Northern Terminology

=== by Bob Sutherland ===

This is a glossary that contains definitions and additional information regarding some Northern Canadian terminology.

Band Office
A band office is similar to a city hall. It is the building where the First Nations band chief, the members of his elected council, and their administrative employees have their offices and hold their meetings. There generally is a reception counter inside the front door where band members and members of the public can receive assistance. Common reasons for visiting a band office are to complete government forms and ask questions regarding a variety of government services. During elections the community's polling station is often set up in the band office.
First Nation
In the United States they are called North American Indians but in Canada they are called First Nations. They are the aboriginal bands that are scattered across North America south of the treeline.

First Nations people are often subdivided into groups based on the traditional language of their community. Three prominant groups that I have taught are the Dene, Cree and Oji-Cree.

In the United States they are called Eskimos but in Canada these aboriginal people are called Inuit. There are Inuit living in Alaska, Greenland, Labrador, the new Canadian territory of Nunavut, and a northern region of Quebec known as Nunavik. Many of the Inuit live along the Arctic Ocean coastline north of the treeline.
Historically they were sometimes called half-breeds but now they are known as Metis. In textbooks and government documents they are usually described as the descendents of mixed marriages between people of European and First Nation ancestries.

Since Metis is a French word many Canadians often associate the term Metis with its more narrow original meaning as describing someone with French and First Nation ancestry.

In practice among the local populations in Canada's northern communities I found the term Metis being applied far more liberally to describe anyone with a mix of ancestries that included somewhere in the family tree a non First Nation person interbreeding with a First Nation person. The descendents of Africans, Asians and Europeans were all being labelled as Metis if the person was also a descendent of one or more First Nations.

Treeline and Permafrost
On a map of Canada or North America the treeline often appears as a simple line across the map. South of the line there are forests. North of the line there is permafrost. Permafrost means the ground is frozen. It is the presence of water or moisture in the ground that allows it to freeze as if it were one big, frozen, buried, rock hard glacier. The freezing of the ground starts at or near the surface and may extend down hundreds of metres. Tree roots cannot penetrate frozen ground so trees and forests cannot grow where there is permafrost. In contrast permafrost cannot form where there is a forest because the trees and their roots will produce just enough heat to keep the ground from freezing.

When standing on the ground at the location the map shows as the treeline you will discover that it is not a simple line like the shoreline of a lake. Instead it can be a very broad band many kilometres wide where patches of forest may intermingle with patches of permafrost. The permafrost underlies clearings and open fields such as schoolyards, roadways and meadows. Sometimes the trees may get shorter travelling northward until the forest is less than a metre tall. This means that permafrost has formed deep within the ground and its upper surface is gradually rising up toward the surface preventing the tree roots from growing any deeper.