Beyond Conservation:
Glossary of Terms Used in the Toolkit

This glossary contains some of the terms used throughout the toolkit. We compiled the definitions we are providing from other reputable sources (see references), and through discussion with toolkit contributors. We acknowledge that many of these terms may be defined slightly differently elsewhere.

Beyond Conservation: A Toolkit for Respectful Collaboration with Indigenous Peoples



Practical Steps and Resources


Co-led by Indigenous communities

  • Initiatives where Indigenous governments, organizations, or communities share decision-making with partners.
  • Indigenous government/Peoples OR external partners OR both initiate the work together.
  • See this Proposed Spectrum for Distinguishing Indigenous-led Stewardship for more details.
  • Note: compare against “Indigenous-involved” and “Indigenous-led”


  • Challenging and changing the supremacy and privilege of Western thought, ideologies, systems, and ways of doing things.
  • Centering and respecting Indigenous Knowledge Systems, legal and governance systems, and ways of knowing and doing.
  • Concerted efforts to address systemic and institutional colonialism in all areas of Canadian society, including conservation and environmental governance.

Distinctions-based approach

  • An approach to relationship-building that recognizes the First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit as the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, who have distinct, rights-bearing communities and their own histories. 
  • This approach reflects the unique interests, priorities, and circumstances of each Indigenous People.


  • Elders are respected individuals with life experience who play key roles in Indigenous communities. They are explicitly named as Elders by members of their community, i.e. not all people of a certain age become Elders.
  • Elders are important Knowledge Keepers, and they also help to ensure cultural continuity. 
  • As living connections to the past, Elders serve as teachers, healers, advisors, and counsellors.
  • Not all communities have the same criteria; the culture or community defines what makes an Elder. However, one common trait among Indigenous Elders is a deep spirituality that influences every aspect of their lives and teachings.
  • Elders strive to show by example, by living their lives according to deeply ingrained principles, values, and teachings.

For more information, see Indigenous Elder Definition (

Indigenous Knowledge (IK)*

No single formal definition exists for Indigenous Knowledge (IK). Readers can verify how the government, organization, or community they are working with defines or describes IK and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS), in their own terms and in their language of choice, prior to seeking, requesting, accessing, considering, and applying IK.

  • The knowledge held by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples, the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. Indigenous Knowledge:
    • is an integral, inseparable feature of Indigenous Knowledge Systems,
    • is place-based, usually transmitted orally, and rooted in the experience of multiple generations,
    • is determined by an Indigenous community’s spirituality, environment, region, culture, and language; Indigenous Knowledge is usually described by Indigenous people as holistic, involving body, mind, feelings, and spirit, 
    • may be expressed through symbols, the arts, ceremonial and everyday practices, narratives, and, especially, in relationships,
    • is held collectively by all members of a community, although some members have specialized knowledge and others may have particular responsibility for its transmission, and
    • includes preserved ancestral knowledge created by and received from past generations and innovations as well as new knowledge transmitted to subsequent generations.

*IK has been interchangeably referred to as Traditional Knowledge, Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge, Traditional Environmental Knowledge, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and Ancestral Knowledge, among other terms. In this toolkit, the term Indigenous Knowledge is employed in its broadest possible sense.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS)

  • The political, legal, economic, and cultural systems that enable the continued generation and renewal of knowledge for Indigenous Peoples to ensure their well-being.
  • Indigenous Knowledge Systems represent a way of life, something that has to be lived in order to be known, understood, and practised.
  • Indigenous Knowledge Systems consider relationships not only among people but in all our relations, including with all living things, the spirit world, our ancestors, and those yet to come.

Indigenous Ways of Knowing

  • A term that recognizes the complexity and diversity of Indigenous ways of learning and teaching.
  • Many people continue to generalize Indigenous experience and lived realities. The phrase “Indigenous Ways of Knowing” is intended to raise awareness of the many types of knowledge that exists across a diversity of Indigenous communities.
  • It signals that Indigenous Peoples don’t just learn from human interaction and relationships: all elements of Creation can be teachers, from the plant and animal nations, to the “objects” many consider inanimate.


  • Initiatives where Indigenous governments, organizations, or communities inform decisions made by external partners (i.e. through an advisory committee) but are not decision-makers. 
  • External partners usually initiate these initiatives.
  • See this Proposed Spectrum for Distinguishing Indigenous-led Stewardship for more details.
  • Note: compare against “Co-led by Indigenous communities” and “Indigenous-led”


  • Initiatives where Indigenous governments, organizations, or communities lead and have the primary decision-making role in determining the objectives, boundaries, management plans, and governance structures. 
  • The work is initiated by Indigenous governments or organizations, as mandated by Indigenous people in the exercise of self-determination.
  • See this Proposed Spectrum for Distinguishing Indigenous-led Stewardship for more details.
  • Note: compare against “Co-led by Indigenous communities” and “Indigenous-involved”

Place-based approach

  • An approach to relationship-building that takes the specific circumstances of a place into account and that enables local people and organizations to decide, define, design, and implement a project.


  • An ongoing process of repairing, (re)establishing, and maintaining respectful relationships.
  • Involves non-Indigenous people, governments, and other organizations taking responsibility for repairing damaged trust by making apologies, providing individual and collective reparations, and following through with concrete actions that demonstrate real societal change.
  • Is informed by the revitalization of Indigenous law and legal traditions, which include First Nations, Inuit, and Metis approaches to resolving conflict, repairing harm, and restoring respectful relationships.
  • Guided by Indigenous Peoples’ connection to the land, and Indigenous Elders’ and Knowledge Keepers’ perspectives and understanding of ethics, concepts, and practices.

*For more information, see the Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.


  • This term refers to the fact that Indigenous Peoples are “rights and title holders.”
  • Indigenous Peoples’ constitutionally protected rights allow them to bind up a project in a legal process.
  • Indigenous communities are not mere stakeholders, they are rights-holders.


  • An individual or group that derives benefits from the use of resources, is concerned about a particular issue, and/or holds legal or de facto rights in management or decision-making. 
  • Key stakeholders in conservation and stewardship-related projects often include a mix of user groups (e.g. harvesters, industry, tourism operators), national, provincial, and local government (e.g. Department of Fisheries and Oceans), and civil society organizations (e.g. non-governmental organizations).

Photo by Ryan Dickie


Department of Justice Canada. (2018). Principles Respecting the Government of Canada’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada.

Hele, K. S. (2021). Indigenous Elders in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia. The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Indigenous Circle of Experts. (2018). We rise together: Achieving pathway to Canada target 1 through the creation of Indigenous protected and conserved areas in the spirit and practice of reconciliation : the Indigenous Circle of Experts’ report and recommendations. Parks Canada.

Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. (2017). 9 Terms to Avoid in Communications with Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Corporate Training Inc.

Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. Indigenous Elder Definition. Indigenous Corporate Training Inc.

McGregor, D. (2021). Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Environmental Governance in Canada. KULA: Knowledge Creation, Dissemination, and Preservation Studies, 5(1).

Plummer, R., Smits, A., Witkowski, S., McGlynn, B., Armitage, D., Muhl, E.-K., & Johnston, J. (2022). Stakeholders vs. Rights Holders in Canada. In Building Sustainable Communities: The Impact of Engagement.

Queen’s University. (2022). Indigenous Ways of Knowing | Queen’s University. Office of Indigenous Initiatives.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future: Summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Victoria State Government. (2020). A framework for place-based approaches.