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What do you mean by...?

A growing list of terms that come up often when talking about treaties and Indigenous land.


Aboriginals or Indigenous?

Section 35 (2) of the Constitution Act, 1982, defined “Aboriginal peoples in Canada” as including “the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples ofCanada.”

However, the terms used in historic and official government documents have changed or are changing. For example, Indian is now considered offensive and has been replaced by First Nations. And we are hearing the term Indigenous more and more in Canada. It is being used synonymously with Aboriginal, and in many cases, it is the preferred term as the collective noun for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.

There are many reasons for this shift. One reason is that the prefix ab can mean “from” or “away from,” which has lead to a concern that Aboriginal could be misinterpreted as “away from” or “not” original. Indigenous comes from the Latin word indigena, which means “sprung from the land; native.” And Indigenous Peoples recognize that, rather than a single group of people, there are many separate and unique Nations (Ward, 2017).

Wherever possible, though, you should use the specific names of the Nations and communities, especially if you are acknowledging territory and identity.

Source: Aboriginal or Indigenous?, Pulling Together: Foundations Guide


Refers to the legal identity of a First Nations person who is registered under the Indian Act. It should be used only within this legal context and is otherwise considered an offensive term.

Source: Glossary of Terms, Pulling Together: Foundations Guide

First Nation

One of the three groups of Indigenous Peoples in Canada (the other two being Métis and Inuit). There are around 630 First Nations in Canada. Not all Indigenous people are First Nations.

Sources: Glossary of Terms, Pulling Together: Foundations Guide and Terminology,


A distinct Indigenous group with formal recognition equal to that of the First Nations and Inuit. Their ancestors were French and Scottish men who migrated to Canada in the 17th and 18th centuries to work in the fur trade and who had children with First Nations women and then formed new communities. The families and their descendants were most often referred to as Métis (from the French for “to mix”).

Source: Glossary of Terms, Pulling Together: Foundations Guide

Inuit (singular Inuk)

An Indigenous group living in the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and Russia. Historically they were referred to in Canada as “Eskimos” or “Esquimaux,” but this term is neither accurate nor respectful and should not be used.

Source: Glossary of Terms, Pulling Together: Foundations Guide


Between the Lakes

In relation to the Between the Lakes Treaty (No. 3) from 1792, it refers to the approximately 3 million acres between lakes Erie, Huron and Ontario covering the treaty territory. The present-day City of Hamilton is covered by this treaty as well as many other urban centres in Ontario.

Turtle Island

For many Indigenous peoples such as the Lenape, Iroquois, Anishnaabe, and other Woodland Nations, Turtle Island refers to the continent of North America. The name comes from various Indigenous oral histories that tell stories of a turtle that holds the world on its back.

Source: Turtle Island,


Traditional territory

Describes the ancestral and contemporary connections of Indigenous peoples to a geographical area. Territories may be defined by kinship ties, occupation, seasonal travel routes, trade networks, management of resources, and cultural and linguistic connections to place.

Source: Indigenous Territory,


For many Indigenous cultures, land means more than property– it encompasses culture, relationships, ecosystems, social systems, spirituality, and law. For many, land means the earth, the water, the air, and all that live within these ecosystems. As scholars Bonita Lawrence and Enakshi Dua point out using historical examples, “to separate Indigenous peoples from their land” is to “preempt Indigenous sovereignty.” Land and Indigenous rights are inextricably linked.

Source: Land & Rights,

Land claims

Land claims seek to address wrongs made against Indigenous peoples, their rights and lands, by the federal and provincial or territorial governments. There are different types of land claims. Comprehensive claims (also known as modern treaties) deal with Indigenous rights, while specific claims concern the government’s outstanding obligations under historic treaties or the Indian Act. There are many ongoing comprehensive and specific claims negotiations in Canada.

Source: Indigenous Land Claims in Canada,

Land surrenders

Also known as land cessions, they describe an agreement that “gives up” Indigenous territory to the government. Land surrenders are often included in treaties, and in some cases, are themselves referred to as treaties. In other cases, however, land surrenders are not treaties at all; rather, they are sales of land (sometimes known as “purchases”) that offer no ongoing payments or gifts to Indigenous peoples. Land surrenders can also refer to the land being sold on a reserve — these agreements are also not considered treaties. For many Indigenous peoples, their traditional territories were unjustly taken and never surrendered.

Source: Upper Canada Land Surrenders,

Unceded land

Lands that First Nations people never ceded/surrendered or legally signed away to the Crown or to Canada.

Source: Glossary of Terms, Pulling Together: Foundations Guide

Land acknowledgement

Is a precise statement that acknowledges theIndigenous Peoples who are the stewards of the land in that traditional territory. It is a respectful and meaningful way to acknowledge the treaties that cover that location. The statement is normally delivered at the beginning of events, meetings, lectures and other public events. 

Land acknowledgements are influenced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action in acknowledging the first occupants of this land. They are also important in educating the broader public on the significance of the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and their territories.

Source: City of Hamilton’s Land Acknowledgement Toolkit Guide,

Treaty-making and Records

Wampum Belt

Can be described as visual interpretations of covenants and agreements made of beads fashioned from the shells of wampum (named after the Wampunum people). The belts tell history through symbolism and interpretation and are used primarily for ornamental, ceremonial, diplomatic and commercial purposes. There are many wampum belts made by various Indigenous groups in Canada and the United States. Wampum belts continue to hold significance for Indigenous peoples and any treaties or agreements they represent.

Sources: Elder Garry Sault Talks Wampums, and Wampum,

Indigenous rights

Are collective rights that flow from Indigenous peoples’ continued use and occupation of certain areas. They are inherent rights that they have practiced and enjoyed since before European contact. They generally include rights to the land, rights to subsistence resources and activities, the right to self-determination and self-government, and the right to practice one’s own culture and customs including language and religion. Indigenous rights are separate from rights afforded to non-Aboriginal Canadian citizens under Canadian common law. 

Source: Aboriginal Rights,


The formal structure through which Indigenous communities may control the administration of their people, land, resources and related programs and policies, through agreements with federal and provincial governments.

Source: Indigenous Self-Government in Canada,

The Crown

The legal name for the British and later Canadian governments: federal, provincial and territorial.

Source: Treaties and agreements,


A constitutionally recognized agreement between Indigenous people and the Crown governing how sovereign entities will co-exist and share resources on the land. While most commonly associated with agreements between Indigenous people and the British Crown, Indigenous nations made treaties with each other long before European arrival. 

In understanding historic treaties-making processes, it is essential to acknowledge the problematic nature of treaties between Indigenous people and the Crown.

Treaties in Ontario

Ontario is covered by 46 treaties that were signed between 1781 and 1930. The Government of Ontario illustrated treaty boundaries in the province on this map (PDF, 3.4 MB).

Source: Ontario First Nations Maps,

Historic Treaties:

Starting in 1701 in the British colonies of North America (these would later become parts of Canada), the Crown signed treaties that defined the respective rights of Indigenous peoples and European settlers to use the North American lands that Indigenous peoples traditionally occupied. The treaty-making process was formally established by the Royal Proclamation of 1763. 

The Government of Canada currently recognizes 70 historic treaties signed between 1701 and 1923. These are located in nine provinces and three territories, covering nearly 50% of Canada’s landmass. Canada and First Nations often have differing views with respect to the implementation of historic treaties.

Source: Treaties and agreements,

Numbered Treaties

Refer to the eleven treaties negotiated by the Crown between 1871 and 1921. These treaties covered the area between the Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains to the Beaufort Sea. The so-called Numbered Treaties promised reserve lands, annuities, and the continued right to hunt and fish on unoccupied Crown lands in exchange for Indigenous title. At their base, the treaties were land surrenders on a huge scale. In the eyes of the Federal Government, the act of signing treaty brought Indigenous people of the Northwest under the jurisdiction of the Dominion of Canada and its laws. The early Numbered Treaties - Treaties 1 through 7 - became the vehicle by which the Department of Indian Affairs implemented existing and future assimilation policies in the Northwest while the latter treaties allowed for the opening of the North and access to valuable natural resources.

Source: The Numbered Treaties (1871-1921),

Modern Treaties

The modern treaty era began in 1973 after the Supreme Court of Canada decision (Calder et al. v. Attorney-General of British Columbia), which recognized Aboriginal rights for the first time. This decision led to the development of the Comprehensive Land Claims Policy by the Government of Canada and the first modern treaty, the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement signed in 1975. Modern treaties are also called comprehensive land claim agreements. 

Source: Treaties and agreements,

Indian Act

The Indian Act is a Canadian federal law that governs matters pertaining to Indian status, bands, and Indian reserves. Throughout history, it has been highly invasive and paternalistic, as it authorizes the Canadian federal government to regulate and administer in the affairs and day-to-day lives of registered Indians and reserve communities. This authority has ranged from overarching political control, such as imposing governing structures on Indigenous communities in the form of band councils, to control over the rights of Indians to practice their culture and traditions. The Indian Act has also enabled the government to determine the land base of these groups in the form of reserves, and even to define who qualifies as Indian in the form of Indian status. While the Indian Act has undergone numerous amendments since it was first passed in 1876, today it largely retains its original form. You can read the Indian Act in full online.

Source: The Indian Act,


A tract of land set aside under the Indian Act and treaty agreements for the exclusive use of an Indian band. Band members possess the right to live on reserve lands, and band administrative and political structures are frequently located there. Reserve lands are not strictly “owned” by bands but are held in trust for bands by the Crown. The Indian Act grants the Minister of Indian Affairs authority over much of the activity on reserves.

Source: Indian Reserves,

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