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ARCHIVED - Aboriginal Documentary Heritage

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The Glossary is intended to clarify the use of certain historical and current terminology in Canada that refer to Aboriginal peoples. For more information, please visit Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (

Aboriginal peoples
The descendants of the original inhabitants of North America. The Canadian Constitution recognizes three groups of Aboriginal people -- Indians, Métis and Inuit. These are three separate peoples with unique heritages, languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.

A term that is now synonymous with "community," or depicts a local government entity. It is now rarely used in formal reference to a First Nation community. For the purposes of the Indian Act, it refers to a body of "Indians" declared to be a band, or for whose collective use and benefit lands have been set apart or money is held by the Crown.

First Nation
This term came into common usage in the 1970s to replace the word "Indian," which some people found offensive. Although no legal definition of the term exists, it is still widely used. Among its uses, the term First Nations refers to the Indian peoples in Canada. Some aboriginal communities have adopted the term to replace the word "band."

Historically, the term "Indian" has collectively described all Aboriginal peoples in Canada who are not Inuit or Métis. The term "Indian" is used on this website when referring to Canada's Aboriginal peoples in the context of historical Government departments, documents, policies and laws.

Indian Act
Canadian federal legislation, first passed in 1876, and amended several times since. It sets out certain federal government obligations and regulates the management of First Nations' reserve lands, moneys and other resources. It also sets out the requirements for determining who is an "Indian" for the purposes of the Indian Act.

Aboriginal people of mixed First Nation and European ancestry who identify themselves as Métis, as distinct from First Nations or Inuit people.

A group of Aboriginal people sharing a common language and culture. The term is used frequently in the United States, but only in a few areas of Canada (e.g. the Blood Tribe in Alberta).