National Aboriginal Day Will Change to National Indigenous Peoples Day Next Year: Here's Why

Totem Forest, by Emily Carr.

Totem Forest, by Emily Carr.

The word Indigenous implies more legal rights

During his remarks on June 21, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government's intention to rename National Aboriginal Day to National Indigenous Peoples Day starting in 2018. Why the change? This 2016 piece by Bob Joseph, founder of Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., and member of the Gwawaenuk Nation, offers some insight.

When the government officially adopted the term "Aboriginal" in Canada's 1982 Constitution Act, it was a big improvement upon calling Indigenous people “Indians.” This terminology was a relic of Christopher Columbus — he thought he’d landed in India in 1492, so he called the existing people on the continent "Indians." "'Native' was also formerly a common term but is considered uncivil and is rarely used in respectful conversations," adds Joseph.

Now the federal government has determined to use the word "Indigenous Peoples" — with all the legal ramifications it implies. By changing its terminology, the government “is acknowledging that First Nations, Inuit and Métis have a legal right to offer or withhold consent to development under the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” writes Joseph.

Joseph offers two tips on best vocabulary practices relating to Indigenous Peoples:

  1. Avoid using the possessive phrase "Canada's Indigenous Peoples,” as that implies ownership of Indigenous Peoples. A better approach is "Indigenous Peoples in Canada."
  2. It’s best to “go with what what they are calling themselves." At the community level, if someone uses First Nation, as in Aamjiwnaang First Nation, then use that. Some communities use band, as in Burns Lake Band, while others use nation, as in Squamish Nation. Some, in fact, use Indian, as in the Osoyoos Indian Band.

In the end, writes Joseph, "it's not about your comfort level. It's about showing respect and using the term that individuals and organizations have chosen for themselves."

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