Here are some common terms for your reference:  May have slightly different meaning in various parts of the country.  Since we are starting from an Ontario base, many of the references are from Ontario.  This will be expanded as we develop.  Please send us any as you wish to add.



Aboriginal People             

  • A term in common usage referring to all indigenous people of Canada including Status Indians, Non-Status Indian, Metis and Inuit people


  • The meaning of Anishnaabeg is 'First' or 'Original Peoples'. Another definition refers to “the good humans” meaning those who are on the right path given to them by the Creator.  Not all Anishinaabemowin speakers, however, call themselves Anishinaabeg. The Ojibwe people who moved to the prairie provinces call themselves Nakawē(-k) and their branch of the Anishinaabe language, Nakawēmowin. Various Anishinaabeg groups have different names from region to region.
  • Anishinaabe or Anishinaabeg, the plural form of the word, is the name often used by the Odawa, Ojibwe and Algonquin peoples to describe themselves. They all speak closely related Anishinaabe languages(Anishinaabemowin), of the Algonquian language family.
  • The name Anishinaabe becomes Nishnaabe in some parts of North America, most prominently among the Odawa.
  • Closely related to the Ojibwe and speaking a language mutually intelligible with the Anishinaabe languages are the Oji-Cree (also known as "Severn Ojibwe"). Their most common autonym is Anishinini (plural: Anishininiwag) and they call their language Anishininiimowin.
  • Among the Anishinaabeg, the Ojibwe collectively call the Nipissings and the Algonquins Odishkwaagamii (those who are at the end of the lake), while those among the Nipissings who identify themselves as Algonquins call the Algonquins proper Omàmiwinini (those who are downstream).


  • A way of life that provides people with a sense of belonging to-a connection to their Creator and each other, to their homelands, ceremonies, spirituality, language, belief and value system guiding daily interactions – and a feeling that they are part of something bigger than their individual selves.


  • Aboriginal peoples have always honoured the Eagle as a power of vision, strength and courage.  The bird has many special meanings and special uses.  Historically, indigenous people depended on animals for knowledge of the world around them, the environment of life and of themselves.  Animals sensed changes in the world, changing seasons and of things to come.  The Eagle was the leader in all those things and represented foresight and courage.               

Eagle Feather                      

  • A gift of an eagle feather is a great honour, a mark of distinction that could indicate that a rite of passage has been earned.  The eagle feather represents the norms, responsibilities and behaviours that are all a part of the conditioning,  learning and commitment to a spirit.  In this way, life is honoured and becomes whole.  The quill represents stability, strength, foundation and spirituality of the people.  The plume represents purity, lightness and gentleness of a child full of the spirit and so new to the cycle of life.  The vane represents  flexibility and adaptability with gentleness and firmness.  The top portion of the feather represents the peak of life – bring out the best in beauty and goodness.

 First Nations                       

  • The First Nations are the various indigenous peoples in Canada who are neither Inuit nor Metis.  There are currently 630 recognized First Nations governments spread across Canada, almost half of them in Ontario and British Columbia.  First Nations is generally used to replace the term “Indians” for Canada’s indigenous peoples.


  • The Wyandot people or Wendat, also calledHuron, are indigenous peoples of North America. They traditionally spoke Wendat, an Iroquoian language. The pre-contact Wyandots settled on the north shore of present-day Lake Ontario, before migrating to Georgian Bay.
  • The modern Wyandot emerged in the late 17th century from the remnants of two earlier groups, the Wendat or Huron Confederacy and the Tionontate, called the Petun (tobacco people) by the French because of their cultivation of the crop. Drastically reduced in number by epidemic diseases after 1634, they were dispersed in 1649 after war with the Iroquois( the Haudenosaunee).
  •  Today the Wyandot have a reserve in Quebec and three major U.S. settlements, two of which have independently governed, federally recognized tribes.  Due to differing development of the groups, they speak distinct forms of Wendat and Wyandot languages.

Indian Agent (Canada)    

  • The Indian Agent was a position mandated by the Indian Act of Canada.  The agents were the chief administrators for Indian affairs in their respective districts from the 1870’s to 1970’s.  They exercised power over the lives of all First Nation people in their jurisdictions and all decisions were enforced by the RCMP.

Indian Reserve                   

  • A tract of land the Crown, set apart for the use and benefit of a First Nation.  It is embodied in the Indian Act and the Crown retains legal title.

 Indian Residential Schools         

  • A Canada-wide network of boarding schools for Aboriginal children, funded by the Canadian government’s Department of Indian Affairs and administered by Christian churches.  Attendance at a day, industrial or residential school was compulsory for First Nations children and in some parts of the country, residential schools were the only option.   About 150,000 First Nations children passed through the residential school system and approximately 4,000 of them died, mainly from disease, while there. The last school to close was in 1996.  There is consensus that the schools did significant harm to indigenous children by removing them from their families, sometimes for as long as 10 months, sometimes for years; depriving them of their ancestral languages; sterilizing some of them; and exposing them to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of staff and other students.                      

Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission

  • Established in 2008, the commission was established to uncover the truth about residential schools.  As of 2014, it continues to gather statements from residential school survivors.


  • People native to the area


  • A group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada (Nunavut, Quebec, Labrador and Northwest Territories) and the United States. Historically, the common term was Eskimo.  The Inuit are a distinctive group of indigenous Canadians who are not included under either the First Nations or the Metis.


  • The Iroquois, also known as theHaudenosaunee or the Six Nations, (the Five Nations and Five Nations of the Iroquois before 1722), and to themselves the Ganonsyoni.
  • A historically powerful and important northeast Native American people who formed the Iroquois Confederacy and today make up the Six Nations.
  •  A melting pot culture, it is vibrant in language, culture and independent governance.  In 2010, more than 45,000 Six Nation people lived in Canada, and about 80,000 in the United States. 

Medicine Wheel                

  • Medicine wheels, also called sacred hoops, are either a symbol of indigenous North American culture and religion, or stone monuments related to this symbol.  They are prevalent in western Canada, in Saskatchewan and on the Alberta plains, and in the United States in Montana and Wisconsin.
  • The monuments were constructed by laying stones on the ground in a particular pattern oriented to the four directions. Most medicine wheels have a centre of stones, surrounded by an outer ring of stones with "spokes", or lines of rocks radiating from the center.  Originally, medicine wheels were stone structures built for religious, ritual, healing, and teaching purposes. Medicine wheels are still inaugurated in Native American spirituality sometimes referred to as "sacred hoops".


  • One of the recognized indigenous peoples in Canada, they trace their descent from mixed First Nation and European heritage. The term was historically a catch-all describing the offspring of any such union, but within generations the culture evolved into what is today a distinct aboriginal group, with formal recognition equal to that of the Inuit and First Nations. Mothers were often Cree, Ojibwe, Algonquin, Saulteaux, Menominee, Mi’Kmag or Maliseet. At one time there was an important distinction between French Métis born of francophone voyageur fathers, and the Anglo-Metis or Countryborn descended from English or Scottish fathers.


  • Nation may refer to a large group of people who share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent, or history- a community of people comprising one or more nationalities with its own territory and government.
  • An ethnic community shares a common myth of origins and descent, a common history, elements of distinctive culture, a common territorial association, and sense of group solidarity. A nation is much more impersonal, abstract, and overtly political than an ethnic group. It is a cultural-political community that has become conscious of its coherence, unity, and particular interests.


  • Anyone who is not an indigenous person

Non-Status Indian            

  • Is a legal term referring to any First Nation individual who for whatever reason is not registered with the federal government or is not registered to a band which signed a treaty with the Crown.  For several decades, Canadian First Nation women automatically become non-status if they married non-First Nation men.  Prior to 1955, status was lost through enfranchisement(voluntarily giving up status for minimal cash payment), obtaining a college degree or becoming an ordained minister.  In 2013, non-Status Indians(and Metis) had the same indigenous rights as status people.


  • The Ojibwe (also Ojibwa), Anishinaabe, orChippewa are one of the largest groups of Native American and First Nations Peoples in North America. In Canada, they are the second-largest population among First Nations and a major component group of the Anishinaabe-speaking peoples, a branch of the Algonquin language family.
  • Because many Ojibwe were formerly located around the outlet of Lake Superior, which the French colonists called Sault Ste. Marie, the early settlers referred to the Ojibwe as Saulteurs. Ojibwe who subsequently moved to the prairie provinces have retained the name Saulteaux. Ojibwe who were originally located along the Mississagi River and made their way to southern Ontario are known as the Mississaugas.[1]
  • The Ojibwe Nation was the first to sign detailed treaties before they allowed many European settlers into their western areas.  Their Midewiwin Society is well respected as the keper of detailed and complex scrolls of events, oral history, songs, maps. ,memories, stories, geometry, and mathematics

Pow Wow                               

  • A social gathering of some of North America’s Indigenous People.  The word derives from the Narragansett word “powwaw”, meaning “spiritual leader”.  A modern pow wow is an event where both Native American/First Nation and non-Native American/First Nation people meet to dance, sing, socialize and honour Native American/First Nation culture.  A pow wow consists of a dancing competition.  Powwow etiquette is required; rules for when photography is or is not acceptable, protocol for the Grand Entry, and so on. A few guidelines are common.  Participants wear "regalia" rather than a "costume." Drums should not be touched or played by those not a part of the drum group. People and their regalia should not be touched without permission. Details of pow wow etiquette vary from one geographic region to another.


  • Music for pow wow dance competition and other activities is provided by a “drum”, a group of performers who play a large, specially designed drum and sing traditional songs.  Depending on the size of the pow wow and the region where it is held, there may be many drums, representing nearly every tribe or community attending the pow wow.  At some pow wows, the drums are judged on the quality of their performances, with prize money awarded to the winners.  The drum is located in the center of the dance floor and powwow . Southern drums are suspended by four posts, one for each direction. Northern drums are set up on the outside of the dance area, with the host drum in the best position. Drummer-singers are expected to remain at their drum and ready to sing at a moment's notice- a dancer might approach the drum and whistle, fan or gesture his staff over a drum to indicate his request for a song.  In some regions it is considered disrespectful to leave a drum unattended. Some drum groups do not allow females to sit down at their drum but welcome them to stand behind the drummers and sing backup harmonies.  The drum is offered gifts of tobacco during giveaways and musicians acknowledge this by standing.

Host Drum                             

  • Host drums are accorded great respect and the most authority.   They are responsible for singing the songs at the beginning and end of a pow-wow session- generally a starting song, the grand entry song, a flag song, and a veterans or victory song to start the pow-wow, and a flag song, retreat song and closing song to end it. If a pow-wow has gourd dancing, the Southern Host Drum is often the drum that sings all the gourd songs, though another drum can perform them. The host drums are often called upon to sing special songs during the pow-wow.


  • Besides dances that open a pow-wow session, the most common is the intertribal, where a drum will sing a song and anyone who wants to can come and dance. Similar dances are theround dance; crow hop when performed by a northern drum or a horse stealing song by a southern drum.  There is also "double beat", "sneakup" and "sidestep". Each of these songs uses a different step but open for dancers of any style.  Intertribal dancing is usually an individual activity, but there are also couples and group dances. Couples dances include the two step and owl dance. In a two step each couple follows the lead of the head dancers, forming a line behind them, whereas in an owl dance each couple dances alone. Group dances include the Snake and Buffalo dance, where the group dances to mimic the motions of a snake in the beginning of the dance, then change to mimic the actions of a herd of buffalo.
  • Men's dances
  • Fancy Dance or Fancy Feather Dance (Northern and Southern styles): A dance featuring vivid regalia with dramatic movement, including spins and leaps. Often the biggest crowd-pleasing competition of a pow-wow. Aside from bright color and non-traditional materials, fancy dancers are also distinguished by use of a two-bustle design on their regalia.
  • Northern Traditional (simply "Men's Traditional" in the North): A dance featuring traditional regalia, authentic design and materials, single or no bustle, and movements based on traditional dances.
  • Straight dance (or Southern traditional): Straight dancers usually are neater, with more home-made features such as chokers, breastplates.. Their dances are like Northern traditional dances.  They take one foot and step on the ball of their foot and then they tap it once on the ground. Then they tap it once again but this time they put their heel a few milimeters above the ground and repeat the process with the other foot. They do this in a walking motion. If they catch themselves off beat they will tap their foot three times instead of two to get back with the drums rhythm.
  • Grass Dance: A dance featuring regalia with long, flowing fringe and designs remniscent of grass blowing in the wind. Dance movements are more elaborate than the traditional dancers, but less flashy than the fancy dancers.
  • Women's dances
  • Traditional (seen at Northern powwows): A dance featuring traditional regalia of cloth or leather, featuring authentic design and materials, and dancers who perform, with precise, highly controlled movement.
  • Buckskin and Cloth: A traditional dance from the South. The name refers to the type of material of which the dress is made. The regalia is similar to the Northern traditional dance. However, in the South, buckskin and cloth dancers are judged in two separate categories. The dance steps are the same for both regalia categories.
  • Fancy Shawl: A dance featuring women wearing brilliant colors, a long, usually fringed and decorated, shawl, performing rapid spins and elaborate dance steps.
  • Jingle Dress (healing dance):The jingle dress includes a skirt with hundreds of small tin cones that make noise as the dancer moves with light footwork.


  • The raven has a prominent role in the mythologies of the indigenous peoples including the Tsimishian, Haida, Heiltsuk, Tlingit, Kwakwaka’wakw, Coast Salish, Koyukons, and Inuit. It is the Creator of the world but it also considered a trickster god. For instance, in Tlingit culture, two different raven characters can be identified, although they are not always clearly differentiated. One is the creator raven, responsible for bringing the world into being and who is sometimes considered to be the individual who brought light to the darkness. The other is the childish raven, always selfish, sly, conniving, and hungry.

Six Nations                            

  • Six Nations is the largest First Nation in Canada with a total of 23,902 band members. Of these, 11,865 are reported living in the territory. It is the only territory in North America that has the six Iroquois nations - Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, and Tuscarora – are living together. Some Delaware also live in the territory.
  • The Six Nations reserve is bordered by the County of Brant, City of Brantford, Norfolk County, Halidmand County, and the New Credit Indian reserve. It covers some 46,000 acres (190 km2) and represents approximately 5% of the original 950,000 acres (3,800 km2) of land granted by the 1784 Haldimand Treaty.


  • Herbs are used to purify or bless people.  A bundle of dried herbs bound with a string is burned to make a smudge or cleansing smoke, which is part of a ritual or ceremony to connect to the Creator for giving thanks and prayer.  As smoke rises, prayers rise. Negative energy, feelings and emotions are lifted away.  Smudging is also used for healing mind, body and spirit as well as balancing energies.  It is customary to cleanse by brushing  or washing the smoke over eyes (to see the truth, beauty, gifts and love), ears(to hear the truth and listen), mouth(to speak the truth to empower the positive and for thanksgiving), hands, heart(to feel the truth, grow in harmony and balance, be good and pure and care for others) and body.

Status Indians                     

  • People who are entitled to have their names included on the Indian Register, an official list maintained by the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.  Only Status Indians are recognized Indians under the Indian Act.

The Cree                                  

  • The largest group of First Nations in Canada with over 200,000 members and 135 Cree First Nations from Quebec to Alberta.  Originally inhabiting a small nucleus in the Great Lakes region of what is now Canada, the Cree Nation expanded rapidly in the 17th and 18thcenturies but there numbers were greatly reduced by smallpox, influenza and tuberculosis.


  • Traditional shell beads of the Eastern Woodlands tribes of the indigenous people of North America.  Wampum include the white shell beads fashioned from the North Atlantic channeled whelk shell; and the white and purple beads made from the quahog or Western North Atlantic hard-shelled clam. Wampum were used as trade currency and kept on strings.  Strings of wampum were also used instead of writing and were created to record treaties or historical events.  They are read from left to right. 
  • Wampum is used to mark political alliances, friendship and peace agreements between nations as well as for ceremonies.  Wampum belts were used as a  memory aid in oral tradition, where writing could be encoded in wampum strings.  Such a belt would be considered sacred as it contained so many memories.  Wampum belts were also sometimes used as badges of office or as ceremonial devices of indigenous culture. Wampum was legal tender and widely traded.
  • The Two Row wampum belt of 1613 represents agreements of friendship and peace and respect between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch, French, English and later the Amercians and Canadians.  The two purple lines symbolize a canoe and a European ship travelling down the river of life together.  The canoe carries the laws, spritituality and way of life of the Haudenosaunee and the ship symbolizes the way of the European with his laws, religion and way of life.  Each should travel side by side but without interfering in the lives of the other,  co-existing in mutual respect and harmony.