Aboriginal Peoples Terminology

The following terminology is intended to provide a general understanding of some terms generally used by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). The list focuses on some of the important aspects of the relationship between INAC and the people it serves — First Nations, Inuit and Northerners.

Aboriginal peoples:
This is a collective name for all of the original peoples of Canada and their descendants. TheConstitution Act of 1982 specifies that the Aboriginal Peoples in Canada consist of three groups – Indians, Inuit and Métis.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples have unique heritages, languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs. The term Aboriginal peoples should not be used to describe only one or two of the groups.

Aboriginal rights:
Rights that some Aboriginal peoples of Canada hold as a result of their ancestors’ longstanding use and occupancy of the land. The rights of certain Aboriginal peoples to hunt, trap and fish on ancestral lands are examples of Aboriginal rights. Aboriginal rights will vary from group to group depending on the customs, practices and traditions that have formed part of their distinctive cultures.

Aboriginal self-government
Governments designed, established and administered by Aboriginal peoples under the Canadian Constitution through a process of negotiation with Canada and, where applicable, the provincial government.

Aboriginal title:
A legal term that recognizes Aboriginal interest in the land. It is based on Aboriginal peoples’ longstanding use and occupancy of the land as descendants of the original inhabitants of Canada.

A band is an organizational structure defined in the Indian Act which represents a particular group of Indians as defined under the Indian Act.

Band council:
This is the governing body for a band. It usually consists of a chief and councillors who are elected (under the Indian Act or band custom) for two or three-year terms to carry out band business, which may include education, water and sewer, fire services, community buildings, schools, roads, and other community businesses and services.

Bill C-31
The pre-legislation name of the 1985 Act to Amend the Indian Act. This act eliminated certain discriminatory provisions of the Indian Act, including the section that resulted in Indian women losing their Indian status when they married non-Status men. Bill C-31 enabled people affected by the discriminatory provisions of the old Indian Act to apply to have their Indian status and membership restored.

Comprehensive claim
Comprehensive claims are based on unextinguished aboriginal title. They arise where Aboriginal title has not been dealt with by treaty and other legal means. Comprehensive land claims negotiations address concerns raised by Aboriginal people, governments and third parties about who has the legal right to own or use the lands and resources in areas under claim. They include such things as land title, fishing and trapping rights and financial compensation.

A traditional Aboriginal practice. For example, First Nations peoples sometimes marry or adopt children according to custom, rather than under Canadian family law. Band councils chosen “by custom are elected or selected by traditional means, rather than by the election rules contained in the Indian Act.

A term used to describe the cessation or surrender of aboriginal rights to lands and resources in exchange for rights granted in a treaty.

Fiduciary duty:
The legal obligation of one party to act in the best interests of another. Canada has a fiduciary obligation with respect to Indians and lands reserved for Indians under Section 91(24) of theConstitution Act of 1867.

First Nation(s):
A term that came into common usage in the 1970s to replace the word “Indian, which some people found offensive. Although the term First Nation is widely used, no legal definition of it exists. Among its uses, the term “First Nations peoples refers to the Indian peoples in Canada, both Status and non-Status. Some Indian peoples have also adopted the term “First Nation to replace the word “band in the name of their community.

The term Indian collectively describes all the Indigenous People in Canada who are not Inuit or Métis. Indian Peoples are one of three peoples recognized as Aboriginal in the Constitution Act, 1982 along with Inuit and Métis. 
Three categories apply to Indians in Canada: Status Indians, Non-Status Indians and Treaty Indians.

Indian Act:
This is the Canadian federal legislation, first passed in 1876, which sets out certain federal government obligations, and regulates the management of Indian reserve lands. The act has been amended several times, most recently in 1985.

Section 35
Section of the Constitution Act, 1982 that states that aboriginal rights and treaty rights are recognized and affirmed and makes it clear that treaty rights include rights that now exist by way of land claim agreements or that may be so acquired. As a result of this constitutional protection, government has an obligation not to infringe upon aboriginal and treaty rights without justification.

Section 91(24)
Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, allocates jurisdiction to the Parliament of Canada to enact laws regarding “Indians and lands reserved for Indians.

Indian status:
An individual’s legal status as an Indian, as defined by the Indian Act.

There is no official definition on Indigenous peoples. In part, indigenous is described as follows: “Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them… 
Its meaning is similar to Aboriginal Peoples, Native Peoples or First Peoples. It is often used to refer to Aboriginal people internationally.

Inherent right:
The authority given to Aboriginal people by the Creator for self-determination, including the right to govern themselves. 

An Aboriginal people in Northern Canada, who live in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Northern Quebec and Northern Labrador. The word means “people in the Inuit language — Inuktitut. The singular of Inuit is Inuk.

 Inuit who live in the western Arctic.

Land claims:
In 1973, the federal government recognized two broad classes of claims – comprehensive and specific.Comprehensive claims are based on the recognition that there are continuing Aboriginal rights to lands and natural resources. These kinds of claims come up in those parts of Canada where Aboriginal title has not previously been dealt with by treaty and other legal means. The claims are called “comprehensive because of their wide scope. They include such things as land title, fishing and trapping rights and financial compensation. Specific claims deal with specific grievances that First Nations may have regarding the fulfilment of treaties. Specific claims also cover grievances relating to the administration of First Nations lands and assets under the Indian Act.

Native is a word similar in meaning to Aboriginal. Native peoples is a collective term to describe the descendants of the original peoples of North America. It is increasingly seen as outdated.

Native American: 
This commonly used term in the United States describes the descendants of the original peoples of North America.

Non-Status Indians:
Non-Status Indians are people who consider themselves Indians or members of a First Nation but are not entitled to be registered under the Indian Act. This may be because their ancestors were never registered or because they lost their status under former provisions of the Indian Act. Non-Status Indians are not entitled to the same rights and benefits available to Status Indians.

the North:
Land in Canada located north of the 60th parallel. INAC's responsibilities for land and resources in the Canadian North relate only to Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

 The territory that was created in the Canadian North on April 1, 1999 when the former Northwest Territories was divided in two. Nunavut means “our land in Inuktitut. Inuit, whose ancestors inhabited these lands for thousands of years, make up 85 percent of the population of Nunavut. The territory has its own public government.

A term used to describe people, services or objects that are not part of a reserve, but relate to First Nations.

Oral History
Evidence taken from the spoken words of people who have knowledge of past events and traditions. This oral history is often recorded on tape and then put in writing. It is used in history books and to document claims.

The Indian Act describes a reserve as lands which have been set apart for the use and benefit of a Band, and for which the legal title rests with the Crown in right of Canada. The federal government has primary jurisdiction over these lands and the people living on them.

The internal regulation of a First Nation by its own people.

Specific claims:
Specific claims arise from the breach or non-fulfilment of government obligations found in treaties, agreements or statutes.

Status Indians: 
Status Indians are people who are entitled to have their names included on the Indian Register, an official list maintained by the federal government. Certain criteria determine who can be registered as a Status Indian. Only Status Indians are recognized as Indians under the Indian Act, which defines an Indian as “a person who, pursuant to this Act, is registered as an Indian or is entitled to be registered as an Indian. Status Indians are entitled to certain rights and benefits under the law.

A formal agreement by which a band consents to give up part or all of its rights and interests in a reserve. Reserve lands can be surrendered for sale or for lease, on certain conditions.

A negotiated agreement between a First Nation and the federal and provincial governments that spells out the rights of the First Nation with respect to lands and resources over a specified area. It may also define the self-government authority of a First Nation.

The Government of Canada and the courts understand treaties between the Crown and Aboriginal people to be solemn agreements that set out promises, obligations and benefits for both parties.

Treaty Indian:
Treaty Indians belong to a First Nations whose ancestors signed a treaty with the Crown and as a result are entitled to treaty benefits.

Treaty right: 
Treaty Rights are special rights to lands and entitlements that Indian people legally have as a result of treaties. Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes and affirms, the “existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal people of Canada.

Tribal Council:
A tribal council is a group made up of several bands and represents the interests of those bands. A

tribal council may administer funds or deliver common services to those bands. Membership in a tribal council tends to be organized around geographic, political, treaty, cultural, and/or linguistic lines.

A tribe is a group of Native Americans sharing a common language and culture. The term is used frequently in the Unites States, but only in a few areas of Canada.

*These terms are listed in Words First: An Evolving Terminology Relating to Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, compiled by the Department’s Communications Resources Directorate.

This general information is provided as a brief overview only. The provisions of the Indian Act, its regulations, other federal statutes and their interpretation by the courts take precedence over the content of this information sheet.

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