Reconciliation is about shifting the way non-Indigenous people view Indigenous Peoples and allowing Indigenous Peoples the space to restore their world view, culture and practices. A simple start to reconciliation, that shows respect for Indigenous ways, involves our words.

Indigenous Peoples have their own terms in their own languages. HIP has provided a few common terms for your reference. Please understand that these have been translated into English and as such there may be slight variations from from various regions. We will continue to update for accuracy and expand.



Commonly used to describe Indigenous groups. Band is “confederation of persons having a common purpose.” It does not recognize historical or cultural identity. The correct term to use would be First Nation, Métis or Inuit Peoples.


An offensive term for an Indigenous man.


17th century term to describe the Indigenous People who traditionally inhabit the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland and Siberia. The correct term is Inuit.


Commonly used to describe Indigenous Peoples across North and South America. When foreigners arrived on the shores of what the local Indigenous Peoples call Turtle Island, they believed they had actually discovered the western trade passage to India. In ignorance, they misidentified the Indigenous Peoples as “Indians.” An offensive mistake, comparable to calling an Scotsman Irish or vice-versa.


Redman or Redskin is an offensive term for an individual Indigenous man.



A term in common usage referring to all Indigenous peoples of Canada including Status Indians, Non-Status Indian, Metis and Inuit peoples. It is embedded into Canada’s constitution.


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..


The term to describe the supreme being who made the world and all life.


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


Dances often open a pow-wow. The most common is the inter-tribal, where a drum will sing a song and anyone who wants to can come and dance. Similar dances are the round dance; crow hop when performed by a northern drum or a horse stealing song by a southern drum. There is also “double beat”, “sneak-up” and “sidestep”. Each of these songs uses a different step but open for dancers of any style. Inter-tribal 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 millimetres 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 reminiscent 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.


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.


Indigenous 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 term that was originally used by Indigenous Peoples in the late 1970’s as an alternate to terms such as Native and Indian. The First Nations are the various indigenous peoples in Canada who are neither Inuit nor Metis.  There are currently 633 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


The term used to refer to First Nation, Métis or Inuit Peoples in Canada collectively.


The term for the Indigenous Peoples who traditionally inhabit 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 Peoples who are not included under either the First Nations or the Metis.

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 the intermarriage of First Nation Peoples and Europeans. 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.


A term widely accepted by Indigenous Peoples, Nation describes separate Indigenous groups as political entities. Four criteria of nationhood includes permanent population, definite occupied territory, a government and the ability to enter into relations with other nations.
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.

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.

Residential School

A Canada-wide network of boarding schools for Indigenous 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


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 Indian

Status Indian is the term used by the government to identify Indigenous Peoples 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.

Truth & 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.


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.