and extends into contiguous parts of Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and the northern United States.1

Indian: Refers to the legal identity of a First Nations person who is registered under the Indian Act. This term is also used in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution. It should be used only within this legal context, and is otherwise considered an offensive term.

Indian Act: Legislation passed by the federal government of the Dominion of Canada in 1876, and still in existence today. This Act gives the federal government jurisdiction or control over, according to the Canadian Constitution, “Indians and Lands reserved for Indians” (Section 91, 24).

Indigenous Peoples: From the Latin indigena, meaning “sprung from the land; native.” Indigenous is being used synonymously with Aboriginal, and in many cases is the preferred term. It includes the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples in Canada (FNMI). Note that not all people use this term. Some people may prefer to use the term Aboriginal. Some may only identify using their specific heritage. It is okay to ask people how they prefer to be addressed.

Inuit (singular Inuk) are an Indigenous group living in the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and Russia. Historically they were referred to in Canada as “Eskimos,” or “Esquimaux,” but this term is neither accurate nor respectful and should not be used.

Inuktitut is one of the dialects of the Inuit language spoken in Nunavut.

Innu is a First Nation in eastern Canada. They are not Inuit.

Intergenerational trauma occurs when the effects of traumatic experiences are passed on to the next generations. Intergenerational trauma is a term used to describe the lasting effects of residential schools, displacement of communities, loss of culture and languages, and many other facets of colonization.

Métis are a distinct Indigenous people and nation recognized in the Constitution Act 1982 as one of the three Aboriginal peoples in Canada.2

Métis Nation emerged in the historic Northwest during the late 18th century, originally the mixed offspring of Indian women and European fur traders. As this population established distinct communities separate from those of Indians and Europeans and married among themselves, a new Indigenous people emerged – the Métis people – with their own unique culture, traditions, language (Michif), and way of life, collective consciousness and nationhood. The Métis Nation have acted collectively to protect and fight for their rights, lands and ongoing existence as a distinct Indigenous people and nation within the Canadian federation –from the Métis provisional governments of Riel in Manitoba (1869-70) and Saskatchewan (1885) to contemporary Métis governments. This dedication continues to exist as citizens and communities throughout the Métis Nation Homeland keep the nation’s distinct culture, traditions, language and lifestyle alive and pursue their own political, social and economic development.3

Michif is an Indigenous language unique to the Métis Nation. Michif can also be sometimes referred to as Southern Michif or Heritage Michif. It is a critically endangered language.

Microaggressions: This term describes the insults, dismissals, or casual degradations a dominant culture inflicts on a marginalized group of people. Often they are a form of unintended discrimination, but one that has the same effect as willful discrimination. Usually perpetrators intend no offence and are unaware they are causing harm. Generally, they are well-meaning and consider themselves to be unprejudiced. An example of a microaggression is saying that Vikings discovered North America. This statement suggests that there was no one in North America, or that North America was no one’s land (see Terra nullius). Another microaggression is the offering of social support services to only Indigenous parents in a public school.

Modern treaties: These treaties are negotiated today. Sometimes tripartite negotiations occur with three levels of government: the Indigenous People, the Government of Canada, and the province affected. Sometimes modern treaties are negotiated directly between the Indigenous People and the Government of Canada.

Non-Status Indian is a person who identifies as Indian but who is not entitled to registration under the Indian Act. Some non-Status Indians may be members of a First Nation.

Numbered Treaties: 11 treaties signed by the First Nations peoples and the reigning monarchs of Canada between 1871 and 1921, providing the settler government with large tracts of land in exchange for promises that varied by treaty.

Peace and Friendship Treaties: These treaties were signed in the Maritimes between 1725 and 1779 intended to end hostilities and encourage cooperation between the British and Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations.

Status Indian is a person who is recognized by the federal government as being registered under the Indian Act. Status Indians may be entitled to certain programs and services offered by federal agencies and provincial governments.

Terra nullius (Latin for “nobody’s land”): These were unexplored landscapes drawn by European map-makers as blank spaces representing empty land waiting to be settled, rather than territories occupied by Indigenous Peoples for thousands of years.

Traditional territory: This is a geographic area identified by FNMI peoples as the land they and their ancestors traditionally occupied and used.

Treaty: These are documents viewed by settlers and settler governments as transferring and surrendering title and control of Indigenous Peoples’ land to them. Treaty benefits and responsibilities apply to both settlers and Indigenous peoples. They are signed on a nation-to-nation basis, in much the same way as trade agreements between nations, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement signed by Canada, the USA, and Mexico. Treaties also record agreements to end conflicts. Treaties depend upon the signing parties to uphold their agreements. In some cases the terms of treaty were solidified through the exchanging of gift items or through the creation of shared items, such as a wampum belt.

Turtle Island: is the name many Nations used to refer to what is now known as ‘North America’. The name is reflected in various creation stories of Indigenous Nations across the continent. . Some Indigenous people prefer to use this term.

Unceded lands: These are lands that Indigenous people never ceded/surrendered or legally signed away to the Crown or to Canada. In Manitoba, for example, several Dakota First Nations lands are unceded.

Notes

  1. Métis Nation FAQ (www2.metisnation.ca/about/faq/)
  2. Métis Nation FAQ (www2.metisnation.ca/about/faq/)
  3. Métis Nation FAQ (www2.metisnation.ca/about/faq/)

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