As a Native American and First Nations led coalition, we aim to provide a clear understanding of our work. In this section, you will find definitions based on our work that includes colonially imposed racial classifications in the United States and Canada. We hope this will help you to understand how critical the work of Native led social and racial justice work is.
We are firmly based in the Anishinaabe Nation or Anishinaabe Aki. We are deeply rooted in our culture. Therefore, the foundation of our conference, programs, events, and initiatives focuses on our people and communities. However, we are inclusive to all Aboriginal, Alaskan, Native, Indigenous, Native American, Native Hawaiian, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people and communities.
Native Led Critical Analysis on Racial Justice
A thorough Native-led critical analysis on race and racial classification will result in a holistic conversation on what transformation, healing, and justice can mean. If there continues to be misunderstanding about federal colonial laws, forced racial classifications, blood quantum, and identity as defined by colonizers, we will not bring the change we need in our communities. While there are frequently more efforts of racial justice declarations from political progressives than conservatives, oftentimes, these can become disingenuous or rooted in superficial understandings of social and political standings or what is desired from Native communities. This can lead to actions of good intent to morph into actions of tokenism and compounding harm. Unfortunately, colonial progressives have often given us labels and definitions that are not sufficient to define who we are as many Native Nations and peoples. As a result, often colonial progressive and left movements can tokenize, ignore, and erase us. We have not been politically included and it has only been recently where we have started to be included and represented.
The Native Justice Coalition doesn’t use BIPOC or POC in our organization definitions and we ask you to respect Native sovereignty, our Nations, identity, and cultural restoration. Why is this so? BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) is a form of erasure in the fact that we are erased, lumped, and absorbed. Therefore, our issues are linked to a “common fight.” This is a problem for numerous reasons. First, not only is it erasure but it seeks to have other communities speak on behalf of our issues. It is critical that issues regarding Native communities remain Native led. Second, we are the smallest percent of the world population, and lumping us into the global majority is problematic because Native Nationhood and sovereignty are erased. POC (People of Color) is closely related to “colored.” This is not a term of empowerment but disempowerment. While some may choose to use and feel empowered with these terms we want everyone to think critically how these terms do not apply to Native people. In Canada, the term to define groups that have been defined under white supremacy is “racialized.” A critical analysis is essential to counter the ways that our issues become a “talking point,” at a social justice event and not a point of transformation. It is true that Native people have been erased for centuries in the United States and Canada through specific governmental policies to get rid of us completely. Education begins by centering our work in social and racial justice. As such, we can find commonality with everyone in this work.
Our definitions represent and are inclusive to the diversity of Native people in Anishinaabe Aki and Great Lakes Native Nations. Due to colonialism, our people span the spectrum of skin tone, hair color, and eye color. Native people don’t have one stereotypical look. Breaking down stereotypes, Indigenous people do have blonde hair (Sámi & Nenet) just as much as they have black, brown, or red hair. Moving beyond stereotypes, colorism, and racism the Native Justice Coalition seeks to be inclusive to the many ways Native people are represented. Indigenous inclusivity is essential to healing, social, and racial justice.
Aboriginal – Original to a specific place on Earth. This term can be used to speak of Aboriginal people or as an adjective applied to their culture or creations as in “aboriginal art.”
Anishinaabe – Anishinaabe can be translated in several ways: the lowered beings, the good beings, or the spontaneous beings. It is the name for the alliance of Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi people who also refer to themselves as the Three Fires Confederacy. As of 2021, there are 142 sovereign Anishinaabe nations in the US and Canada across 7 states and 5 provinces.
Culture – The collective efforts of a group of people to define and recognize themselves as a group over time. This is often also described as ethnicity.
Enrolled – To be recognized as a member of a sovereign nation according to tribal laws of citizenship and descendancy. This is the same as the term status.
First Nations – Territories established through treaties as Indigenous nations with self-governance. This term is used most commonly in Canada and Australia.
Indian – Based on the colonial history of North, Central, and South America where explorers were seeking to find India, this term refers broadly to the people they encountered. It has been retained in instances where the political record of the colonial encounter or specific legislation has significance. In many cases Indigenous people will refer to one another as “Indians” but it is not appropriate for others to use. Whenever possible it is best to use a specific nation or culture group to describe a person.
Indigenous – The term Indigenous is used to describe any living being who lives in their place of origin which is often connected to the way they thrive or have developed a culture. Indigenous people are members or descendants of tribal nations.
Inuit – A culturally connected group of people who are acknowledged as holding the rights to land and water in the Arctic including parts of Canada, the United States (Alaska), Denmark (Greenland), and Russia. Inuit rights are affirmed by the 1999 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (The Declaration).
Invisible Minority – An invisible minority is someone whose identity as a member of a minority group is not easily visible to others.
Justice – Acts centered in shared truths and intended to support equity across beings.
Native American – A Native American is someone native to America, but this term is commonly used instead of American Indian when speaking broadly about Indigenous people of the Americas.
Non-Status/Unenrolled – An individual that does not have documented citizenship in an Indigenous nation.
Métis – A person of mixed European (typically French) and Indigenous (typically Algonquian, Ojibwe, Cree, Dakota, or Lakota) ancestry. Métis today are members or descendants of the Métis Nation of Alberta, the Métis Nation of Ontario, have connections to communities such as Mooniingwanekaaning-minis (Madeline Island, Wisconsin), or a specific ancestor who was recognized as Métis.
Minority – A minority is determined by analysis of an entire system. In society the term has come to represent groups of people who make up a smaller percent of the population. In some instances, the minority becomes the majority in a location or situation but may still be the minority within the overall system.
Mixed Blood / Mixed Race / Multiracial – All of these terms are used to describe someone with more than one race.
Multicultural – This term is used to describe someone with more than one culture or ethnicity.
Quantum – A colonial form of race identification based on a person’s genealogy which determines the fraction of their heritage, or blood-quantum, they have in common with one or more original enrollees of a tribe.
Race – A set of categories used to group people based on physical traits (phenotypes) such as skin tone. Race is socially constructed and is not based on science or biology. However, in order to achieve justice, equality, and inclusion, we must understand how racism, prejudice, and discrimination negatively affect our Indigenous communities and other marginalized groups in our homelands.
Racism – A set of negative, disrespectful or hateful actions based on beliefs related to race. Additionally, it is also prejudice combined with social and institutional power.
Racialized Communities – This is a term used in Canada for visible minorities or non-white people.
Reservation / Rez – An older or slang term for territories established through treaties as Indigenous land in the United States. In most cases, these are now sovereign nations with state or federal recognition.
Status – To be recognized as a member of a sovereign nation according to tribal laws of citizenship and descendancy. This is the same as the term “enrolled.”
Treaty Territories – Treaty territories in Canada are regional areas which were defined by treaties between 1871 and 1921 to determine settlement and use of natural resources. There are 11 Treaty Territories in Canada representing hundreds of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities. In the US, treaty territories are defined by the 368 treaties made between 1778 and 1871.
Un-enrolled – To either: 1) be recognized as a member of a sovereign nation without meeting tribal laws of citizenship and descendancy or 2) to appropriate and falsify enrollment status.
Visible Minorities – A visible minority is someone whose identity as a member of a minority group is visible to others.