What is politically correct first nations or indigenous?

Aboriginal peoples gained popularity as the correct collective name for First Nations, Inuit and mixed-race people, and was widely adopted by the government and many national groups. Indigenous is a general term for First Nations (with status and without status), mixed-race and Inuit. Indigenous refers to all of these groups, either collectively or separately, and is the term used in international contexts; for example, recently, it has been associated more with activism than with government policy and, therefore, has become, for many, the preferred term. American Indians, Indians, Native Americans, or Natives are acceptable and are often used interchangeably in the United States; however, native peoples often have individual preferences about how they would like to be addressed.

To find out what the best term is, ask the person or group which term they prefer. When talking about native groups or people, use the terminology that community members use to describe themselves collectively. There are also several terms used to refer to native peoples from other regions of the Western Hemisphere. The Inuit, Yup'ik and Aleutian peoples of the Arctic are considered culturally separate from the Indians.

In Canada, people refer to themselves as First Nations, First Peoples, or Aborigines. In Mexico, Central and South America, the direct translation of Indian can have negative connotations. As a result, they prefer the Spanish words indigenous (indigenous), community (community) and people (people). Many Aboriginal people in Canada do not have this formal connection, and mixed-race or Inuit people should never be called “First Nations”.

But at the same time, using “indigenous” does not recognize all nations in a respectful way. While the terminology used by the Government can be a good guide to understanding the differences between mixed-race, Inuit and First Nations (all of them included in the terms “aboriginal” or “indigenous”), the best guideline comes directly from indigenous peoples. As an expert on indigenous issues, I am often asked what is the appropriate or “politically correct” term to describe indigenous peoples, First Nations and Aboriginal people. For informal documents, use “First Nation” or, collectively, when referring to reservation-based communities, “First Nations”, but in specific references, it is more preferred to use the name that the community (or First Nation) uses publicly.

The term indigenous was chosen by indigenous leaders in the 1970s to identify and unite diverse communities and represent them in global political scenarios. It is broad, on the one hand, because it includes all Canadian groups, but specific, on the other, since it is not widely used in international contexts. The terms Aboriginal, Indigenous and Indigenous Peoples are generally accepted terms in Canada and include First Nations, Mestizos, and Inuit. The term Aboriginal was introduced into the Canadian Constitution of 1982 by its federal government as a “general” term to include First Nations, Inuit and mixed race people.

The Inuit are another aboriginal group, which is historically found in the Arctic and that differs legally and culturally from First Nations or from legally defined Indians and mixed race people. Indigenous peoples have been on these lands since time immemorial, thousands of years before Canada became a nation. Because there are more than 50 different indigenous nations in Canada, living in more than 600 communities, it can be difficult to find a single word that covers everything.

Dominic Bélanger
Dominic Bélanger

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