Language and grammar

Last updated: October 14, 2021 

Use active language. Do not present Indigenous people as passive in their affairs. Instead of ‘the treaty provided First Nations with water rights’, write ‘First Nations negotiated the Treaty with the government to secure water rights’.

Avoid terms like ‘allow’, ‘grant’ or ‘permit’. Indigenous people do not need to be permitted to act on their own land. Nor are their Aboriginal rights granted or allowed by any other government. They’re inherent based on the occupation of the land before colonization. Also use the term 'support' rather than 'help', and 'share' instead of 'provide' or 'give' when writing about funding or revenue sharing.

Use present verb tenses

Avoid using past verb tenses that misrepresent histories. Writing that a First Nation ‘held’ traditional territories is very different from writing that they ‘hold’ those territories.

Avoid possessive terms

Using possessives implies that Indigenous people are owned. Do not use ‘Indigenous Canadian’, as many Indigenous people do not identify with a Canadian national identity.

Don't use:

  • British Columbia’s Métis Nation
  • Canada's Indigenous people
  • Canada’s First Nations
  • Indigenous British Columbian
  • Our Aboriginal people
  • Our First Nations
  • The Indigenous Peoples of Canada

Instead use:

  • Indigenous Peoples in British Columbia
  • Indigenous Peoples within Canada

Use strengths-based language

It is more empowering to refer to residential school survivors rather than victims of residential schools. Instead of ‘many Indigenous Peoples struggle with the legacy of residential schools’, write ‘Indigenous people are committed to a healing journey from the legacy of residential schools’. This shift guides the individual's mindset to approach this work in a good way.

Avoid ‘us/them’ language

Instead of ‘They (Indigenous Peoples) have struggled for their treaties to be respected,’ write ‘We all have responsibilities to uphold these agreements.’