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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.


Reprinted from the "Indigenous People" issue of Visions Journal, 2016, 11 (4), p. 5

This glossary defines some of the key terms you may come across in this issue of Visions. All definitions were compiled from various sources by Visions staff and don’t necessarily represent the views of those who contributed to this issue.

Colonialism: A way to control land, people, culture, and societies. Colonialism refers to the beliefs, philosophies, and politics that one group uses to claim their superiority or dominance over another group.

Colonization: Colonization is an act of colonialism and begins with taking over an area and sending people to live there. Colonization continues when one group or society imposes their values or ways of life on another group in order to suppress the group. Colonized groups are expected to assimilate or adopt the colonial ways of living.

Decolonization: The ongoing process of recognizing and removing colonial powers.

Indigenous: Refers to anyone who traditionally occupied a territory that is threatened by colonization. It may be considered more inclusive than terms like ‘Aboriginal’ because it looks at common experiences rather than legal status or designation.

Aboriginal: The descendants of the original inhabitants of North America. The term ‘Aboriginal’ includes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis groups.

Band: A governing body for a community required by the Indian Act. Bands are made up of a chief and councillors, who are elected.

First Nations: Someone who identifies as a member of a particular nation or community within a nation. Some Indigenous people have used it to replace the word ‘band’. The term specifically excludes Métis and Inuit peoples. In some cases, it can be used to imply legal designation of Indian, but the term ‘First Nations’ has no legal definition.

Harm reduction: Policies, practices, and programs that reduce the harms (which includes health, social, financial, and other harms) associated with substance use rather than reducing substance use itself. The approach recognizes that eliminating all substance use is unrealistic, so there is an obligation to help people now, where they are at.

Indian: The legal term used by the government of Canada.

Status Indian: A person who has registered as an Indian under the Indian Act. ‘Indian’ is. There are different kinds of status, and they show what specific rights and individual can have under the Indian Act. Someone who is ‘non-status’ is not legally recognized as an Indian and not eligible for services or benefits under the Indian Act. The status system and how a person gains or loses status is very complicated. You can find a more detailed discussion at and navigate to Government Policy > Indian Act > Indian Status

*Note, In April 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that non-status Indians and Métis people are Indians under the section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867. The case does not give non-status Indians and Métis people the same rights as status Indians under the Indian Act, but it does clarify some government accountability.1

Treaty Indian: A person who is registered with a band or Nation that has signed a treaty with the Crown.

Métis: People of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry, who identify as Métis. You can learn more about the history of Métis communities in BC from the Métis Nation British Columbia at

Residential School System: A system of schools implemented by the Government of Canada from the 1880s to 1996. Residential schools forced Indigenous children away from their families and communities in order to undermine Indigenous culture. Attendance at these government-funded, church-run schools was mandatory. Residential school survivors tell of the physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuses they experienced from school staff.

Reconciliation: The act of establishing new, equal and trusting relationships. Reconciliation may include learning about the past and present, acknowledging and remedying harms that have taken place in the past, and taking action to build a just and equitable future. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission expands on reconciliation in its report What We Have Learned: Principles of Truth and Reconciliation, available at

The Red Road: Choosing to follow or uphold traditional culture, values, spirituality, or other important parts of one’s Indigenous identity. It can mean different things for different people, but it generally implies moving away from dominant mainstream cultural identities, values, or expectations.

Reserve: Land that a band can use. The land is not owned by the band. It is owned by the Crown and the government has some control and authority over the land and how it’s used.

Sixties Scoop: A policy from the 1960s to 1980s that saw Indigenous children taken away (‘scooped up’) from their families and placed in government care under the guise of child protection. Many lived in institutionalized care or foster care, and those who were adopted were often adopted by non-Indigenous families. It was difficult to obtain birth records, and many children grew up with no knowledge of their heritage or biological families. While services for Indigenous families have shifted, Indigenous children are still over-represented in care.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: A commission established by the federal government to witness and document the experiences of the residential school system, support those who are affected by the residential school system, educate the general public and make recommendations to government on the system’s impacts and legacies. You can learn more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada at

Two-Spirit: A pan-Indigenous term used by some in North America to describe different gender and sexual identities. Two-Spirit is often described as two identities (such as male and female) in one body. In addition, individual communities may have their own terms or understandings of gender and sexual identities.

  1. Daniels v. Canada (Indian Affairs and Northern Development), 2016 SCC 12.

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