So I'm proofreading an anthology of First Nations literature. Super cool. But I've once again come up against a linguistic snag I encounter inevery work on Aboriginal or First Nations or Native anything that crosses my desk: the term "people."

In contemporary English, the noun "people" has a couple of different meanings: it can mean (singular) an ethnicity or group (e.g., the Mik'maqpeople; the Saalish people). Let's call this Sense A. It can also mean the plural of "person" (e.g., several people ate sandwiches). When youwant to say several persons of Aboriginal heritage, you should, technically, say "First Nations people." Let's call this Sense B. 

However, we use "First Nations peoples"  (Sense A, plural) when discussing political or social issues that affect all groups of First Nationspersons (people): "We need to see greater representation from First Nations peoples in discussing environmental issues."

Many people don't seem to get the distinction between Sense A and Sense B, and seem to think that "peoples" is a plural that means "lots ofpersons of different First Nations ethnicities." So I get sentences like  "This was far from the case in Canada, where it would take anothertwenty-five years for Native peoples to begin graduating from universities and colleges in substantial numbers."

This makes no sense! Ethnicities cannot graduate from universities. 

So I queried it, and got the following response:

I checked with the editor and I think “native peoples” as used in the preface is okay as it suggests that there is a diversity of nativepeople (i.e. from different bands or nations). So, the Mik'maq are a Native people, as are Inuit but together they are “native peoples”. They used “native peoples” in the previous edition and even Library and Archives Canada categorized the previous editionas “Native peoples--Literary collections”.


Which is fine, but I still don't think ethnicities can go to university. 

Below the cut: A Usage Note I prepared for a style sheet eight years ago about the SAME ISSUE.

Person/People/Peoples; Aboriginal People vs Aboriginal Peoples

Person, noun, means an individual human being (or entity possessing sentience, I suppose):

I was distracted from my surveillance of the guests by the blandishments of a most persuasive young person.

Persons noun, plural, is the traditional plural for person in cases where the entities were countable (or, according to CanOx, where they were small in number):

Three persons made speeches in support of the proposed curriculum changes. All three were representatives of major textbook publishers.

When you have a number of individuals sufficiently large as to be uncountable, or to constitute a mass, you use people as the plural of persons:

Thousands of people demonstrated against the Prime Minister's proposal to make Pig Latin an Official Language of Canada.

In this usage, people never takes a final "s."

People, noun, also has a singular meaning: A people is a group of individuals sharing a common ethnicity or nationality, or a nation. In this usage, the plural of people is peoples.

The Aboriginal peoples of Canada comprise several distinct language groups.


Many Native people [or persons, if many = a countable number, such as twelve] participated in the Walpole Island First Nations Mathematics Curriculum development meetings.

Peoples, noun, plural is never an acceptable word when you mean "many individuals"; please use peoples only to refer to many different Aboriginal or First Nations groups.
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