Key Concepts & Terms


We acknowledge the complex and living nature of terminology with regards to Indigenous peoples. Whenever possible in this report, we favour the terms Indigenous and/ or Aboriginal when speaking generally about First Peoples with Indigenous being an internationally recognized term (e.g. in the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007) and Aboriginal being commonly used in Canada (see below). We also favour and encourage the use of culturally and community specific names whenever possible (e.g. Kainai, Anishnaabe, Mi’kmaq, Inuvialuit, Cree-Métis, Bigstone Cree).

We also follow unconventional capitalization practices for culturally related terms such as Elder, Medicine Wheel, or the Land to acknowledge their importance and demonstrate respect.

Finally, we acknowledge and respect that Indigenous peoples and organizations may hold individual and collective preferences that do not align with the practices described above for a variety of reasons. We encourage individuals who are uncertain of the appropriate term to use in a given situation or relationship to ask, with humility, what those being described prefer.


Familiarity with the following concepts and terms may assist readers in developing and fostering a deeper understanding of critical Indigenous land, environmental, and educational issues in Canada.

Aboriginal Peoples: As defined in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution (1982), includes First Nations (Indians = still employed as a legal term), Métis, and Inuit peoples.

  • Aboriginal Rights: General rights held by Aboriginal peoples to practice Indigenous cultures (and languages), conduct harvesting activities (e.g. hunting, fishing, gathering berries and firewood) in one’s traditional territory, and establish agreements such as treaties and land claims. Have been and continue to be clarified through several court cases (e.g. R v. Sparrow, Calder v. BC).
  • Treaty Rights: Rights specifically outlined in a given treaty or similar (e.g. modern day land claim agreements).

For more, see:

Relevant Case Law:

Calder v. BC:

Daniels v. Canada

R. v. Marshall:

R. v. Sparrow:


Decolonization: The process of developing critical understanding of the historical, contemporary, and ongoing impacts of colonization while also considering possible counter-approaches.

Indigenization: A process wherein Indigenous philosophies, languages, cultures, and practices are introduced and/ or prioritized in institutional and societal contexts.

For more, see:

Battiste, M. (2013) Decolonizing education: Nourishing the learning spirit. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press.

Holmes, A. P., Grimwood, B. S. R., King, L. J., & the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation. (2016). Creating an Indigenized visitor code of conduct: the development of Denesoline self-determination for sustainable tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 24(8–9), 1177–1193.

Little Bear, L. (2000a). Jagged worldviews colliding. In M. Battiste (Ed.), Reclaiming Indigenous voice and vision, (pp. 77-85). Vancouver, BC: UBC Press.

St. Denis, V. (2007). Aboriginal education and anti-racist education: Building alliances across cultural and racial identity. Canadian Journal of Education, 30(4), 1068-1092.


Traditional Territory: The geographical area traditionally used and occupied by a given Indigenous group. Increasingly documented through Traditional Land Use Studies (TLUS) as described below.

  • Traditional Land Use Study (TLUS): The methodical documentation of an Indigenous group’s traditional use and occupancy of a given territory. May include techniques such as interviews with Elders and other community members documented by audio and/ or visual media along with physical markings on topographical maps, other digital media such as interactive maps, spending time on the Land with community representatives, consulting historical written sources, and others.
  • Use: Pertains specifically to traditional activities such as, but not restricted to, hunting, fishing, trapping, berry, plant, and firewood collection, other cultural and/ or spiritual activities, and travel. Often used to establish a community’s rights (as opposed to title) to a given area (see below).
  • Occupancy: Geographical area occupied on a regular basis by a given community; may be a long-standing village or encampment or extend, as recently established in Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, to the broader area used (see below) on a routine/ rotational/ seasonal basis, depending on the community and region.
  • (Land) Title: Often linked to demonstration of occupancy; includes surface and sub-surface rights in resource negotiations.
  • (Land) Rights: Often linked to demonstration of use (see above); includes surface rights, but not typically sub-surface.
  • Overlap: A geographical area traditionally occupied and/ or used by two or more Indigenous groups.

For more, see:

Relevant Case Law:

Tsilhqot’in Nation v. BC:


Duty to Consult (and Accommodate): The fiduciary (legal) duty of the Crown (federal and/ or provincial government) to adequately consult and accommodate Indigenous communities that will be potentially affected by a given resource development or other disruption of their traditional territory (e.g. mining, hydro, or forestry activity; installation of a power line or road)

For more, see:

Natcher, D.C. (2001). Land use research and the duty to consult: A misrepresentation of the Aboriginal landscape. Land Use Policy, 18, 113-122.


Co-Management: Co-management by an Indigenous group and government of the social and ecological aspects of a given geographical area such as a national or provincial park, coastal region, designated resource development zone, or similar.

For more, see:

Menzies, C.R. (Ed.) (2006). Traditional ecological knowledge and natural resource management. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.


Impact-Benefit Agreement: An agreement between an Indigenous community, industry stakeholder (e.g. resource company), and, sometimes, government body, that outlines the anticipated social and ecological impacts of a given development or extraction project, proposed social and ecological monitoring framework, and agreed upon benefits that will be provided to the Indigenous community. Benefits may include service contracts, guaranteed training and employment of community members, guidelines for healthy work environments (e.g. shift work schedules), regular monetary payments to the community, construction of community buildings such as schools or health centres/ hospitals, among others.

For more, see:

Whitelaw, G. S., McCarthy, D. D., & Tsuji, L. J. S. (2009). The Victor Diamond Mine environmental assessment process: a critical First Nation perspective. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 27(3), 205–215.


Further Case Law of Note:

Delgamuukw v. British Columbia:

Mikisew Cree First Nation v. Canada (Minister of Canadian Heritage):


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