Geographical Names and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) describes the individual human rights and the collective rights of Indigenous peoples around the world. The declaration offers guidance on cooperative relationships with Indigenous peoples based on the principles of “justice, democracy, respect for human rights, non-discrimination and good faith”.

Canada is committed to renewing its nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership rooted in the principles of UNDRIP.

Geographical Names

Geographical names are an important component of recognizing, preserving and strengthening Indigenous histories, languages and cultures. Article 13 of UNDRIP specifically refers to place names:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.”

Canada’s national coordinating body for place names, the Geographical Names Board of Canada (GNBC), has a long-standing interest in Indigenous place names. The GNBC is working to develop enhanced policies on Indigenous names, and improved collaboration and on-going relationships with Indigenous nations.

The Board has an active Indigenous Geographical Names Working Group to coordinate Indigenous policy and research activities, such as establishing closer ties to Indigenous communities and organizations, and raising awareness of Indigenous naming.  Federal, provincial and territorial naming authorities are actively working with Indigenous governments to research and adopt Indigenous place names across Canada.

Read more about Indigenous place names.