Some terms, such as "Aboriginal" and "Indian", were created by settlers at the beginning of European colonization across Turtle Island. These terms are used and discussed in this course for educational purposes only, regardless of any current legislative usage. We reflect the views of author Thomas King in saying that we are "not so much concerned with designing a strict vocabulary as with crafting a coherent narrative." 

However, we recognize that language is evolving, and our aim is to discontinue society's discrimination against Indigenous Peoples through language. This is why we use the term "Indigenous" in all of our narratives and only use "Indian" when it's referred to in legislation, history, and quotes. The term “Indigenous” avoids racist and incorrect associations held by settlers and — rather than perpetuate an awkward blunder by Christopher Columbus down the generations — honours the lived realities of Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island. We hope that, over time, the term “Indigenous” will be more commonly used, especially in pieces of colonial, Canadian law and policy that hold historically discriminating terms, such as the Indian Act.




Aboriginal law: Aboriginal law refers to the body of Canadian law that explores issues related to Indigenous peoples in Canada. Indigenous law refers to the legal traditions, customs and practices of Indigenous peoples and groups. Source: Schulich School of Law,


Aboriginal rights -

When discussed within Canadian Law, Aboriginal rights refer to practices, traditions and customs that distinguish the unique culture of each First Nation. Importantly, as defined within Canadian legal frameworks, these customs must have been practiced prior to European contact. The rights of certain peoples to hunt, trap and fish on ancestral lands are examples of Aboriginal rights. Aboriginal rights are protected under s.35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.   Source: Government of Canada, 

This differs from Indigenous rights, which exist outside of the Canadian legal system and apply through Indigenous governance, legal orders, and cultural practices.


Colonization/Colonialism/Colonial -

Colonization: is the action or process of subjugating another people or area by colonial policies  

Colonialism: “the practice of extending and maintaining a nation's political and economic control over another people or area”  


Federal - relating to the central government, and not to the government of a region, of some countries such as the US:  e.g. the federal government 


Law - a binding custom or practice of a community: a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority.


Lawyer - A lawyer is a person who is qualified to advise people about the law and represent them in court. Synonyms: legal adviser, attorney, solicitor, counsel.  


Indigenous - Considering the diversity of Indigenous peoples, an official definition of “Indigenous” has not been adopted by any UN-system body. Instead the system has developed a modern understanding of this term based on the following:

  • Self- identification as indigenous peoples at the individual level and accepted by the community as their member.
  • Historical continuity with pre-colonial and/or pre-settler societies
  • Strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources
  • Distinct social, economic or political systems
  • Distinct language, culture and beliefs
  • Form non-dominant groups of society
  • Resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities.


Indigenous Nation - Indigenous Peoples are distinct social and cultural groups that share collective ancestral ties to the lands and natural resources where they live, occupy or from which they have been displaced.  


Indian Status - You may encounter, particularly in legal or policy contexts, the terms: status Indian, Indian status, Status.

All refer to the government classification system in which ‘status’ confers certain agreements based on treaties with the Crown, however; historically, certain penalties were also handed down. This is a technical area with sensitivities, so you may want to consult with knowledgeable people before initiating the use of any of these terms.

Source: Queen’s University Office of Indigenous Initiatives,


Jurisdiction - the authority of a court or official organization to make decisions and judgments. (Cambridge Dictionary online)


Litigation - the process of taking a case to a court of law so that a judgment can be made.  (Cambridge Dictionary online)


Provincial - relating to an area that is governed as part of a country; e.g. provincial government. 


Reserve - A reserve is an allotment of land set aside by the Canadian federal government for Indigenous Nations. Although there is a wide diversity of how Nations moved and resided onto each reserve, the federal government generally used the reserve system to remove Indigenous Peoples from their lands to create room for settlers.


Settler - A non-Indigenous person who lives and resides on Turtle Island and uses the land. Properly defining a Settler is complex as settler colonialism is specific to communities, municipalities, provinces, and countries across Turtle Island. Settlers benefit by living here because Canadian governments unlawfully dispossessed Indigenous Peoples of their lands and inherent rights for settlement (this term does not inherently encompass refugees or folks who are Indigenous to other places in the world).

Also: A person who arrives, especially from another country, in a new place in order to live there and use the land. (Cambridge Dictionary online)


Turtle Island - Turtle Island refers to the continent of North America. The name comes from various Indigenous oral histories that tell stories of a turtle that holds the world on its back.  Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia online


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