Lingo: Words and Phrases Commonly Used in First Nations Projects

There are many words and phrases used in connection with First Nations Projects which have very specific meaning, and many acronyms used as short form, which can be challenging when first getting started. This article sets out some common words, phrases and acronyms and describes their meaning.

Peoples and Groups

  1. Aboriginal – Aboriginal is a term used to describe all three of Canada’s indigenous groups. The term “Aboriginal” appears in section 35 of the Constitution Act (1982), which defines the “aboriginal peoples of Canada” as including the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.
  2. Indian – A defined term under the Indian Act meaning “a person who pursuant to this Act is registered as an Indian or is entitled to be registered as an Indian”. The Indian Act sets out in detail who is, and who is not, entitled to be registered.
  3. Inuit – Inuit are the indigenous people of the North.
  4. Métis – Métis is an aboriginal group with mixed European and First Nation heritage, based largely in Western Canada.
  5. Band – A defined term under the Indian Act meaning “a body of Indians (a) for whose use and benefit in common, lands, the legal title to which is vested in Her Majesty, have been set apart before, on or after September 4, 1951, (b) for whose use and benefit in common, moneys are held by Her Majesty, or (c) declared by the Governor General in Council to be a band for the purposes of this Act”.
  6. First Nation – Not defined under the Indian Act, this term usually used in a way that is synonymous with “Band”, and First Nations person is usually synonymous with “Indian”.


  1. Reserve – A defined term under the Indian Act meaning “a tract of land, the legal title to which is vested in Her Majesty, that has been set apart by Her Majesty for the use and benefit of a band”, and reserve includes designated lands.
  2. Traditional Territory – Not defined in legislation, traditional territory refers to a geographical area historically used by a First Nation for social, economic or spiritual purposes. First Nations assert aboriginal rights or aboriginal title in their traditional territory, and the Crown may have obligations relating to consultation and accommodation on those areas.
  3. Certificate of Possession – A defined term under the Indian Act. The Indian Act provides that for an Indian to be in lawful possession of reserve land, the land must be allotted by the council and consented to by the Minister. The certificate of possession is evidence of the right of possession. In Westbank First Nation, the term “Certificate of Possession” is also used, but the process for allotment is governed by their Constitution rather than the Indian Act.
  4. CP Holder – An Indian who holds a Certificate of Possession.
  5. Locatee – Before 1951, location tickets were used instead of certificates of possession, and the holder of a location ticket was referred to as a “Locatee”. “CP Holder” and “Locatee” are sometimes used interchangeably, but generally the interest is represented by a certificate of possession rather than a location ticket.
  6. Community Lands – Reserve lands which have not been allotted to a specific band member are referred to as community lands. This term is not defined in the Indian Act, but it is a defined term in the Westbank First Nation’s Constitution.
  7. Customary Holdings – This phrase is used to describe arrangements where band members occupy reserve land without a certificate of possession. Without a certificate of possession, the band member has no legal right to the land or to exclude others from it, and may be expelled from the land by an order of the band council.
  8. Surrender – Surrender is a process by which a Band authorizes Her Majesty to sell or lease reserve land. “Surrendered Lands” is a defined term in the Indian Act. An “Absolute Surrender” is where the band gives up all of its interest absolutely, and is used for sales. Absolute surrenders are very rare these days. A “Conditional Surrender”, sometimes also called a “Non-absolute Surrender”, is another word for “designation”.
  9. Designation – Designation is the process by which a Band approves using reserve land for leasing to non-Indians. “Designated Lands” is a defined term in the Indian Act, and is defined to be a surrender other than an absolute surrender. The term “Designation” was introduced in 1988, so in older documents you will see “conditional surrender” or “surrender for leasing purposes”, whereas newer documents will refer to designation. Designations must be approved by the Band in a referendum by a “majority of a majority of voters”, which means a majority of eligible electors must vote, and a majority of those who vote must vote in favour. If the first referendum does not have a high enough voter turnout, the Minister may allow a second referendum with the lower threshold of a simple majority. Westbank First Nation has different processes for approving leases of community lands, and those processes are set out in its Constitution.
  10. ILR – “Indian Land Registry” is the registry system in which interests under the Indian Act are recorded. The Indian Land Registry is a notice system only, and does not provide any guarantee of title. There could be interests which are not recorded in the registry, although there are certain interests which are required by the Indian Act to be registered to be enforceable.  Westbank First Nation uses the “Self Governing First Nation Land Registry”, which can be accessed through the same website as the Indian Land Registry.
  11. CLSR – “Canada Land Survey Records”, part of Natural Resources Canada, is the repository for survey plans creating lots on reserve lands.


  1. BCR – Band Council Resolution
  2. C&C – Chief and Council
  3. INAC – Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
  4. FNLMA – First Nations Land Management Act is optional legislation enacted in 1999 which allows First Nations who sign a framework agreement with the government to have the power to create their own land codes. Thirty three First Nations are operating under their own land codes (20 in BC, including WFN and TFN which have now moved on to self government and treaty, respectively), and 10 are in the process of developing their codes (4 in BC). In 2008, the federal government closed the regime to new entrants as there was no long term funding.
  5. Self Governing – A self governing first nation is one which has entered into a Self-Government Agreement with the federal government. In British Columbia, Westbank First Nation and Sechelt Indian Band have entered into Self-Government Agreements. A Self-Government Agreement does not involve the surrender of aboriginal rights or title, and is not the same as a treaty.
  6. Treaty – A treaty is an agreement between an aboriginal group and Her Majesty dealing with aboriginal rights and title. Treaties can be loosely grouped into two categories: historic and modern. In British Columbia, examples of historic treaties include the Douglas Treaties on Vancouver Island and Treaty 8 in the Northeastern BC. Modern Treaties include the Nisga’a Final Agreement and the Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement.

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