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Use appropriate terminology to respect Indigenous peoples

This is an excerpt from Sport and Recreation in Canadian History by Carly Adams.

By Braden Te Hiwi

A Note on Terminology

Using appropriate terminology can be thought of as a process of respect, self-determination, and understanding, rather than a search for a conclusive definition of Indigenous peoples. This section provides a brief, and necessarily incomplete, starting point for using terminology that may prompt more questions than answers, which is a normal part of learning. At a global level, there are many Indigenous peoples across the world. The Aborigines of Australia, Native Americans of the United States, and the Maori of Aotearoa (New Zealand) are some well-known terms that encapsulate many nations and communities.

In Canada, the terms Aboriginal and Indigenous share a similarity in meaning in that they are broad terms that encapsulate a great diversity of many groups of people, although Indigenous is often the preferred term when used by Indigenous peoples. The term Aboriginal was developed by, and is used by, the federal government of Canada and specifically refers to the grouping of Indigenous people into three categories: the Inuit, First Nations, and Métis. The Inuit are the Indigenous group in the Arctic, whose ancestral and contemporary connections to land include the areas known today as Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and parts of Labrador, Newfoundland, and northern Quebec. First Nations, the largest Indigenous group in Canada, are made of many nations and hundreds of communities whose traditional territories span across the country (and into the United States). The Métis are another Indigenous group, including the Red River Métis, who trace their Nation’s roots to the “history, events, leaders, territories, language, and culture associated with the growth of the buffalo hunting and trading Métis of the northern Plains,” particularly during the community’s development during the 19th century.5

First Nations, Métis, and Inuit—and the many communities that compose them—have their own cultures and histories as well as their own preferences for the terminology of their own people. The many terms used to identify Indigenous peoples can be overwhelming: An important point is not to attempt to remember them all but to appreciate the importance and power of being able to name and situate your own community. Learning about the local First Nations, Inuit, or Métis communities in the area you live, their preferences for terminology, the cultural features of those communities, and if there are Indigenous treaties in the area are good ways to begin developing your understanding of Indigenous communities in Canada.6