Indigenous terminology is dynamic and can at times be quite complex. In the context of resources like this one, it is therefore important that a consensus be established on frequently used terms. As a diverse development team, we have endeavored to include terms and phrases within this resource that both reflect our unique geo-cultural identities and are commonly accepted across numerous communities throughout Canada. This is not however a definitive resource, since First Nations, Métis, and Inuit perspectives and belief systems vary so greatly. Given that this is an open resource (which you may access, share, or adapt as needed), we invite you to augment it with preferred terminology (and content) that is specific to your region.
First Nations are the Indigenous peoples of Canada who first inhabited the lands south of the Arctic Circle. They have diverse cultures and unique histories that span thousands of years but share a common philosophy of care and stewardship for the natural environment. First Nations developed complex systems of knowledge, communication, and belief that – despite colonization – continue to exist and evolve today.
Coming into common use in the 1980’s, “First Nations” may refer to individuals (“status” or “non-status Indians”), communities (reserves), and their governments (bands). It is typically used as a general term, as First Nations people are more likely to identify as members of specific nations and communities (e.g. “I am a Mississauga Anishinaabe from Curve Lake First Nation”).
Although in Canada the term “Indian” is used in federal legislation, “First Nations” has become the preferred term of reference. In fact, the term “Indian” carries historical connotations that many consider offensive.
In a legal context, “Indian Status” refers to whether or not an individual is registered under the Indian Act of Canada.
The term “Indigenous” comes from the Latin word “indigena,” which means “sprung from the land; native.”
Now used universally in several parts of the world, “Indigenous” first came into usage during the 1970s when international First People groups pushed for a greater presence in the United Nations. In the UN, “Indigenous” is used to refer broadly to “peoples of long settlement and connection to specific lands who have been adversely affected by incursions by industrial economies, displacement, and settlement of their traditional territories by others.”
In Canada, the term “Indigenous” has become the preferred collective noun for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, and is often used synonymously with “Aboriginal” (Section 35 (2) of the Constitution Act, 1982, defined “Aboriginal peoples in Canada” as including “the Indian (First Nations), Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada”).
Inuit are the Indigenous peoples of Northern Canada, who have lived in the Arctic region, or “Inuit Nunangat”, since time immemorial. Many continue to do so today and rely on their traditional knowledge and adaptive skills to thrive in the frigid environments of their homeland.
The term “Inuit” means “the people” in Inuktut, the Inuit language, and refers broadly to the Arctic Indigenous population of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Russia. The singular of Inuit is “Inuk”, meaning “person”.
In Canada, Inuit were historically referred to as “Eskimos”, however, this term is neither accurate nor respectful and is no longer used.
The Métis are the mixed-race descendants of the original unions between First Nations women and European settler men that took place during the North American fur trade in the 17th and 18th centuries. The emergence of a new Indigenous people known as the Métis resulted from the subsequent intermarriage of these individuals. The Métis gradually developed their own social order and formed what is now called the Métis Nation (comprising people who inhabit Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, as well as parts of Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, and the Northern United States).
“Métis” is an identifying term embraced by most contemporary members of the Métis Nation, for whom have a specific sociocultural heritage that is based on more than racial categorization. This is a self-defining community of people who recognize that their ancestors made a sociopolitical choice to distinguish themselves as Métis based on shared histories, customs, and kinship networks.
Although Métis were historically referred to by other terms, such as “Half-Breed” and “Bois-Brûlé”, many are now considered derogatory and are no longer used.
In Indigenous contexts, physical culture is an aspect of Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing that reinforces individual and collective wellness, develop one’s physical capabilities for the service of their community and promote leading a healthy life in harmony, reciprocity, and relationship with other human beings and the natural world. Indigenous physical culture has evolved throughout time, from its ancestral origins to today’s spectrum of fitness modalities, sports, and cultural activities.
“Turtle Island” is the name that some Indigenous peoples use for the North American content, and it in fact pre-dates the usage of “North America” by thousands of years. The name is derived from oral histories that tell of a turtle that carries the world on its back – a key aspect of many Indigenous creation stories. Not all Indigenous creation stories feature a turtle, however, and they are not always about the origins of the land. “Turtle Island” nonetheless has in recent times come into use by both Indigenous peoples and settler-allies from across Canada in an effort to reestablish traditional place names.
Two-Eyed Seeing refers to approaching understanding, learning, and problem-solving through two lenses- through an Indigenous lens (with one eye) and with a Western lens (with the second eye). This is meant to integrate all knowledges and ways of knowing such that the strengths of each are considered.
Please refer to this reference, from Elder Albert Marshall: Two-Eyed Seeing
Wholistic versus Holistic
In the current resource, we have utilized the term wholistic, which is meant to encompass an entire, or whole way of learning and approach. The use of wholistic simultaneously works to decolonize and Indigenize the language presented in this resource.