Terminology: Indigenous Vs. Aboriginal

May 5, 2016

Communica’s Aboriginal Engagement team works hard to stay on top of new policy, legislation, cultural and legal developments in the Aboriginal relations field. We have a strong understanding of various legal, cultural and political terms used to identify Aboriginal peoples and generally default to the preference of the particular Aboriginal community that we are working with. At the company-wide level though, we currently use the legal term of Aboriginal to include First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities.

Recently, I’ve noticed how different organizations seemed to be switching from the commonly used term “Aboriginal” to “Indigenous.” So, I wondered, is it time for a switch?

Always needing to talk things out, I approached Communica’s General Manager, Emma Shea, about this issue. Here’s how the conversation played out:

Jess: Hey Emma, with the federal government recently re-branding Aboriginal Affairs to Indigenous Affairs, I think Communica should follow suit!

Emma: What’s wrong with Aboriginal?

Jess: There’s nothing wrong with it. Aboriginal became increasingly popular with its use in the 1982 constitution. A legally-defined term that includes First Nation (Indian), Métis and Inuit people, it is the most commonly used term in Canada today. In 2011, the Conservative government renamed Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) to Aboriginal and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) to reflect the current use of the language.

Emma: So then why should we switch?

Jess: Well, to reflect the changing times. Indigenous took on a wider usage with the introduction of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Indigenous as a term has a more international reach, with populations around the globe self-identifying with the term. Various organizations have made the switch, most recently the federal government’s renaming of AANDC to Indigenous and Northern Affairs, a move endorsed by the Assembly of First Nations, as the proper term. Perhaps Communica should follow suit, first, to show respect for the population in question and to show how responsive we are!

Emma: Have you thought about what sort of work would go into a company-wide rebranding?

Jess: Hmm no. You make a good point. Communica would need to redesign their entire website, marketing materials, style and language guides… even our business cards.

Emma: Exactly. If we make a language shift like this, we need to make sure we take the appropriate amount of time to review and make sure we get it right. Also… wasn’t there just a big court case about definitions like this?

Jess: Indeed. The Supreme Court of Canada just issued a decision in Daniels v. Canada (Indian Affairs and Northern Development) that found that Métis people and non-status Indians should be considered Indians as described in Section 91(24) of the Constitution. We will have to wait and see how this affects the usage of these terms.

Emma: So what you’re saying is that the definition is ever-evolving, depending on the government or legal court cases of the day. Let’s watch for a while, and continue to ask the Aboriginal communities that we interact with what they think.

So, there you have it. We at Communica are currently assessing the options and doing our research on the topic. Has your organization or group shifted terms? What are your thoughts? We would love to hear from you!

~ Jessica Davies

Senior Advisor, Aboriginal Engagement