Aboriginal Peoples

“Aboriginal Peoples” is a collective name for all of the original peoples of Canada and their descendants. Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 specifies that the Aboriginal Peoples in Canada consist of three groups – Indian (First Nations), Inuit and Métis. It should not be used to describe only one or two of the groups.

Aboriginal people – When referring to Aboriginal people with a lower case people, you are simply referring to more than one Aboriginal person rather than the collective group of Aboriginal Peoples.

Non-Aboriginal people (not peoples) – This term refers to anyone who is not an Aboriginal person. Note that the non stays lowercase.

Aboriginal nations – The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) used this term in its final report. RCAP defines Aboriginal nations as “a sizeable body of Aboriginal people with a shared sense of national identity that constitutes the predominant population in a certain territory or collection of territories.””

American Indian

American Indian is a commonly-used term in the United States to describe the descendants of the original peoples of North America (see also Native Americans). Some people are dissatisfied with this term because it retains the misnomer Indian in its name and covers peoples who consider themselves distinct from Indian Peoples, namely the Inuit, Yupik and Aleut Peoples in Alaska. The term is not popular in Canada.


A band is a community of Indians for whom lands have been set apart and for whom the Crown holds money. It is a body of Indians declared by the Governor-in-Council to be a band for the purposes of the Indian Act. Many bands today prefer to be called First Nations and have changed their names to incorporate First Nation (e.g., the Batchewana Band is now called the Batchewana First Nation).

Band Council

This is the governing body for a band. It usually consists of a chief and councillors who are elected for two or three-year terms (under the Indian Act or band custom) to carry out band business, which may include education, health, water and sewer, fire services, community buildings, schools, roads, and other community businesses and services. Unless you are naming a specific band (e.g., the Bonaparte Indian Band), the word band should remain lowercase.


Eskimo is the term once given to Inuit by European explorers and is now rarely used in Canada. It is derived from an Algonquin term meaning “raw meat eaters,” and many people find the term offensive. The term still is frequently used in the United States in reference to Inuit in Alaska.

First Nation(s)

The term First Nations came into common usage in the early 1980s to replace band or Indian, which some people found offensive (see Indian). Despite its widespread use, there is no legal definition for this term in Canada.

First Nations People – Many people prefer to be called First Nations or First Nations People instead of Indians. The term should not be used as a synonym for Aboriginal Peoples because it doesn’t include Inuit or Métis. Because the term First Nations People generally applies to both Status and Non-Status Indians, writers should take care in using this term. If they are describing a program that is only for Status Indian youth, for example, they should avoid using First Nations youth as it could cause confusion.

First Nation – Some communities have adopted First Nation to replace the term band. Many bands started to replace the word band in their name with First Nation in the 1980s. It is a matter of preference and writers should follow the choice expressed by individual First Nations/bands. The term First Nation is acceptable as both a noun and a modifier. When using the term as a modifier, the question becomes whether to use First Nation or First Nations. Note the different uses in the following examples. (plural modifier, plural noun) The number of First Nations students enrolled at Canadian universities and colleges has soared over the past 20 years. (singular modifier, plural noun) The association assists female First Nation entrepreneurs interested in starting home businesses. (plural modifier, singular noun) Containing recipes from across the country, the First Nations cookbook became an instant hit at church bazaars. (singular modifier, singular noun) Many people have said that North of 60 and The Rez were the only shows on television that depicted life in a First Nation community with any realism. There is no clear right or wrong in this area, provided that writers are consistent about the way they choose to use modifiers.

First Peoples

First Peoples is another collective term used to describe the original peoples of Canada and their descendants. It is used less frequently than terms like Aboriginal Peoples and Native Peoples. Some use lowercase peoples, but both words uppercased appear to be the dominant spelling.


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 of 1982 along with Inuit and Métis. In addition, three categories apply to Indians in Canada: Status Indians, Non-Status Indians and Treaty Indians.

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 and are entitled to certain rights and benefits under the law.

Non-Status Indians – Non-Status Indians are people who consider themselves Indians or members of a First Nation but whom the Government of Canada does not recognize as Indians under the Indian Act, either because they are unable to prove their Indian status or have lost their status rights. Non-Status Indians are not entitled to the same rights and benefits available to Status Indians.

Treaty Indians – Treaty Indians are descendants of Indians who signed treaties with Canada and who have a contemporary connection with a treaty band. The term Indian is considered outdated by many people, and there is much debate over whether to continue using this term. Use First Nation instead of Indian, except in the following cases:

  • in direct quotations
  • when citing titles of books, works of art, etc.
  • in discussions of history where necessary for clarity and accuracy
  • in discussions of some legal/constitutional matters requiring precision in terminology
  • in discussions of rights and benefits provided on the basis of Indian status or
  • in statistical information collected using these categories (e.g., the census)

The term is acceptable as both a noun and a modifier.


Indigenous means “native to the area.” In this sense, Aboriginal Peoples are indeed indigenous to North America. Its meaning is similar to Aboriginal Peoples, Native Peoples or First Peoples.

The term is rarely used, but when it is, it usually refers to Aboriginal people internationally. The term is gaining acceptance, particularly among some Aboriginal scholars to recognize the place of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada’s late-colonial era and implies land tenure. The term is also used by the United Nations in its working groups and in its Decade of the World’s Indigenous People. Indigenous/indigenous – As a proper name for a people, the term is capitalized; otherwise, it is lower case.


Innu are the Naskapi and Montagnais First Nations Peoples who live in Quebec and Labrador. They are not to be confused with Inuit or Inuk.