WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Indigenous People are descendants of the original inhabitants of the land, who have occupied North America (traditionally known as Turtle Island) for tens of thousands of years. This rich history of sophisticated civilizations based on traditional laws and cultural practices, along with complex trading and economic relationships between nations, was well-established many centuries before European explorers came to these shores.
Today, there are approximately 1.4 million Indigenous citizens in Canada, comprised of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people in communities across the country. Each community is diverse and unique with its own history, experience and language, as well as cultural protocol and spiritual traditions.
Each Indigenous group also has its own history with the Crown, often marred by racist policies implemented by the Canadian government. It is now generally accepted that Canada has not lived up to the treaties it signed and continues to deny the rights of, and social justice for, Indigenous People.
WHAT NOT TO SAY
The Canadian Constitution uses the term ‘Aboriginal Peoples’ in reference to Indigenous People of Canada, however using the term ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘Native’ in everyday speech is not appropriate.
The word ‘Aboriginal’ is defined in most dictionaries as ‘original inhabitants’ or ‘first inhabitants’. But according to some Indigenous scholars, the root meaning of the word means the opposite; the first two letters in the term – ab – is a Latin prefix that means ‘away from’ or ‘not’. And so, the term ‘Aboriginal’ can literally mean “‘not’ or ‘away from’ the original.”
The term First Nations came into use in the 1980s to replace the pejorative designation ‘Indian.’ This generally refers to those from the 634 bands across Canada and includes those with status (people who are encompassed under the treaties or the Indian Act) and those without status (not covered by the treaties). This term does not include Métis or Inuit people.
WHAT NOT TO SAY
While the title ‘Indian’ remains a legal term in the Canadian Constitution, its use outside the legal context is considered offensive.
Canada’s Métis people are descendants of First Nations women and European men. A distinct people who developed a unique culture that grew out of Canada’s fur trade tradition, the Métis played a crucial role in Canada’s history, acting as intermediaries and working as guides and interpreters to the new forts and trading companies. In Manitoba, the role is particularly significant as Métis leader Louis Riel – once considered a traitor – is now recognized as the leader of the first provisional government in Manitoba and the catalyst of Manitoba’s confederation into Canada.
In 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that tens of thousands of Métis and non-status First Nations people are now the responsibility of the federal government.
WHAT NOT TO SAY
Historically referred to as ‘mixed-bloods’ and ‘half-breeds’, these terms are now considered offensive.
Inuit people live in northern Canada, as well as in parts of Greenland, Alaska and Chukotka (Russia). Traditional Inuit land in Canada consists mostly of Nunavut but also includes the Northwest Territories, Northern Quebec, and Northern Labrador. Inuit homeland within Arctic Canada is known as Inuit Nunangat, which refers to the land, water and ice.
WHAT NOT TO SAY
Using the historic term ‘Eskimo’, which literally means ‘eater of raw meat’, is no longer considered appropriate.
TOWARD A BETTER FUTURE:
Truth commissions have been used around the world to discover and reveal past wrong-doings of governments and to provide proof of historical revisionism and human rights abuses, in the hopes of resolving conflicts of the past. Truth commissions often use restorative justice models in efforts to reconcile societies.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada was established June 1, 2008 and wrapped up in December 2015. Canada’s TRC was unique from others around the world in that its scope was primarily focused on the experiences of children, spanning more than 100 years. The TRC was led by Manitoba Justice and now Senator Murray Sinclair to gather information and hear testimony from survivors and create an accurate and public historical record of the past regarding the policies and operations of residential schools.
The TRC resulted in 94 Calls to Action [PDF], urging all levels of government, as well as institutions such as educational and community organizations, social service agencies and museums and archives, to work together to change policies and programs in an effort to repair the harm caused by residential schools and to move forward with reconciliation.
On June 11, 2008, the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government of Canada, issued an apology in the House of Commons to former students, their families and communities. The apology was considered by many as a first step toward reconciliation.
The government’s apology and the establishment of the TRC came in the wake of lawsuits (one being the largest class action in Canadian history) brought by residential school survivors against the Government of Canada. It should also be noted residential school survivors helped fund Canada’s TRC, using a portion of the monetary settlement they received from the government as ordered by the court.
Métis, non-status First Nations and Innu people of northern Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as Indigenous People who attended day school or lived in orphanages, all were not included in the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, the Government of Canada’s apology or the mandate of the TRC.
To learn more about Canada’s TRC, visit the website for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at nctr.ca
A United Nations General Assembly declaration is a document expressing political commitment on matters of global significance.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is a document that describes both individual and collective rights of Indigenous People around the world. It addresses the rights of Indigenous People on issues such as culture, identity, language, health and education and sets minimum standards. UNDRIP states the rights contained within it, “Constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the Indigenous Peoples of the world.”
The declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007. At the time, Canada was one of four nations to vote against the declaration. However, in May 2016, Canada removed its objector status and officially adopted UNDRIP.
The first principle of reconciliation from Canada’s TRC confirms UNDRIP is the framework for reconciliation for all sectors of Canadian society. The TRC’s Call to Action No. 43 calls upon “the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.”
To learn more about the declaration, visit un.org
The Winnipeg Foundation is committed to working with everybody in our community toward a shared goal of reconciliation. Like so many, we’re still discovering exactly what that means.
In 2015, The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada drafted the Philanthropic Community’s Declaration of Action. The Foundation is a signatory, and this document is helping guide our strategic direction.
By supporting projects that respond to the TRC’s Calls to Action, The Foundation is engaging in the work of reconciliation. We are tracking grants we make that support organizations and programs that increase awareness, elevate the dialogue and advance the reconciliation process. We are also consulting with the community and proactively looking for programs we can support that uphold the TRC’s Calls to Action.
These are just preliminary steps in our ongoing journey toward truth and reconciliation. We are looking forward to exploring new opportunities to support the implementation of the spirit, intent and content of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings and Calls to Action.