In this section we define some of the key terms and concepts found in the Blanket Exercise. These could be researched further by older students.
This Kit is for multiple age and literacy levels, so some definitions may need to be interpreted by the educator for younger readers.
When working with definitions, especially terms for peoples, i.e. “Aboriginal peoples”, there are often many perspectives and nuanced understandings based on who is offering the definition and when it was written. Keep in mind that terms evolve over time. We recommend that students check at least three sources when investigating terms or concepts, and to look into, rather than ignore, the differences.
Aboriginal peoples refers to the original peoples of North America who belong to historic, cultural and political entities. Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes three groups of Aboriginal peoples: First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
There are a number of synonyms for Aboriginal peoples, including Indigenous peoples, First Peoples, and original peoples. None of these terms should be used to describe only one or two of the groups.
Because Aboriginal peoples is the term used in Canada’s constitution, it has specific importance within a Canadian legal context.
Assimilation is the process of absorbing one cultural group into another. This can be pursued through harsh and extreme state policies, such as removing children from their families and placing them in the homes or institutions of another culture. Forcing a people to assimilate through legislation is cultural genocide—the intent is to make a culture disappear.
British North America Act
The British North America (BNA) Act, also known as the Constitution Act, 1867 put “Indians and Lands reserved for Indians” under the control of the federal government. When this happened, Indigenous peoples in Canada lost their rights and were no longer recognized as having control over their lands.
Colonization is a process of gaining control of land and resources. It involves one group of people, the colonizers, coming into an area and dominating the people who are already living there.
Discrimination is when someone is treated negatively for because of their race, ethnicity, age, religion, sexual orientation, disability, etc. A person can be discriminated against by an individual or by a whole system. Sometimes discrimination is built into laws and policies in ways that deny fair treatment and services.
Doctrine of Discovery
In what we now call North America, Europeans made deals amongst themselves and divided up control over Indigenous peoples and Indigenous lands. Usually, whichever European nation discovered the land first took control, with the blessing of the Christian church. This practice is now called the “Doctrine of Discovery.”
Equity can be confused with equality but equality means each person gets the same treatment or the same amount of something. It involves systematically dividing something into equal parts.
Equity, on the other hand, recognizes that not everyone has the same needs. Equity is about justice and a fair process that leads to an equal outcome. It takes into account the injustices of the past and how they have placed some in positions of privilege while others face significant barriers to achieving well-being.
First Nations is not a legal term but replaces “Indian” in common usage. In 1980, hundreds of chiefs met in Ottawa and used “First Nations” for the first time in their Declaration of the First Nations. Symbolically, the term elevates First Nations to the status of “first among equals” alongside the English and French founding nations of Canada. It also reflects the sovereign nature of many communities, and the ongoing quest for self-determination and self-government. First Nations people may live on or off reserve, they may or may not have legal status under the Indian Act, and they may or may not be registered members of a community or nation. “First Nations” should be used exclusively as a general term as community members are more likely to define themselves as members of specific nations or communities within those nations. For example, a Mohawk (Kanienkehaka) person from Akwesasne who is a member of the Bear clan may choose any number of indentifiers. Others may identify themselves as members of one of the many other First Nations in Canada – Innu, Cree, Salteaux, Ojibwe, Haida, Dene, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Blood, Secwepmec, etc., each with its own history, culture, and traditions.
In 1876 all the laws dealing with Indigenous peoples in Canada were gathered together and put into the Indian Act. The Canadian government used the Indian Act to attack the identity of Indigenous peoples. It limited hunting and fishing and made spiritual ceremonies like the potlatch, pow-wow and sundance against the law. This didn’t change until the 1950s. To this day, the Indian Act controls many aspects of Indigenous peoples’ lives.
Indigenous peoples is a term for which there is no one definition because it is up to each Indigenous person to define themselves, something that for far too long has been done by others. However, Indigenous peoples all over the world have the common experience of being the original inhabitants of a territory and being oppressed by ethnic groups that arrived later. Indigenous peoples also share a set of international rights which are a minimum standard to ensure they survive and thrive.
When we speak of peoples, as opposed to people, it is a recognition of collective rights; that each Indigenous people is a distinct entity with its own cultural and political rights.
Intergenerational trauma means that when an individual or a group of people experience violence, abuse or some other form of trauma, the negative impacts of these experiences are felt by their children and grandchildren. The trauma inherited by future generations can show itself in many ways including destructive behaviour and health problems.
When you live in a place that has been colonized, whether you are the original people or a settler who has come from away, you gradually absorb the colonizers ways of acting and thinking. This is the process of internal colonization. That is why we talk about needing to “decolonize ourselves” so that we can change our behaviour.
Inuit are the Indigenous Circumpolar people in Canada and other northern countries. The Inuit in Canada are known collectively as Inuit Nunangat which includes land, water and ice. The Inuit consider the land, water and ice of their homeland to be integral to their culture and way of life. They were formerly called Eskimo, which the Inuit consider a derogatory term.
There are four Inuit regions in Canada: Nunavut, Inuvialuit (Northwest Territories), Nunavik (northern Quebec) and Nunatsiavut (Labrador). Many Inuit also live in southern Canadian cities.
Métis are the mixed-blood descendants of Cree, Ojibwe, Saulteaux and Assiniboine women and French and Scottish fur traders and other early settlers. They have their own culture and history. As is the case with many Aboriginal languages, the Métis language, Michif, is endangered. Métis society and culture were established before European settlement was entrenched.
This term is sometimes used more generally for someone who is of mixed ancestry, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous peoples’ rights have been recognized at the international level in various ways but most importantly in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007. Because it considers “reconciliation” to be an “ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships,” the Truth and Reconciliation Commission believes that the UN Declaration is “the appropriate framework for reconciliation.” Indigenous peoples continue to have to fight to have even their basic human rights respected.
Terra Nullius is latin for “lands belonging to no one”. This idea meant European countries could send out explorers and when they found land, they could claim it for their nation. These were lands being used by Indigenous peoples. After a while, terra nullius also came to mean land not being used by “civilized” people and land not being put to “civilized” use.
The 60’s Scoop
From the 1960s to the 1980s, thousands of First Nations and Métis children were forced illegally from their homes and adopted or fostered, usually by non-Indigenous people. This period is known as the 60s scoop. Many of these kids experienced violence, racism and abuse and lost connection to their identity and culture. Like residential schools, the purpose of the 60’s scoop was assimilation.
Treaties are internationally binding agreements between sovereign nations. Hundreds of treaties of peace and friendship were concluded between the European settlers and First Nations during the period prior to confederation.
These treaties promoted peaceful coexistence and the sharing of resources. After Confederation, the European settlers pursued treaty making as a tool to acquire vast tracts of land. The numbered treaties 1 through 11 were concluded between First Nations and the Crown, after Confederation.
For Indigenous peoples, treaties outline the rights and responsibilities of all parties to the agreement. In the traditions of Indigenous treaty making, these are oral agreements. In addition, they are “vital, living instruments of relationship” (RCAP) that involve all Canadians.
||This Edu-Kit was produced in partnership between KAIROS and the Community Learning Centre Initiative of LEARN in Quebec, with visioning and on-going advisory provided by many Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators, community leaders and Elders.|