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Indigenous Citation Guide


Please be aware that terminology is a shifting and often personal matter. Do not hesitate to let us know if you feel information here is out of date! Included here are a number of tips found in Gregory Younging's book Elements of Indigenous Style, although this is by no means an exhaustive list. is another excellent resource for using respectful terminology.

For more information on specific community names, consider the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit – Indigenous Ontology (FNMIIO)

Terms to Avoid

You should always avoid using inappropriate terminology except when:

  • specifically describing or referencing inappropriate terminology
  • referring to a proper name, name of an institution, or name of a document that contains the terminology
  • quoting from a source that uses inappropriate terminology, although in this case you should always try and contextualize the terminology


Some examples of Inappropriate Terminology include:

  • Indian - instead use Indigenous Peoples or First Nations, unless making specific reference to the Indian Act.
  • Eskimo - instead use Inuit as either a plural noun or adjective, or use Inuk for a singular noun
  • legends/mythology/myths/tales - instead it's generally preferable to use Oral Traditions or Traditional Stories
  • peace pipe, tom-tom, rain/war dance - these are either made up, or are nonspecific umbrella terms for real Indigenous ceremonies or items


Following Principle 13, terms for Indigenous identities; Indigenous governmental, social, spiritual, and religion institutions; and Indigenous collective rights should be capitalized. For example:

  • Aboriginal, First Nations, Inuit/Inuk
  • Elder, Potlach, Traditional Knowledge
  • Traditional Territory, Indigenous Right, Status Indian

The "I" in Indigenous is always capitalized. The "P" in People(s) is capitalized according to the following guidelines:

  • An Indigenous person is a person who identifies as First Nations, Inuit, or Métis
  • Indigenous Peoples are the distinct societies of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples in Canada
  • An Indigenous People is a single one of the distinct societies of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples in Canada. Syilx, for example, are an Indigenous People
  • Indigenous people refers to people who identify as First Nations, Inuit, or Métis in a context where their specific identity is not at issue

Style Choices to Avoid

Verb Tense:

Whenever possible, avoid referring to Indigenous Peoples entirely in past tense. Doing so perpetuates the myth that Indigenous Peoples have been assimilated into mainstream Canadian culture and no longer exist as distinct cultures.

  • "They held Potlachs" becomes "They hold Potlachs"
  • "They had Traditional Territories" becomes "They have Traditional Territories"

In certain circumstances, such as when describing an activity or event that specifically and exclusively took place in the past, using past tense is acceptable.


Avoid using possessive terms when describing Indigenous Peoples. For example:

  • Canada's Indigenous Peoples
  • Our Indigenous Peoples
  • Indigenous Peoples of Canada
  • Instead, use phrases like "Indigenous Peoples in what is now Canada"

Always remember that Indigenous Peoples are distinct nations that are not owned by colonial governments.