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Indigenous Identity Terminology in Canada

By Kelly Oliel, Concordia University | this article is available in pdf


In this article, an attempt is made to trace the use of Indigenous identity terminology in Canada, from the fifteenth century, when Europeans first made contact with Indigenous groups, until present day. The purpose is to provide insight into whether socially dominant outgroups continue to define such terminology (as they did during conquest and colonization) or if Indigenous groups have been able to exert some control over how they are being identified by others. Definitions and backgrounds of English general terms for Indigenous identity that are used in Canada are provided, using sources such as documents produced by the Canadian government, material from Indigenous Studies scholars, and testimony from members representing Indigenous groups. The differences between the use of identity terms in the legal system, in historical contexts, and in other governmental or social contexts is explored, as well as the way in which general terms are used by Indigenous groups for their own purposes. Finally, several examples of the rejection of some of the terms by Indigenous groups and their justifications for such rejections will be analyzed.

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