Primer on Indigenous Peoples and protocols in Newfoundland and Labrador

This FAQ is a living document and will be updated.


Q: What are some good texts to help my learning on Indigenous peoples’ priorities and topics in Canada and this province?
When we’ve asked Indigenous scholars which texts they would recommend for learners, they always mention: Vowel, C. (2016). Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit issues in Canada. Portage & Main Press. Other recommendations include: Manuel, A., & Derrickson, G. C. R. M. (2015). Unsettling Canada: A national wake-up call. Between the Lines; Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2014). R-words: Refusing research. Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities, 223-248; and Indigenous Actions’ “Accomplices Not Allies.”

Many faculty and staff at Memorial have taken a free, online open course called Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education, that helps learners “envision how Indigenous histories, perspectives, worldviews, and approaches to learning can be made part of the work we do in classrooms, organizations, communities, and our everyday experiences in ways that are thoughtful and respectful.” For Faculty, CITL sometimes offers a discussion setting for people who take the course.

Documents that have been produced by Indigenous people in this province include Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s National Inuit Strategy on Research.

Q: What are the different Aboriginal groups in Newfoundland and Labrador?

  • Inuit of Nunatsiavut (North coast of Labrador). Over 7,000 people are beneficiaries of Nunatsiavut, with ~2500 living in the land claim area. The land claim and self-governing Nunatsiavut Government was established in 2005. Nunatsiavut is part of Inuit Nunagat, the Inuit homelands across all of Canada. The traditional language is Inutittut. The Nunatsiavut Government has a formal research ethics and permitting process, as well as an Inuit Research Coordinator.
  • Innu Nation of Nitassinan (Labrador and Quebec). Innu Nation represents the two Innu communities of Nitassinan that are in Labrador: Natuashish and Sheshatshiu, which have a combined population of ~2200 people. There are eleven Innu communities within all of Nitassinan, which includes areas of Quebec. The traditional language is Innu-aimum. Innu Nation has a formal research ethics and permission application.
  • Southern Inuit of NunatuKavut (South Coast of Labrador). Around 6,000 beneficiaries are represented by the Nunatsiavut Community Council in central and southern Labrador. The Canadian federal government announced the beginning of land claim negotiations in August 2018. NunatuKavut Community Council has a formal research ethics and permissions process, as well as a Research Manager.
  • Miawpukek Mi’kmaq First Nation is situated in southern central Newfoundland island. Around 950 live on reserve at Conne River, Miawpukek Mi'kamawey Mawi'omi, and ~2000 live off reserve. Their traditional language is Mi’kmaq.
  • Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation is in southern and western Newfoundland island. There are ~24,000 members in 67 different communities, as well as members that live outside of these communities.
  • There are many independent First Nation Mi’kmaq groups in the province that do not identify as Qalipu or Miaqpukek. Some of these are listed in our research contact guide, as they have a local governing body.
  • Beothuk occupied most of the island of Newfoundland. The Beothuk language is an Algonquin language. The most recent record of a member of the Beothuk people was before 1900.
  • Urban centers in the province, such as St. John’s and Corner Brook, have diverse Indigenous populations. In the 2016 census, 6,690 people in St. John’s identified as having Aboriginal identity. The 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey showed that about one in eight (13%) Aboriginal people in Newfoundland and Labrador resided in Corner Brook, representing 18% of the total population living there. In 2011, 55% of Aboriginal people aged 25 to 64 in Newfoundland and Labrador had a certificate, diploma or degree from a trade school, college or university: 55% of First Nations people, 59% of Métis and 54% of Inuit.

Understanding that there is vast diversity within and across Indigenous groups is part of the politics of truth and reconciliation.

Image of customary land use and occupation (not land-claims), via Native-Land.ca.

Image of customary land use and occupation (not land-claims), via Native-Land.ca.

This map can help researchers understand who they might need consent from in order to conduct research on Land or peoples in a region. There is no agreed-upon map of land claim areas for all the Indigenous groups in the province. When in doubt about whether your research is on Indigenous land, call the Indigenous governing body. A list of contacts is available here.

Q: What is Memorial University’s land acknowledgement?
“Territory acknowledgement is a way that people insert an awareness of Indigenous presence and land rights in everyday life. This is often done at the beginning of ceremonies, lectures, or any public event. It can be a subtle way to recognize the history of colonialism and a need for change in settler colonial societies” (Native-land.ca). For more information on Land Acknowledgements, see Native-Land.ca’s primer and resources on Territory Acknowledgements.

Memorial’s St. John’s campus Land acknowledgement is unique because it was decided on with all five Indigenous groups in the province. As such, the wording is specific to the cultures and politics of this province and should generally not be adapted by guests.

We respectfully acknowledge the territory in which we gather as the ancestral homelands of the Beothuk, and the island of Newfoundland as the ancestral homelands of the Mi’kmaq and Beothuk. We would also like to recognize the Inuit of Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut and the Innu of Nitassinan, and their ancestors, as the original people of Labrador. We strive for respectful relationships with all the peoples of this province as we search for collective healing and true reconciliation and honour this beautiful land together.

The acknowledgement was written with the following considerations:

  • Memorial University represents more than the province’s most urban area. It does this in name, with its self-identified obligations, and with campus placements around the province. To maintain consistency with Memorial University’s position, the Land Acknowledgement offered here recognizes collaborators from many areas of the province.
  • Recognizing that it is both respectful and accurate to identify peoples by their self-declared descriptors, in place of external labels, this Land Acknowledgement utilizes the most current appellation supported by the organizations that officially represent the Aboriginal Peoples of the province. For instance, the Indigenous peoples of southern Labrador are transitioning from the title ‘Metis’ to the more accurate descriptor ‘Southern Inuit.’
  • Land acknowledgement in other areas of the country may use the term, ‘unceeded,’ referring to the absence of a land surrender by original occupants. While ‘unceeded’ is an apt qualifier that accurately describes some areas of the province, three out of five of the organizations that represent Aboriginal populations in the province have initiated land stewardship agreements with the provincial and federal governments. ‘Unceeded’ is not used in this Land Acknowledgement, as it does not accurately describe the whole province.
  • The phrase, “…and their ancestors…” is included in the land acknowledgement to reference the belief that incomers have arrived sequentially. Although the nature of the consolidation of one arrival to the next is not yet discernible, there is strong supporting evidence that suggests previous occupation by distinct populations. Whether people were absorbed through intermarriage, displaced, or they vacated beforehand, “…and their ancestor…” acknowledges the predecessors sometimes referred to as the Thule, Maritime Archaic, and “Palaeo-Eskimos.”
  • There are currently no known living Beothuk people in the province, however recent genetic marker testing in neighbouring populations may introduce new evidence into this dialogue. The Beothuk people are referenced in this acknowledgement given that much of the eastern portion of the Island part of the province was inhabited by Beothuk and that their tragic demise is a shared part of this province’s recent history. This reference is meant to honor the spirit of their legacy, regardless of forthcoming evidences.

Grenfell’s Land Acknowledgement:
We acknowledge that the land on which we gather is in traditional Mi’kmaw territory, and we acknowledge with respect the diverse histories and cultures of the Beothuk, Mi’kmaq, Innu, and Inuit of this province.

Labrador Institute’s Land Acknowledgement:
We acknowledge that the lands on which we gather are the homelands of the Innu and Inuit of Labrador, and recognize their ancestral and continued ties to these lands and waters.

For help on pronunciation in Land Acknowledgements, see this video.

A PDF of St. John’s and Grenfell’s Land Acknowledgement is available here.

Q: Why do you sometimes use “Aboriginal” and other times use “Indigenous” or First Nations, First Peoples, or other terms?
Because terminology stems from settler government legislation as well as self-determination of Indigenous groups, terms are always shifting. Different terms are used at different historical moments, in different places, and by different groups and governments. At this time, Indigenous is a term used by the United Nations to mean all first peoples around the world. It’s also a common term in academia, though often not in communities. This does not make the term perfect, but it is the term that applies to the broadest number of peoples and is legible to the broadest number of researchers.

Aboriginal is a term that comes from Canada’s Constitution (Section 35, 1982), and refers to all First Nation, Métis, and Inuit groups in Canada. This does not mean it is embraced by all groups, however.

“First Nations, Metis, and Inuit” is a phrase used when Aboriginal is not preferred, and refers to all Indigenous groups in Canada.

First Nations refers to groups included within Canada’s Indian Act (1876).

Métis refers to a distinct group of Indigenous people within Métis Nation, not recognized in Canada’s Indian Act but recognized in settler government legislation since.

Inuit refer to a distinct grouping of Indigenous people across more than 50 communities, not recognized in Canada’s Indian Act but recognized in settler government legislation since.
For an overview of terminology see, “What to call us? Do’s and Don’t’s” by âpihtawikosisân. There is also an excellent chapter on this topic in Vowel, C. (2016). Indigenous writes: A guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit issues in Canada. Portage and Main Press.

Q: What is a settler?
Settlers are guests on this land. Here is a definition offered by an Indigenous collective called Unsettling Minnesota: “All people not indigenous to North America who are living on this continent are settlers on stolen land. We also acknowledge that the state was founded through genocide and colonization– which continues today and from which settlers directly benefit. However, all settlers do not benefit equally from the colonial state. Not all those residing on this land immigrated here of free will, and while a pronouncedly racist power structure determines who gains the most from Dakota genocide, it is all of our responsibilities as settlers, especially those of us who descended from European colonizers, to challenge the systems of domination from which we benefit. [It is a] way to describe colonizers that highlights their desires to be emplaced on Indigenous land.”

Unsettling Minnesota. 2009. Unsettling Ourselves: Reflections and Resources for Deconstructing Colonial Mentality. University of Minnesota: 43.

Q: I have heard that research can be colonial, but does that refer to all research, or just disrespectful research?
Colonialism refers to a lot of things and there are many different kinds of colonialism, but one of the things they have in common is a system of domination whereby settlers/outsiders have access to Indigenous Land (including ideas, art, concepts, etc) for settler goals. It is a type of assumed entitlement. Much research assumes this kind of access—indeed, we are taught that research and obtaining data, samples, and cases is inherently good and is even extra good if it’s going to benefit the world, even if it requires this access. This is the crux of what consent for research from Indigenous governing bodies is meant to address. Rather than assuming accesses, it asks for it.

Q: What is tokenism and how do I avoid it?
Tokenism refers to a practice of inclusion that is very shallow, where an Indigenous (or other type of person) is included in an event, proposal, etc., but is not in a position to influence that event, proposal, etc. Tokenism can include inviting Indigenous people into grants, only panels, and into classrooms, but not adjusting structures so that they can make decisions, where no one is accountable to them, or where they cannot influence the course of action. Ways to avoid this include having a majority of Indigenous people, inviting them into leadership positions, or stepping aside to allow them collaborative or total control of the event.

Q: How do I learn about the type of respect I should give when approaching a group?
For initial approaches, attend public events designed for mixed groups if you don’t already know people from the group you want to engage with. It’s even better if someone can introduce you around. In general, good manners usually involve humility, not having an agenda (even a beneficial research or project agenda), good listening (listen more than you talk), and showing evidence of basic knowledge of that group. A very simple primer on respect in Indigenous-settler partnerships is available from Reconciliation Australia. There is also a simple guide called “Etiquette- Do’s and Don’ts” by SAMSHA.

Q: Paperwork and permits seem colonial. Isn’t it better to get more Indigenous styles of consent, like verbal agreement?
Getting Indigenous styles of consent appropriate to the group you’re working with is excellent, and can be paired with the paperwork for consent. There are many types of colonialism, but at their core the different types are about a system of dominant that grants settler access to Indigenous Land, concepts, knowledge, and peoples for settler goals.[1] This means that paperwork, bureaucratic portals, and letterhead can be used in anti-colonial ways, ensure that access to Indigenous Land, concepts, knowledge, and peoples is for Indigenous goals. For more on varieties and manifestations of colonialism, see: Veracini, L. (2010). Settler colonialism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

[1] This definition is adapted from Coulthard, G. (2014). Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Politics of Colonial Recognition. Minnesota Press.

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Tel: (709) 864-8000