Commonly Used Indigenous Terms & Phrases You May Not Be Familiar With [3min read]

October is Mi’kmaq History Month, and we have lots of great information to share with you. If you’re not familiar with the difference between Indigenous, Aboriginal, First Nation, Inuit, Métis and L’nu, or haven’t heard of the place-names Mi’kma’ki or Unama’ki, this blog is for you.

As a proud leader in Indigenous education, dedicated to Indigenizing the academy, we feel that all members of the CBU community should use Mi’kmaq History Month as a learning opportunity. We’ve collected a list of some commonly used Indigenous terms and phrases that can help kickstart your learning this month!


Aboriginal: a legal term defined in the Canadian Constitution. Section 35(2) of the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982 defines Aboriginal peoples of Canada as Indian, Inuit and Métis. All Aboriginal peoples are Indigenous, but all Indigenous peoples are not Aboriginal.

Indigenous: an inclusive term that is becoming increasingly popular for those who see themselves as Indigenous. It means “of the land” and is not imposed by law or the Government of Canada.

Indian: a term not commonly used in modern-day Canada. It has largely been replaced by First Nation. The legal definition of Indian as outlined in the Indian Act of 1876 is still used in issues pertaining to the law. It is still used to describe Indian status.

First Nation: First Nation people are the Aboriginal peoples of Canada who are located south of the Arctic. Individual nations also have terms for themselves as Indigenous people, for example, the Mi’kmaq use the term “L’nuk” or “L’nu.”

Inuit: a distinct group of Aboriginal Canadians who are neither First Nations or Métis. In Inuktitut, Inuit means “the People.” Historically the term Eskimo was used to describe the Indigenous peoples of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland; however, Eskimo is seen as demeaning and unacceptable and has fallen out of use when referring to Arctic and subarctic peoples.

Métis: the descendants of Indigenous and European settlers who formed mixed communities around the fur trade. The Métis are recognized as Aboriginal peoples in Canada. The term Métis is viewed differently across the country and its use can be complex and contentious.

Mi’kmaq: an Algonquian Indigenous nation that occupies the territory of Mi’kma’ki (Atlantic Canada and the Gaspé peninsula). This spelling indicates a reference to the collective or the plural form. It roughly translates to “family” or “relations.”

Mi’kmaw: the singular form of Mi’kmaq. This spelling can also be used as an adjective where it precedes a noun (Mi’kmaw people, Mi’kmaw rights).

L’nu: or L’nuk, is the term the Mi’kmaq use to describe themselves as Indigenous people. It means “the people.”

Indian Act: the principal statute for governing First Nations in Canada. The Act does not apply to Inuit or Métis people and communities. The Indian Act allows the federal government to administer status, governments, land and money.

Mi’kma’ki: the land or territory of the Mi’kmaq. It includes the Atlantic Provinces, some of Maine, and the Gaspé region of Quebec.

Unama’ki: the Mi’kmaw word for Cape Breton Island. It loosely translates to “Land of Fog.”

Reserve: a portion of land owned by the Canadian government that has been set aside for First Nation peoples.

Elder: an influential community member and knowledge holder who is recognized and respected for their teachings, values, and principles.