There is a lot to learn about Indigenous people - culture, language, traditions, teachings, and so much more.
If you’re a non-Indigenous person, it might be a little intimidating to try to respectfully and accurately talk to Indigenous people. The fear of saying the wrong thing can keep us from trying at all.
3 important facts will be covered that will help you understand the basics about Indigenous People of Canada, and how to talk to and about us in a correct, and respectful way!
Practicing empathy and getting to know people outside yourself is all about knowledge. The more you know, the more respectfully, accurately, and responsibly you can engage with other people who have different cultures, backgrounds, and traditions from you.
While it can sound a little daunting, there are a few really simple ways to get started. The most important thing is just to stay open minded, honest with yourself and others, and willing to listen and learn.
Facts for understanding how to respectfully address indigenous people.
1. Understand we all have Different Tribes or Nations we come from
Every single person has a different background and a different place they call home. Indigenous people might be from either a specific Nation or a specific Tribe. These two words have important differences.
Nations are usually what we refer to when we mean an independent political territory. An Indigenous nation might encompass a larger expanse of territory that contains several tribes, whereas tribes are the smaller communities that nations are often composed of.
Tribe refers to a group of Indigenous people -- a community tied together by their ancestors, traditions and customs. Multiple tribes can fall under the umbrella of one nation -- which usually means they have interacted for generations and share common social, cultural, and spiritual customs and beliefs.
Understanding the difference between these two terms will help you better understand the background of the person you are engaging with. Not all Indigenous people come from the same place. Take the time to get to know each person’s unique history.
2. Be Mindful that not all Indigenous people prefer to be addressed in the same way
Because every Indigenous person comes from somewhere different, each person is going to have personal preferences about how they are addressed.
What’s respectful to one person might be offensive to another -- so you can’t use a “blanket” term to refer to all Indigenous people.
Some people prefer to be referred to as Indigenous, others prefer the term “Indian.” Some people might even prefer to be referred to as the nation they are a part of, such as Mohawk or Cree.
Each person is different, so it’s important to take the time to get to know personal preferences and not assume you can use the same term for every person.
3. Understand the Differences between the different terms, such as Native American, Indigenous, and others
Terms like Native American and Indigenous are not necessarily interchangeable. Instead, we want to be as specific as possible!
In Canada, there are three groups that make up “Indigenous people”: First Nations, Inuit, and Metis.
These groups are determined by a variety of factors, including geography, ancestry, and cultural heritage.
In general, if you’re speaking about a specific community, then name it! If you’re talking about a group of communities or a larger group of people, then it is ok to use broader terms.