Canadian News May 26, 2020 3:03 PM EST

Trudeau government warns MPs not to use the term 'aboriginal' anymore

The term "Indian" was used in Cabinet until 2011, when the department's name switched to "Aboriginal Affairs." It changed again in 2015 to "Indigenous Affairs."

Trudeau government warns MPs not to use the term 'aboriginal' anymore
Roberto Wakerell-Cruz Montreal, QC
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"Aboriginal" is the latest in a list of apparently outdated terms that should not be used, a federal language guide meant for MPs, senators, and staff.

According to Blacklock's Reporter, the guide reads: "Knowing which terms to use, the legal distinctions between them and to whom they apply can often be challenging. However, using appropriate language is fundamental to ensuring respectful and positive relationships with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis and to avoiding terms that may be discriminatory, offensive or inaccurate."

Additionally, the term "Indigenous" should only be used if there are no specifics to an Indigenous person's background, and that specific nations should be used as identities, such as "Mohawk," "Cree," and "Haida."

"The term 'aboriginals' should be avoided," the guide reads. "'Aboriginal' should be used as an adjective rather than a noun. The possessive 'our Indigenous peoples' should also be avoided. It is preferable to say ‘Indigenous peoples of Canada'."

The update is the latest in a series of changing vocabulary that has spanned decades. In 1876, Canada passed the Indian Act, which is still in Canadian law books to this day. Unlike our neighbours to the south, Canada has moved away from using the term, as the term "aboriginal" was adopted in the 1982 Constitution Act.

The term "Indian" was used in Cabinet until 2011, when the department's name switched to "Aboriginal Affairs." It changed again in 2015 to "Indigenous Affairs."

"Note that 'Indigenous peoples' and 'First Nations' are not interchangeable," the guide reads. "The Métis and Inuit are also Indigenous peoples."

"For centuries the original inhabitants of the Americas have been largely defined by others beginning with the misapplication of the term 'Indian' by Christopher Columbus to describe the various peoples of these continents," said the Guide.

"Today as attitudes towards the First Peoples of what is now known as Canada change and evolve, so too do the terms used to describe them."

An article published by CBC in 2016 expressed similar sentiment, providing more context for Canadians who want to ensure they don't step on any toes.

According to Bob Joseph, the founder of the Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., the term "Canada's Indigenous Peoples" should also be avoided, as it has implications that the peoples belong to colonialist Canada. Rather, "Indigenous Peoples in Canada" should be used.

The full guide can be read here.

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