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Terminology and Subject Headings

It is important to note that when conducting any research project it is not always a quick process. Identifying, locating and reviewing suitable materials can often take hours. Indigenous Canadian research is no different. Due to the numerous changes in terminology used to identify and describe Indigenous peoples of Canada (First Nations, Inuit, and Métis) to name few, it can sometimes get confusing where to start.

The ongoing legal use of the word Indian by The Indian Act necessitates it's inclusion in search results, despite our awareness of any offense it may cause. This is important to keep in mind when doing research, as word choice greatly impacts catalogue and database search results.



The Canadian Federal government has put together a terminology listing, which can be used as a guide for appropriately and respectfully referring to Indigenous Peoples:

These terms are listed in Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada - ARCHIVED Terminology, now Indigenous Services Canada.

Aboriginal peoples:

The descendants of the original inhabitants of North America. The Canadian Constitution recognizes three groups of Aboriginal people — Indians, Métis and Inuit. These are three separate peoples with unique heritages, languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.

Aboriginal rights:

Rights that some Aboriginal peoples of Canada hold as a result of their ancestors' long-standing 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 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 an Aboriginal interest in the land. It is based on the long-standing use and occupancy of the land by today's Aboriginal peoples as the descendants of the original inhabitants of Canada.


A body of Indians for whose collective use and benefit lands have been set apart or money is held by the Crown, or declared to be a band for the purposes of the Indian Act. Each band has its own governing band council, usually consisting of one chief and several councillors. Community members choose the chief and councillors by election, or sometimes through custom. The members of a band generally share common values, traditions and practices rooted in their ancestral heritage. Today, many bands prefer to be known as First Nations.

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.


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.

First Nation:

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.


a term used in the context of those people who hunt, fish, trap and gather for personal use.


Indian people are one of three cultural groups, along with Inuit and Métis, recognized as Aboriginal people under section 35 of the Constitution Act. There are legal reasons for the continued use of the term "Indian." Such terminology is recognized in the Indian Act and is used by the Government of Canada when making reference to this particular group of Aboriginal people.

Status Indian:

A person who is registered as an Indian under the Indian Act. The act sets out the requirements for determining who is an Indian for the purposes of the Indian Act.

Non-Status Indian:

An Indian person who is not registered as an Indian under the Indian Act.

The Sixties Scoop:

The term Sixties Scoop came from Patrick Johnson, author of 1983 report Native Children and the Child Welfare System.  It refers to the mass removal of aboriginal children from their families into the child welfare system without the consent of their families. 

The Red Paper:

In 1970 in response to the White Paper, the Chiefs of the Indian Association of Alberta prepared a counter document titled Citizen's Plus, also known as the Red Paper which explores the dynamics of indigenous settler relations and discusses the difference in ideas on self-sufficiency and self-governance.  Most importantly the Red Paper is a symbol of resistance and an effort to keep Canada accountable to uphold their treaty obligations.

The White Paper:

In Canadian Legislature, a policy paper is called a white paper.  for many First Nation's people, the term ironically implies a reference racial politics and the white majority.  The White paper refers to the Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, a policy paper brought forward in 1969 by Pierre Elliot Trudeau and his Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chrétien that proposed end the relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian State by dismantling the Indian Act.  This was met with forceful opposition from Aboriginal leadership and started a new era of Indigenous political organizing.

Treaty Indian:

A Status Indian who belongs to a First Nation that signed a treaty with the Crown.

Indian Act:

Canadian federal legislation, first passed in 1876, and amended several times since. It sets out certain federal government obligations and regulates the management of Indian reserve lands, Indian moneys and other resources. Among its many provisions, the Indian Act currently requires the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to manage certain moneys belonging to First Nations and Indian lands and to approve or disallow First Nations by-laws.

Indian status:

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


Naskapi and Montagnais First Nations (Indian) peoples who live in Northern Quebec and Labrador.


Inuit who live in the Western Arctic.


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.

Land claims:

In 1973, the federal government recognized two broad classes of claims — comprehensive and specific. Comprehensive claims are based on the assessment that there may be 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.


People of mixed First Nation and European ancestry who identify themselves as Métis, as distinct from First Nations people, Inuit or non-Aboriginal people. The Métis have a unique culture that draws on their diverse ancestral origins, such as Scottish, French, Ojibway and Cree.

The North:

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


The territory 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.


Tract of land, the legal title to which is held by the Crown, set apart for the use and benefit of an Indian band.


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.

Tribal council:

A regional group of First Nations members that delivers common services to a group of First Nations.

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.

Subject Headings

See below for a suggest list of terms you can use to pull up results. This is not an exhaustive list, but rather an aid to start when researching.

  • Aboriginal title.
  • Anishinaabe
  • Anishinabek
  • Chipewayans
  • Cree--Claims, Government Relations, Treaties.
  • Dene
  • Indigenous land transfers
  • Indigenous Peoples -- Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Yukon,
  • Indigenous Peoples -- Canada
  • Indigenous Peoples--North America
  • Indigenous Peoples of North America--Canada--Govermnent relations--1830-1860--Sources. Indians of North America--Canada--Government relations--1860-1951.
  • Indigenous Peoples of North America--Canada--Government relations--1951- --Bibliography. Indians of North America--Canada--Government relations--Case stndies.
  • Indigenous People of North America--Canada--Government relations--Congresses. Indians of North America--Canada--Government relations--History.
  • Indigenous Peoples  of North America--Canada--Politics and government.
  • Indigenous Peoples  of North America--Canada--Politics and government--History. Indians of North America--Canada--Treaties.
  • Indigenous Peoples of North America--Civil rights--Manitoba--Winnipeg. Indians of North America--Government relations.
  • Indians of North America--Government relations--Canada--History. Indians of North America--Govermnent relations--Dictionaries.
  • Indians of North America--Government relations--History.
  • Indians of North America--Government relations--History--Sources.
  • Indians of North America--Government relations--Sources. Indians ofNorth America--James Bay Region (Ont. and Quebec) Indians of North America--Land tenure--Canada.
  • Indians of North America--Manitoba--Biography.
  • Indians of North America--Manitoba--Government relations. Indians of North America--Maritime Provinces.
  • Indians of North America--New Brunswick--Govemment relations.
  • Indians of North America--Newfoundland and Labrador--Labrador--Claims. Indians of North America--Northwest Territories--Claims.
  • Indians of North America--Northwest Territories--Government relations. Indians of North America--Ontario.
  • Indians of North America--Ontario--Claims.
  • Indians of North America--Ontario--Fort Hope (Indian reserve)--Government relations. Indians of North America--Ontario--Government relations.
  • Indians of North America--Ontario--Moose Factory--Treaties. Indians of North America--Politics and government.
  • Indians of North America--Politics and government--British Columbia. Indians of North America--Prairie Provinces--Government relations.
  • Indians of North America--Quebec (Province)--Government relations.
  • Indians of North America--Quebec (Province)--Government relations--History. Indians of North America--Quebec (Province)--New Quebec--Claims.
  • Indians of North America--Treaties.
  • Indians of North America--Treaties--British Columbia--Congresses. Indians of North America--Treaties--Canada.
  • Indians ofNorth America--Treaties--Canada-Congresses. Indians ofNorth America--Treaties--Canada--History.
  • Indians of North America--Treaties--Encyclopedias. Indians, Treatment of--Canada.
  • Indians, Treatment of--Canada--History. Indigenous peoples--Canada.
  • Indigenous peoples--Canada--Government relations Indigenous peoples--Canada--Politics and government. Inuit--Canada--Government relations.
  • Inuit--Canada--Government relations--History. Inuit--Canada--Politics and government.
  • Inuit--Government policy--Canada--History. Inuit--Canada--Land tenure.
  • Inuit--Land tenure--Quebec (Province) Inuit--Quebec (Province)--Treaties.
  • Ipperwash Incident, Ont., 1993- Iroquois Indians--Government relations. Justice, Administration of--Manitoba.
  • Metis--Claims.
  • Metis--Government relations. Metis--Land tenure.
  • Metis--Manitoba--Claims--  History.
  • Metis--Manitoba--Government relations. Metis--Manitoba--Land transfers-History Metis--Politics and government--Congresses. Micmac Indians--Government relations.
  • Mohawk Indians--Government relations. Mohawk Indians--Politics and government.
  • Mohawk Indians--Quebec (Province)--Kanesatake Indian Reserve--Claims. Mohawk Indians--Quebec (Province)--Kanesatake Indian Reserve--Government relations.
  • Montagnais Indians--Government relations. Naskapi Indians--Government relations.
  • Native peoples--Canada--Government relations.
  • Native peoples--Canada--Government relations--Bibliography. Native peoples--Canada--Government relations-Congresses.
  • Native peoples--Canada--Politics and government.
  • Native peoples--Canada--Politics and government--Bibliography. Native peoples--James Bay Region (Ont. and Quebec)
  • Native peoples--Ontario--Government relations. Native youth--Government policy--Canada.
  • Ojibwa Indians--Canada--Government relations. Ojibwa Indians--Government relations.
  • Ojibwa Indians--Land tenure--Manitoba--Portage la Prairie Region. Ojibwa Indians--Manitoba--Portage la Prairie Region--Claims.
  • Ojibwa Indians--Manitoba--Portage la Prairie Region--Government relations. Ojibwa Indians--Ontario--Sault Ste. Marie Region--Government relations.
  • Ojibwa Indians--Qu'Appelle River Valley (Sask. and Man.)--Government relations. Okanagan Indians--Government relations.
  • Tinne Indians--Canada--Government relations. Tinne Indians--Claims.
  • Tinne Indians--Land tenure.