Chapter 4: Indigenous Peoples, Communities, and Cultural Safety

4.1 Getting it Right: Terms to Know

How much do you know about the First Peoples of Canada? How much do you know about the First Nations communities in the territory upon which you reside? Do you know whose ancestral territory you live on? Is it the same or different than the place where you work? Go to school? What is the history of these communities? As a work-integrated learning student, you should take the opportunity to answer these questions and engage in personal learning if you don’t know.

You may get the opportunity to work with First Peoples as co-workers, clients, educators, parents, friends, and community members. You may yourself identify as an Indigenous person. As a Canadian student, you are participating in an education developed by Canadian colonial settlers. In our collective quest to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to Action, which you will learn more about later in this chapter, this chapter is meant to help you engage in a process of decolonization and reconciliation through engaging with Indigenous knowledge, history, and contemporary lived experience.

Getting it Right: Terms to Know

You may have heard the First Peoples of Canada referred to using fifferent names, both individually and collectively. The best thing you can do when you are talking to a person is to ask how they self-identify or which community they are connected with. Pay attention to social cues that might signify that a person is uncomfortable with sharing and allow their comfort level to guide the conversation. They may identify as having a clan, band, or nation, in addition to their family. Whenever possible, use the term that the person uses to describe themselves.

When you are referring to different groups collectively, here are a few terms you should know:

    • Indigenous: This term is used around the world to describe people with historical ties to territories prior to invasion or colonization that have been deeply impacted by the dominant society (United Nations, 2004). In Canada, Indigenous is used as a collective term for a variety of different groups, including First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people.
    • Métis: This term refers to Indigenous peoples whose heritage includes First Nations and European settlers, particularly French, who share a distinct cultural identity.
    • Inuit: This term refers to Indigenous peoples who inhabit the North and Arctic. An individual who is Inuit is referred to as Inuk.
    • First Nation: This term is used to describe Aboriginal peoples of Canada who are ethnically neither Métis or Inuit. This term came into common usage in the 1970s and 80s and generally replaced the term “Indian,” the term “First Nation” does not have a legal definition. While First Nations refers to the ethnicity of First Nations peoples, the singular First Nation can refer to a band, a reserve-based community, or a larger tribal grouping and the status Indians who live in them. For example, the Stó:lō Nation (which consists of several bands), or the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (formerly Burrard Band) (Indigenous Foundations, 2009).

Words matter. The terms above aren’t the only terms you may hear, but these are terms that you should start with. Other terms may be offensive, outdated, or simply inappropriate. For example, avoid using the word Indian. Many people find this term offensive because of the derogatory ways that it is used to discriminate and stereotype First Peoples of the land.  Although this word still has a significant legal connotation in Canada because of the Indian Act, it is not the most appropriate choice.

At the same time, some Indigenous people and groups prefer the term Aboriginal. This term has an important political and legal history in Canada. It is the collective term used to describe First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people as a group in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution (Hanson, 2009). After many years of advocacy by Indigenous women, in 1985 the Indian Act was amended so that Status Indian women maintained their Status if they married Non-Status men and were eligible to apply for lost status. Since that time, Aboriginal has been in common use in public institutions and government. Your school might have an Aborigianl Studies program or an Aboriginal Liaison, for example. More recently, Indigenous has become the more common term internationally, as it was the term adopted in the United Nations 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In Canada, we also use the term Indigenous as a collective term for a variety of different groups of First Peoples. One reason for this is that Indigenous comes from the Latin term, indigenia, which means “sprung from the land; native” (Wilson, 2018, n.p.). This term is replacing the previously used term, Aboriginal. One reason for this is that the prefix “ab” means “away from” or “not” therefore aboriginal means “not original” (Wilson, 2018, n.p.). Indigenous is the best term to use if you are referring to groups of Indigenous peoples outside a Canadian context.

Again, specific is always better, so avoid general terms whenever you can use a specific one. Here is a brief introduction by Inuk journalist Ossie Michelin to the terms Indigenous, First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and Aboriginal and when to use them: How to talk about Indigenous people.

Michelin shares these simple rules in the video:

  1. Be as specific as possible. If you are referring to one person or community, then name it. Don’t generalize using terms like Indigenous if you can be more specific.
  2. If you are referring to more than one community, use broader terms like First Nations, Inuit, or Métis.
  3. If there are different groups together, then say Indigenous.
  4. If you don’t know, ask. (Michelin, 2017).

H5P: Indigenous Terms Matching

First Nations Terms: Read the following statements and using the knowledge from Michelin’s video, choose the most appropriate term to refer to the person or community in the sentences below:

  1. Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada announces new funding for the Arctic communities of Nunavut.
  2. Noreen Vance, a Tahltan woman from Telegraph Creek, describes her process of preparing moose meat to a CBC reporter.
  3. The College of New Caledonia responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action by creating a learning circle that is open to Metis, Inuit, and First Nations peoples.
  4. Doreen Logan was elected as the chief of the Lheidli T’enneh in April 2021, the first woman to hold the position since 1969.
  5. The BC court of Appeal recently ruled in favour of the fishing rights of five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations.

Terms: Metis, Inuit, Nuu-chah-nulth, First Nations, Indigenous, Tahltan, Ahousaht, Lheidli T’enneh

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Getting Ready for Work-Integrated Learning Copyright © 2022 by Deb Nielsen; Emily Ballantyne; Faatimah Murad; and Melissa Fournier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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