Aboriginal Research Search Terminology

We all know that searching library and journal databases can be a consuming task with the numerous variations of terms that exist to describe the topic we are researching. After spending the week researching widely on the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada, I thought blogging about search terminology tips when researching Aboriginal issues may be useful to others.

It is important to know the context of your research when researching Aboriginal topics because there are a wide variety of terms that are used to describe Aboriginal Peoples in Canada and other parts of the world. Aboriginal, for example, is a term that is more common to Canada and Australia, while in the United States the term Indian is still widely used. It is also important to note that Aboriginal Peoples themselves have, in many cases, embraced the term Indian. Therefore, if you are doing research at a local level or within NGO’s, Indian could be a useful searchable term.

It is less common for the term Indian to be used in Canada other than in legal and constitutional definitions of Indian. It is important to consider that the terms Indian and Eskimo (rather than the term Inuit that is used now) have not been out of our language for very long. It is important, especially when looking for governmental material to take time to search with these terms, seeing as prior to 2011 the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) as known Indian Affairs and Northern Development (IANDC) and prior to that, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).

Even though in many cases the older governmental material can be helpful, you will also stumble upon some interesting and shocking pieces as well, such as The Book of Wisdom for Eskimo published by the government in 1947 to teach the Inuit how to live properly. As absurd as the text is, it is quite amusing to watch modern day Inuit reading the text.

Indigenous is a term that is used more commonly at a global level and is often used to describe Indigenous Peoples as a whole across the globe. This is the term used in the United Nations has adopted in their United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. If the research you are conducting is looking at the global sphere, then Indigenous would be your term of choice. However, if you were researching a more specific geographic area or population it is better to be more specific in your terminology.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit will find more detailed work on Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, but even further, Dené, Blackfoot and Maliseet (and all other names of specific populations) will find even more detailed cases. It may also be useful to look up out of use terms for specific Aboriginal populations, as we know here in Atlantic Canada the Mi'kmaq were referred to in the past the Micmacs, and the spelling of Mi’kmaq can vary depending on region and context, Mi'kmaw, Mi'gmaq, or Mi'gmaw – all of which could bring up different search results.

If you need more resources you can always consult the Mi’kmaq Studies Subject Guide, the Mi’kmaq Resource Centre or the library.