Language is important when discussing the rights, traditions and practices of the varied and diverse people living in Canada today. Terminology evolves and norms change.
Laws do not always keep pace with this evolution. In 1982, the Constitution of Canada recognized and affirmed the rights of First Nations (referred to as Indians in that document), Métis, and Inuit persons using the umbrella term “Aboriginal” which includes all three distinct groups (Constitution Act, 1982, Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11, s 35 (the “Constitution”)). For several years, Canadian courts and government agencies used the word Aboriginal when referring to the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit persons in Canada.
More recently, and for various reasons, there has been a grassroots movement towards the internationally established term Indigenous (see Bob Joseph, “Indigenous or Aboriginal, Which is Correct?” (5 January 2015) online: Working Effectively with Indigenous People <https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/Indigenous-or-aboriginal-which-is-correct>; Marks, Don, “What's in a name: Indian, Native, Aboriginal or Indigenous?” CBC News (2 October 2014) online: <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/what-s-in-a-name-indian-native-aboriginal-or-indigenous-1.2784518> [Marks]). In 2015, the federal government changed its governmental department name from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), and is now in the process of transitioning to Indigenous Services Canada.
There has also been a movement to more proactively understand and acknowledge the distinct and separate identities of the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples within Canada, instead of using umbrella terms to treat them as one homogeneous group.
This report seeks to provide a platform for education and discussion using respectful terminology. Given the growing consensus across Canada, this report has opted to use the term “Indigenous” when referring to the collective name for the original peoples of North America and their descendants. Where possible, this Report will use the specific name for the Indigenous groups or communities being discussed (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit). However, this report discusses the Constitution, legislation, judicial decisions, and academic pieces from differing time frames. The term Aboriginal is prevalent throughout these documents. Other terminology, and particularly the word Aboriginal, appears throughout this report.
As always, the authors welcome feedback, particularly in relation to the language used.