Gabriel Dumont Institue


Terminology in Transition: What does Indigenous mean?

By Karon Shmon

Dec 2, 2020

Posted in: ,


I hope the usage of the term “Métis and Indigenous,” seen at times as “Indigenous and Métis” or “Indigenous/Métis,” will cease being used because it is creating and reinforcing a misconception about to whom this refers. Métis are Indigenous! The Métis are recognized in Canada’s Constitution as being Indigenous, along with the Inuit and the First Nations Peoples. This recognition was achieved after a long, hard, legal battle, lead by Harry Daniels, which resulted in the change to the Constitution in 1982. Adding us on with “and” or the backslash is like saying “humans and women.” What comes after “and” is already part of what comes before it.

We are running into this problem frequently as most people think that, for Canada, “Indigenous” means only First Nations and then leave the Inuit and Métis out of their thinking and mindset. Less frequently, they think it means First Nations and Inuit. Outside the environments where this is well known, primarily in government and education, people assume Indigenous does not include Métis. I even surmise that a survey of the public would prove this. Now, using Indigenous alone does not work as it reinforces a mistake by omission, not telling to whom this refers. Using “and” or worse, the “/” backslash, also reinforces a mistake, this time by signaling that we are outside the term. The way to solve this problem is not to reinforce it by adding on either the Inuit or Métis, but to use a comma the first time the term is used and say “Indigenous, the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit of Canada,” and keep going. After that, people reading the rest of the copy will have that in mind. Using a footnote may also work but is at risk of being ignored, and a footnote does not suit all types of writing.

Further to this, I am of the opinion that Indigenous is not a good term because it takes us back to the time when a global, or pan, the terminology was acceptable, such as “Native” or “Aboriginal.” I even see these terms as a lazy copout to think no further. There are very specific times when global terms are appropriately used. A rule of thumb is to use as specific terminology as possible. For example, if one was to speak specifically about the Nations under Treaty 6, they should be named but the people living on what is considered Treaty 6 Territory includes us Métis because this is “the traditional homeland of the Métis.” At present, this territory also includes the Dakota, specifically those First Nations displaced to Saskatchewan, such as Whitecap, Wahpeton, Standing Buffalo, and Wood Mountain First Nation (Lakota). All these nations were here early and certainly have a right to say they are Indigenous Peoples of this land. Some do not pre‐date the Métis presence. This is why saying we are on “Treaty 6 Territory” only acknowledges those groups that took Treaty under Treaty 6, so it is not inclusive of the other Indigenous peoples who also are from/live here and did not take Treaty.

For any group or organization that has education as its mandate, this is an essential function as this is where people look to have the terminology validated and verified. We cannot stop the wave of people using “Indigenous” which is the same inclusive and ambiguous term as “Aboriginal” in that only well‐informed people understand to whom these terms refer. Since we are in transition with the terminology, and because we frequently find people who do not know to whom “Indigenous” refers, further specifying and educating one another through adding a paraphrase is required until this no longer occurs. We will know we have arrived when people start saying, “Yah, yah. We know Indigenous includes First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.” That will be a happy situation.

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Gabriel Dumont Institue

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