Indigenous Initiatives: Project 57

The eagle flies the highest in the sky, and in a coast salish story people would seek guidance from the eagle to gain knowledge of faraway places. This representational eagle wing relief was created to bring the knowledge to students as they seek guidance in their studies. -- Marissa Nahanee


Decolonization requires all of us to engage in learning and unlearning. The Decolonizing the Library Working Group (DLWG) invites everyone to learning alongside us with Project 57.  This project is a response to the TRC Call to Action 57, which calls on "federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples." Over the next 57 weeks the DLWG will share information about a topic related to Indigenous Peoples, communities, and culture. We’ll cover terminology, identity, SFU’s local Nations, and cultural events such as the powwow. Some weeks will cover the impacts of colonization and colonial policy, such as the Indian Act for example.  

Many thanks to MLIS Co-op student Caprice Pybus for their support in this project.

If there’s a topic you’re interested about, please email us at

TRC Call to Action 57
We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism. 

Project 57

Week 20: Pow wow / powwow

Do you know what a pow wow is? This term is often misused to describe a meeting or gathering, but that is an example appropriation. A pow wow is a First Nations ceremony and celebration, where people from many different Nations come together to dance, sing, and drum. 

There are two types of powwow, private celebrations held within a Nation or community, and public ones that are open to non-Indigenous people. The Indian Act, a federal government law, banned the pow wow and other First Nations ceremonies between 1884 and 1951. Bee Millar writes for Indigenous Goddess, and states that the restrictions of The Indian Act, banning First Nations from practicing their culture, “had lasting effects on [their] people” still seen in “generations today”. Even though an “amendment to the Indian Act” was made in 1951 allowing First Nations communities to hold Pow Wows and practice their culture and traditional ceremonies... it came too late”. Millar explains that the fear of practicing their culture for fear of punishment still affects Indigenous people today, some are even too “ashamed to participate and attend Pow Wows” and “because of this, numerous ceremonies and traditions and been lost and/or altered” (Millar, 2020). 
Today, at a public Powwow, “everyone is welcome to attend” and to “make new connections” and “to celebrate a way of life” expressed “through numerous dance styles, hearing the different songs and rums, engaging with Elders, meeting new friends and extended family, and acknowledging the lands of the region” (First Nations University of Canada Spring Celebration Powwow). Singing, dancing, and drumming are a major aspect of the Powwow, as “some songs are passed down generationally” (FNU of Canada). Often there are tradeshow style vendors for crafts, arts, and food such as bannock. And like the Canada Spring Celebration Powwow in Regina, SK illustrates in their program, there may be prizes awarded for best singing and dancing. 

Week 19: Potlatch

A Potlatch is a ceremony practiced First Nations living along the Northwest Coast and each have may have many unique functions and meanings. Often seen as a gift-giving exchange or celebration by outsiders, the potlatch has many culturally specific functions. William Lindsay who is from the Cree-Stoney Nations and is a retired educator from SFU, explains that “economic, political, social and cultural functions are fulfilled in the potlatch. Economically, the family who gave away surplus goods would be taken care of in the future during a downtime in their life” (The Potlatch, Paula Choudhury). Lindsay continues, stating that “most people don’t realize ... that economic, political, social, and cultural functions are fulfilled in the potlatch” (The Potlatch, Paula Choudhury). While practices may differ between communities, a Potlatch commemorates certain life events such as “a marriage, birth, memorial and other such memorable happenings” (The Potlatch, Paula Choudhury). Overall, the potlatch can be understood as a way for Indigenous communities to establish social understanding, cultural practices, and economic and political relationships through the recognition of life events but also the interconnectedness of the people.  

In 1884, the Canadian Government, seeing the potlatch as a threat, “as anti-Christian, reckless and wasteful of personal property” banned the ceremony in “an amendment to the Indian Act” (The Canadian Encyclopedia). The government’s ban on potlatch was an attempt to assimilate First Nations into a  and Christian way of life, completely failing to recognize the significance of the potlatch to the community. Truly failing to appreciate Indigenous ways of life and knowledge and instead seeking to control and erase.  

The potlatch ban was repealed in 1951, and while not entirely lost, the ceremony, “traditional Indigenous identities” and “social relations” have been “disrupted” and “damaged” (The Canadian Encyclopedia). Today, potlatch continues and is reinvigorated by access to traditional regalia, masks, and belongings which are often loaned out to First Nations community members for ceremonies, such as through the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC.  

To learn more about Potlatch, check out the following resources

Week 18: Appropriation or appreciation? What's the difference?

Cultural appropriation is the exploitation of a people’s culture. When a people’s traditional dress, music, cuisine, knowledge and other aspects of their culture” is used “without their approval by members of a different culture” it is cultural appropriation (Canadian Encyclopedia, cultural appropriation of Indigenous peoples in Canada). Indigenous people's culture, beginning with colonization, has been egregiously appropriated by other cultures and it continues today. It is a form of continued oppression and erasure, where non-Indigenous groups profit and benefit from the theft with complete disregard and a lack of respect for the people, the culture, and the oftentimes sacred knowledge. 

If a culture, a people, a community, anyone, seems lovely enough that we want it for ourselves, wonderful enough to steal from, we should instead take action to appreciate them, not to appropriate. We should appreciate the value of each person and their respective culture(s) and knowledge(s).  

Cultural appreciation is about “building relationships of respect and reciprocity where consent and active participation of Indigenous peoples can occur” (Skoden, Cultural Appropriation & Cultural Appreciation). It means “moving beyond stereotypes and towards an engagement with knowledge(s)” and making “the time and effort to do so” (Skoden, Cultural Appropriation & Cultural Appreciation).  

Cultural appreciation ensures that the originating culture maintains autonomy and self-determination over their traditional dress, music, cuisine, knowledge and other various aspects of their culture. Appreciation means respecting the peoples, the cultures, the traditions that are not “ours” and enjoying them as they are, while being sensitive to unspoken or unknown values, knowledge, and belief systems. It means taking the time and making the effort to recognize what we appreciate about other cultures in ways that are respectful and mutually enriching.  

For more resources on cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation please check out the following resources:  

Week 17: The Indian Act

Passed in 1876, the Indian Act combined previous pieces of legislation on “Indians” in Canada; it does not include the Métis or Inuit. This document “regulates Indians and reserves and sets out certain federal government powers and responsibilities towards First Nations and their reserved lands” (Joseph, 2018, p. 111). The Act has been referred to one of the most racist and paternalistic documents, and instigated gender-based discrimination against First Nations women. It has been modified over other years and is still current Canadian legislation. Bob Joseph’s (Kwakwaka’wakw) blog post 21 things you may not know about the Indian Act gives readers insight into how this Act, and the Indian Agents who enforced it, controlled every aspect of First Nation communities.  

For more on the Indian Act see Indigenous Foundations, The Indian Act, or the Canadian Encyclopedia, Indian Act. CBC’s podcast The Secret Life of Canada did an episode on the Indian Act in season two, or watch this interview with Bob Joseph talking about his book and blog post.

Week 16: Why do we call North America “Turtle Island”?

Using the phrase “Turtle Island” when referring to North America comes from Creation or Origin Stories of several Nations (Manitowabi, 2018), and it is also used by Indigenous rights activists” (The Canadian Encyclopedia). “Turtle Island” is part of a “larger creation story where the turtle supports life” as the earth and embodies the world, it symbolizes life and “relates to spiritual beliefs about creation” (Manitowabi, 2018). The image of the “turtle supporting all life” is an “emblem of respect for the environment” and a “symbol of autonomy” (The Canadian Encyclopedia). 

The creation story of Turtle Island is an origin story and varies among Indigenous communities, however each emphasizes the turtle as the symbol of life and earth (The Canadian Encyclopedia). Deadly Story explains that the story begins at a time “when the planet was covered in water”, “different animals all tried to swim to the bottom of the ocean to bring back dirt to create land, but they all failed”. The last animal left was the “muskrat” who “swam deep and remained under water for a long time” but finally “resurfaced with some wet soil on its paws”. Even though the muskrat lost its life after this effort, “Nanabush (a supernatural being who has the power to create life) took the soil and placed it on the back of turtle”. This action led to the formation of land and earned the name Turtle Island (Deadly Story).  

To learn more about Turtle Island please check out these resources:  

Week 15: Story of the Two Sisters (now sometimes known as the two lions) 

“According to the legend, Vancouver’s twin peaks, now commonly known as ‘The Lions’ were originally named Ch’ich’iyúy Elxwíkn’ (the Twin Sisters) long ago by a very powerful man known as the Great Tyee of the Caplianos” (Space Make Place). The Great Tyee of the Capilanos “ruled over the Capilano Canyon area” and was a “formidable warrior leader” having won many of his battles against other tribes.  

The story continues with his two daughters, who, upon celebrating their womanhood, were granted a wish by their father, anything they wanted they would get. The girls took this moment to ask for an end to the wars their father currently waged and for invitations of peace to be sent to welcome “all local tribes to a fabulous feast and joyous celebration” (Space Make Place). After the celebration was over, the wars ended, “and a lasting brotherhood was sealed between the warring tribes” (Space Make Place). Since “The daughters brought long-lasting peace to the area and the Great Tyee made them immortal by setting their memory forever in a high place in the mountains to watch over the Pacific Coast and the Capilano Canyon” (Space Make Place).  

If you are interested in learning more about the Two Sisters, please check out these resources:  

Week 14: scəẃaθən (Tsawwassen First Nation) 

scəẃaθən can be translated as “people facing the sea” (Declaration of Tsawwassen Identity & Nationhood) and their territory includes land in Delta, Richmond, Surrey, Langley, and the Gulf Islands, and the Nation has used the “watersheds that feed into Pitt Lake, down the Pitt River to the city of Pitt Meadows, where they empty into the Fraser River” since time immemorial (Our Nation, Tsawwassen First Nation). scəẃaθən village sites have been carbon dated to 2260 BCE (Tsawwassen First Nation Fact Book).  

Living along the coast and riverbanks, scəẃaθən have relied on local fisheries for their resources, such as salmon, sturgeon, crab, and eulachon. Like their neighbours, the Nation’s language is hǝn̓q̓ǝmin̓ǝm̓, the downriver dialect of Halq’eméylem. 

In 2009 scəẃaθən signed the first modern treaty in B.C. after 14 years of negotiations. The Nation also became a member of the Metro Vancouver regional district. The Nation has partnered with Kwantlen Polytechnic University on the Tsawwassen First Nation Farm School.  

To learn more about Tsawwassen First Nation, check out these resources: 

Week 13: Semiahmoo First Nation

Prior to colonization, Semiahmoo “way of life was oriented to the sea” and today the Nation’s territory crossed the colonially created Canada-USA border (Semiahmoo First Nation). Closely connected to Lummi and Nooksack, Semiahmoo speak North Straits Salish and have traditional territory into Washington State as well as British Columbia (Semiahmoo First Nation). In 1846, with the signing of the Oregon Treaty, Semiahmoo became a trans-boundary nation (Semiahmoo First Nation). Members of the Nation were “forced to choose one membership between the Semiahmoo in Canada, and the Nooksack and Lummi in the United States (Semiahmoo First Nation). Semiahmoo Nation is historically not included on USA maps, not being a signatory of the Point Elliot Treaty (Semiahmoo First Nation). 

To learn more about Semiahmoo First Nation, check out these resources: 

Week 12: q̓wa:ńƛəń (Kwantlen First Nation) 

Kwantlen Traditional Territory include Richmond, New Westminster, Surrey, Langley, Mission, and the northernmost edge of Stave Lake (“Our lands”, Kwantlen First Nation).  q̓wa:ńƛəń translates to “tireless runner” and this is embodied in the Nations tireless work within their community (“Our culture and legacy”, Kwantlen First Nation). q̓wa:ńƛəń speaks hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, a dialect of the Halq’eméylem langauge group (hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ and Indigenous Languages at KPU). 

Following the seven traditional laws of their ancestors (health, happiness, generations, generosity, humbleness, forgiveness, and understanding (“Our culture and legacy”, Kwantlen First Nation)), q̓wa:ńƛəń is “committed to environmental sustainability that preserves our natural resources for generations to come (“Our lands”, Kwantlen First Nation). As Les Antone shares, fishing has long been an important part of q̓wa:ńƛəń life and culture (First Nations of the Fraser: Kwantlen First Nation). Fish would be shared with all members of the community, making sure everyone was taken care of, and used in trade with other First Nations (First Nations of the Fraser: Kwantlen First Nation). In this way, fishing showed the wealth of the community (First Nations of the Fraser: Kwantlen First Nation)With the rise of commercial fishing, there’s been negative impacts on fish populations and the health of the river (First Nations of the Fraser: Kwantlen First Nation). 

To learn more about q̓wa:ńƛəń, check out these resources: 

Week 11: qiqéyt (Qayqayt First Nation)

Located in New Westminster, qiqéyt is the one of the smallest First Nations and currently without a land base. Chief Rhonda Larabee has been working on a land claim, noting in the 2003 NFB film that a land base is a legacy for the children and grandchildren of qiqéyt members.  

Formerly known as the New Westminster Indian Band, the community was removed from its land in 1916 during the McKenna-McBride Commission (About the Qayqayt First Nation), and the land subsequently was sold (Tribe of One, NFB). Upon the closure of the reserve in 1916 members were told to move, and the New Westminster Indian Band was dissolved. qiqéyt was reinstated after Rhonda Larabee received her status in 1994.  

To continue learning about qiqéyt, check out these resources: 

Week 10: q̓ic̓əy̓ (Katzie First Nation)

Located on the present-day municipalities of Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, Surrey, Langley, and Delta, q̓ic̓əy̓ territory centre is sq̓ə́yc̓əyaʔɬ x̌acaʔ, known as Pitt Lake in English. The name, q̓ic̓əy̓, means “land of the moss” in their traditional language hənq̓əmínəm̓. On their website, q̓ic̓əy̓ share that Swaneset’s sky wife directed them to gather moss for a village site foundation and from here she released eulachon into the Fraser River (Who we are). Θéləctən is the Ancestor for q̓ic̓əy̓, having been placed in the territory by Swaneset. 

Swaneset is referred to as the powerful benefactor who shaped q̓ic̓əy̓ territory into a reciprocal state where the lands, waters and people take care of each other (from Who we are).  The responsibility to care for the land that cares for them continues today, such as this example of the Nation’s restoration work on the Upper Pitt River’s Blue Creek Habitat. This project’s goal is to “build a healthier sustainable ecosystem for communities, specifically Chinook salmon.” 

To continue learning about Katzie First Nation, try these resources 

Week 9: Kwikwetlem First Nation

Kwikwetlem First Nation’s name translates to “red fish up the river,” referencing the sockeye salmon runs that flourished before the construction of the Coquitlam Dam (from Our People). Kwikwetlam Elders talk about the there being so many salmon in the river that it was difficult to navigate the waterway in their canoes. As shared on their website, “our name reflects the strong connection our people have always had to our lands, and the river and lake at the heart of our traditional territory.”  

Their territory is the Coquitlam Lake Watershed, where Kwikwetlem community members have lived for thousands of years. The land carries their history through place names and archaeological sites, and this history has been shared through oral traditions and family knowledge (from Our History). The whole of the territory was used, as people moved with the seasons and when resources were available, forming permanent and seasonal villages, maintaining ceremonial places, and resource sites (from Our History).  

Like neighbouring communities, Kwikwetlem traditionally spoke hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ and it was regularly spoken by families until the 1940s (from Our Culture and Language). Today Kwikwetlem is engaged with language revitalization.  

To learn more about Kwikwetlem, take a look at these resources 

Week 8: səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) 

səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ is one of the many Nations referred to as Coast Salish, and they speak the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language. Their name means “People of the Inlet,” which tells of their long history in the area around Burrard Inlet. Like many Nations and communities, Tsleil-Waututh lived “by ‘seasonal round,’ a complex cycle of food gathering and spiritual and cultural activities.” (from Our Story) What this means is that səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ moved around their territory, going to where the resources were located. The Nation runs siʔáḿθɘt School, with the mission to “provide a culturally appropriate learning environment that nurtures the well-being of students, families and the community as a whole” (from About). 

 səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ’s territory “encompasses wilderness watersheds northwards to Mount Garibaldi, Coquitlam Lake in the east, and Howe Sound to the west.” (from About). In 2015, səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ “launched our independent assessment of the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker expansion (TMX), grounded in Tsleil-Waututh’s unextinguished law and contemporary policy” (from 8 Years On, Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust). In a post on the Sacred Trust website, it’s shared that the assessment continues to be a leading example of how a First Nation can apply its own law in dialogue with Canadian law, how a First Nation such as TWN expresses its jurisdiction, and how Indigenous-led assessments can present robust analyses that help us understand the impacts of a project beyond the limiting scope of traditional provincial or federal environmental assessments” (from 8 Years On, Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust). In August 2023, a book written by TWN Sacred Trust’s manager, Rueben George, titled It Stops Here was published by Penguin Random House Canada. The book is “A personal account of one man’s confrontation with colonization that illuminates the philosophy and values of a First Nation on the front lines of the fight against an extractive industry, colonial government, and threats to the life-giving Salish Sea” (from Penguin Random House). 

To learn more about səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ, check out these resources 

Week 7: Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation)

Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw territory include Burrard Inlet, English Bay, False Creek, and the Howe Sound watershed, with many people living in North Vancouver and West Vancouver (from About Our Nation). Úxwumixw is the Sk̲wx̲wú7mesh word for village, though today the word is used for Nation (from About Our Nation).  

Prior to 1923 Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw was several different Bands (as defined by the Federal Government) with 26 reserves, and in 1923 it was voted on by Sḵwx̱wú7mesh members to come together and form Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (from About Our Nation). This past summer (2023) Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw celebrated the 100 anniversary of amalgamation day.  

Their language is known as Sk̲wx̲wú7mesh Snichim, and is part of the Salishan language family (from About Our Nation ; The Sníchim Foundation). Traditionally an oral language, a writing system for Sk̲wx̲wú7mesh Snichim was developed in 1990 (The Sníchim Foundation). 

You may have heard about the Seńákw development in the news. This developing is taking place on the village site of Seńákw, near False Creek. It was “an important hub for trade, commerce, social relationships, and cultural practices” however the land was illegally taken away from the Sk̲wx̲wú7mesh in 1913 to facilitate settlement of the area (from History of the Seńákw lands). Since the 1960s Sk̲wx̲wú7mesh Úxwumixw has been doing the work necessay to have the land returned (from History of the Seńákw lands). In her podcast Land Back, Gitxsan journalist Angela Sterritt talks with Sk̲wx̲wú7mesh members in episode 5, A Village Burned, about Seńákw. 

To learn more about Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw, check out these resources: 

Week 6: xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) 

xʷməθkʷəy̓əm gets their name from the məθkʷəy, which was a flowering plant that grew in the Fraser River estuary (David Suzuki Foundation, 2022). Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm can be translated to “People from where the məθkʷəy grows” (Musqueam First Nation & MOA, p. 8). A sχʷəy̓em̓ (ancient history) about the place explains that the sʔi:ɬqəy̓ (double headed serpent) travelled from xʷməm̓qʷe:m (Camosun Bog) to the stal̕əw̓ (river), creating a creek. During this creation, everything passed over by the sʔi:ɬqəy died, and became the məθkʷəy (from Musqueam’s Story).  

xʷməθkʷəy̓əm’s territory includes Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, New Westminster, Delta, North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Surrey, and Coquitlam. Included in that are the UBC Endowment Lands and YVR Airport. (From Musqueam’s Story: Musqueam Territory). The community had many villages, the main winter village being at the mouth of the Fraser River, and people moved throughout the territory (Musqueam First Nation & MOA, p. 8). Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm speak hən̓q̓əmin̓əm, and have been working since the 1970s on language revitalization (Musqueam First Nation & MOA, p. 41).  

To learn more about xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, check out these resources 

Week 5: Skwxwú7mesh name for area around Burnaby Mountain

The names we know for the local mountains, rivers, lakes, etc. are typically the names given to them by settlers. Sometimes the names became Anglicized versions of the Indigenous language. These colonial names replaced the names Indigenous peoples knew and know these places by.  

Burnaby Mountain itself doesn’t have a name in Skwxwú7mesh, and Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw member Khelsilem shared this is because names were “based off sightlines from the water” and that “not every landmark had a name if it wasn’t part of the regular canoeing travel routes.” While commonly referred to as the name for Burnaby Mountain and the surrounding area, Lhukw’lhukw’áyten historically refers to the area of Barnet Marine Park. 

 So what does it mean? Khelsilem breaks the word down in a blog post. Lhúkw’ is the verb for “peeled off” and a related verb is Lhukw’un which means “to peel (something)”. Lhúlhukw’ay is the word for arbutus tree. For anyone unfamiliar with them, the bark on arbutus trees is always peeling off. Lhukw’lhukw’áyten then means “place of arbutus trees” (Khelsilem’s blog) or “where the bark gets peeled in the spring.” (Bill Reid Centre). 

For more information, check the resources: 

The next posts for Project 57 are going to introduce you to the Nations where SFU is located: xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), q̓íc̓əy̓ (Katzie), kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), qiqéyt (Qayqayt), qʼʷa:n̓ƛʼən̓ (Kwantlen), Səmyámə (Semiahmoo), and sc̓əwaθən (Tsawwassen).

Week 4: Diversity of languages and language families in BC

In the previous posts we learned about how diverse the First Nations communities in BC are. In this post we’re going to learn about the languages in this province. 

You may have heard that many Indigenous languages are at risk, and communities are working to revitalize their language. The First Peoples’ Cultural Council (2018) writes that BC is unique regarding Indigenous languages with 7 (out of 12) language families being spoken. Within these families, there are 34 languages and 93 dialects spoken, and three languages that are considered sleeping. This means that half of the languages spoken by Indigenous nations and communities in this country are in BC. In BC, the languages nêhiyawêwin (Cree) and Michif (language of the Métis) are also spoken, with nêhiyawêwin being the most commonly spoken Indigenous language in BC

To learn more, check out these resources: 

Week 3: Urban Indigenous

You will sometimes hear Indigenous peoples be referred to as “urban Indigenous.” This phrase refers to Indigenous peoples who are no longer living in their communities and have moved to (or grown up in) an urban setting. It’s important to note that this phrase doesn’t include Indigenous peoples living on their reserve or settlement in an urban local, such as Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) which has reserves within Vancouver.  

 There are many reasons that Indigenous people live in urban settings: 

  • It’s where people were born and raised 
  • It’s where someone’s family is located 
  • Employment opportunities 
  • Access to health care 
  • Education opportunities  
  • Engagement with the justice system and incarceration 
  • Child welfare 
  • Social supports 

 (from the National Association of Friendship Centres

 For more information, check out these resources 

Week 2: Diversity of Nations in BC

As we learned in the first Project 57 post, across the country we currently refer to as Canada there are over 630 federally recognized First Nations, a vast Métis homeland, and 56 Inuit communities. The province of British Columbia is home to 203 First Nation communities, located on over 2000 reserves. Each community has its own culture, economics, teachings, and ways of being (Indigenous Corporate Training blog). Recognizing the diversity of First Nations in an important part in dispelling the myth or idea that there is one Indigenous experience or culture. 

However, unlike the rest of the provinces 95% of BC is on unceded land, meaning the First Nations did not sell, trade, give up, or lose in battle their lands. These lands were stolen by the colonial governments for the purposes of settlement. Many communities today are taking part in the modern treaty process.   

For more check out these resources: 

Week 1: Terminology

There are a lot of terms used when talking about Indigenous peoples, and it’s important to know how people want to be referred to. If you’re unsure, and you have a good relationship with the person you’re talking to, it’s best to ask. Also note that terminology preferences can be different person to person within a community. 

Aboriginal or Indigenous? 

In 1982 Aboriginal replaced “Indian” as the appropriate term for Indigenous Peoples in Canada (Vowel, 2016 [Métis]; Younging, 2018 [Cree]). In 2016 the federal government adopted Indigenous as the preferred term for all government communications (Joseph, 2018), and this term is gaining recognition in organizations and literature (Younging, 2018).  

Indigenous is used collectively to refer to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples in Canada (Joseph, 2018 [Kwakwaka’wakw] ; Younging, 2018), and is not intended to “imply homogeneity of culture or of linguistic representations” (SFU Aboriginal Reconciliation Council, 2017, p. v). It is important to recognize and acknowledge “that Indigenous peoples are diverse, multicultural, and multinational” (SFU Aboriginal Reconciliation Council, 2017, p. v). 

Chelsea Vowel cautions against using either Aboriginal or Indigenous in the possessive (2016, p. 8). Meaning, use Indigenous Peoples in Canada and not Indigenous Peoples of Canada or Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. 

First Nations 

This term replaced the use of Indian or Native in the 1970s (Joseph, 2018Younging, 2018). It “refers to that group of people officially known as Indians under the Indian Act, and does not include Inuit or Métis peoples” (Vowel, 2016, p. 11). 

According to Younging, “the term has strong political connotations: it refers to separate nations that occupied territory before the arrival of Europeans” (2018, p. 63). It can be used to refer to a single community within a larger nation, such as Younging’s example of Westbank First Nation, which is part of the Okanagan Nation (2018, p. 63). Except when discussing a particular nation, the term is always plural (Younging, 2018).  

There are more than 630 First Nations in Canada, and approximately 200 Nations are in BC


The term refers to the Indigenous people living in the Arctic areas of Canada, Greenland, and Siberia (Joseph, 2018Younging, 2018). The word Inuit is plural and means the people, while Inuk is singular (Joseph, 2018Younging, 2018). 


This term is used by many people in Canada, and in a few different contexts (Joseph, 2018Younging, 2018). It often means “an Indigenous People who emerged during the fur trade from the intermarriage of people of European descent and people of Indigenous descent” (Younging, 2018, p. 67). Métis Nation Canada defines Métis as “a person who self-identifies as Métis, is distinct from other Aboriginal peoples, is of historic Métis Nation Ancestry and who is accepted by the Métis Nation.” The Métis Homeland includes: Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia (Rupertsland Institute, n.d.). 

Identity is complex, and there is a lot of debate around Métis identity and historic Métis communities. For more on the topic, read chapter four in Indigenous Writes (Vowel, 2016)


The term used to refer to a First Nations person who is not registered under the Indian Act, and therefore does not have status (Joseph, 2018). This can be a result of losing status or having a parent or grandparent lose status, through either the Indian Act or another piece of legislation (Vowel, 2016). 

The Indian Act outlined a process of enfranchisement, where an “Indian” could give up their status to become a Canadian citizen (Joseph, 2018). Once enfranchised, the person could then vote, live off reserve, attend post-secondary school, hire a lawyer, become a doctor, or join the military (Joseph, 2018). If a man became enfranchised, his wife and children were as well (Joseph, 2018). By 1985 enfranchisement was removed from the Indian Act (Joseph, 2018).