This document provides information and resources to help staff understand Student Census questions as they support students to complete the census. There is a wide range of diversity and experience of students in the WRDSB. The information shared in this resource will not be able to respond to all questions that teachers and students may have about identity and diversity. The material here should be seen as a resource to allow for a deeper understanding of the complex and nuanced ideas that are explored through the Student Census.

First Nations, Métis (Michif) and Inuit Identity

First Nations, Métis (Michif) and Inuit refer to the three main groups of peoples who are the traditional inhabitants of this land. It is important to remember that First Nations, Métis (Michif), and Inuit each have their own culture and have significant diversity within and across their communities, based largely on the environment they traditionally inhabited and their lived histories.

Definition of First Nation

(as sourced from UBC Indigenous Foundation):  

First Nation” is a term used to describe the Indigenous peoples of Canada who are ethnically neither Métis nor Inuit. This term came into common usage in the 1970s and ‘80s and generally replaced the term “Indian,” although unlike “Indian,” the term “First Nation” does not have a legal definition. While “First Nations” refers to the ethnicity of First Nations Peoples, the singular “First Nation” can refer to a band, a reserve-based community, or a larger tribal grouping and the “status-Indians” who live in them. 

Indian Status” refers to a specific legal identity of an Aboriginal person in Canada. “Status Indians” are registered under the Indian Act on the Indian Register– a central registry maintained by Indigenous Services Canada.

Non-status” First Nations people without status under the Indian Act remain legally unrecognized as Indigenous peoples by the Canadian governmentHowever, status and non-status Indians also share many common concerns – displacement from their ancestral homelands and their traditional ways of life, socio-economic challenges, a desire to practice their own cultures and traditions and to determine their own identities and futures.

National Definition of Métis

(as sourced from the Métis Nation of Ontario):

1.1 – “Métis” means a person who self-identifies as Métis, is distinct from other Aboriginal peoples, is of Historic Métis Nation ancestry, and is accepted by the Métis Nation.
1.2 – “Historic Métis Nation” means the Aboriginal people then known as Métis or Half-breeds who resided in the Historic Métis Nation Homeland.
1.3 – “Historic Métis Nation Homeland” means the area of land in west-central North America used and occupied as the traditional territory of the Métis or Half-breeds as they were then known.
1.4 – “Métis Nation” means the Aboriginal people descended from the Historic Métis Nation which is now comprised of all Métis Nation citizens and is one of the “aboriginal peoples of Canada” within the meaning of s.35 of the Constitution Act 1982.
1.5 – “Distinct from other Aboriginal peoples” means distinct for cultural and nationhood purposes.

Information about Inuit

(as sourced from Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami):

Inuit are an Indigenous people living primarily in Inuit Nunangat. The term “Inuit Nunangat” is a Canadian Inuit term that includes land, water, and ice. Inuit consider the land, water, and ice, of their homeland to be integral to their culture and way of life.

The majority of Inuit live in 51 communities spread across Inuit Nunangat. They have lived in their homeland since time immemorial. Inuit communities are among the most culturally resilient in North America. Roughly 60 percent of Inuit report an ability to conduct a conversation in Inuktut (the Inuit language). There are four Inuit regions in Canada: Inuvialuit (NWT and Yukon), Nunavik (Northern Quebec), Nunatsiavut (Labrador), and Nunavut.

There are many urban Inuit across Canada, including significant populations in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and St. John’s (sourced from Tungasuvvingat Inuit).

Indigenous Spirituality

(adapted from the Ontario Human Rights Commission🙂 – While Indigenous spiritual beliefs and practices can vary significantly among different First Nation, Métis and Inuit groups and individuals, and across different regions, some common elements are shared across many communities. For example, many Indigenous people describe Indigenous Spirituality as a “way of life” and “way of knowing” (or worldview) that was centered on a relationship with the Creator, the land and “all our relations.” This often includes all other beings and forms of life, including what are commonly perceived as inanimate objects, which were generally seen to be imbued with a spirit or soul. Many Indigenous people describe Indigenous Spirituality as being inseparable from their traditional Indigenous culture and identity.

Two-Spirit

An Indigenous person whose gender identity, spiritual identity or sexual orientation includes masculine, feminine and/or non-binary spirits. (as per Ontario Public Service Bilingual Glossary on Gender Identity).

It is important to note that to identify as Two-Spirit, one must understand and identify with the Indigenous heritage and the responsibility of holding this identity. Being an Indigenous person who identifies as a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, does not necessarily mean that someone is a Two-Spirit person.

For more information on Indigenous engagement in the Region of Waterloo, here are some helpful resources.

Ethnic and Cultural Origins

Ethnic origin refers to a person’s ethnic or cultural origins. Ethnic groups usually have a shared identity, heritage, ancestry, or historical past. They often have a similar culture, language and/or religion. Please keep in mind the following ideas as you support students with this question.

The list in the Student Census includes many of the most common ethnic and cultural identities in the Waterloo Region according to the most recent Canadian census. However, we know that everyone is unique and that this list does not include all the different identities of all our students. If students have an ethnic or cultural identity that is not listed, they should be encouraged to select “An ethnic or cultural origin not listed above, please specify:” and to type in their identity into box provided. They can select more than one option.

The list includes countries, regions, and cultural backgrounds with which many people, their families, and/or ancestors will identify. Some identities are associated with individual countries, whereas others include people from many different countries (such as Afro-Caribbean, Indo-Caribbean, regions of Africa, Arab, Jewish, Mennonite). As needed, please support students as they try to select choices that best reflect their identity.

Below you will find details and clarification for some of the ethnic and cultural identities listed in the Student Census.

Arab – Arab people most often have heritage from Middle Eastern, North African, and West Asian regions. There are significant Arab populations around the world including the Americas, Europe, and Southeast Asia. While far from universal, the most frequently spoken Arab language is Arabic and the most common religion of Arabs is Islam.

East Indian – Most individuals of Indian descent will not identify as “East Indian”. The addition of ‘East’ to describe people of Indian descent is still used in these types of questions to avoid confusion with the outdated (but legally still active) use of the term “Indian” to describe the Indigenous people of Canada.

Jewish – Individuals of Jewish heritage and/or followers of Judaism. Ancestrally, many Jewish people trace their roots to the region of modern-day Israel. However, Jewish people have inhabited many regions around the globe for centuries including many millions in the United States and hundreds of thousands in Canada.

Mennonite – Members of a Christian denomination who are predominantly of German and Dutch heritage. Mennonites in the Waterloo Region sometimes speak German and Dutch Mennonite dialects at home including “Low German” and “Pennsylvania Dutch”.

Countries of Central Africa – Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo Republic, DR Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipe

Countries of East Africa – Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda

Countries of North Africa – Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara), Sudan, and Tunisia

Countries of Southern Africa – Angola, Botswana, Eswatini (Swaziland), Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe

Countries of West Africa – Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo

Countries/ regions of the Middle East (some of these countries can also be listed in other geographic regions such as Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, and West Asia) – Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Gaza, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Lebanon, Israel, Kuwait, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, The West Bank, and Yemen

Countries with a high African-Caribbean/Black Caribbean population – Haiti, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guadeloupe, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Martinique, Guyana, Barbados, Suriname, Saint Lucia, Curaçao, French Guiana, U.S. Virgin Islands, Grenada, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Kitts and Nevis

Countries with a high Indo-Caribbean population (people of Indian heritage with family or lineage from the Caribbean) – Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, and Martinique

Racial Identity

In our society, people are often described by their race or racial background. For example, some people are considered “White” or “Black” or “East Asian,” etc. It is important to be aware that within each of these options there is a lot of diversity (including what many might consider to be different racial groups within each category provided).

This list has been modified slightly from the list of racial identities in the Canadian census in an effort to be more inclusive. The list still maintains most categories as per the Census to allow for comparison with census data and with other school boards.

Status in Canada (Immigration Status)

You will note that for students born in Canada that they have the option to select ‘In the country now known as Canada’. This wording was chosen to acknowledge that for many Indigenous people, they identify the lands on which we live as the traditional lands of their people rather than as the nation of Canada. You can find more information on this topic on the Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada website:

The question regarding “status in Canada” will be presented only to students in Grades 7-12+. To support students answering this question you may find the following information helpful:

A Canadian citizen is Canadian by birth (either born in Canada or born outside Canada to a Canadian citizen who was themselves either born in Canada or granted citizenship) or has applied for a grant of citizenship and has received Canadian citizenship (naturalization).

An international student is a temporary resident who is legally authorized to study in Canada on a temporary basis. With a few exceptions, foreign students must get a study permit if they are taking a course of studies that will last for more than six months.

A permanent resident/landed immigrant is a person who has legally immigrated to Canada and has acquired permanent resident status, but is not yet a Canadian citizen. Permanent residents will usually have a ‘Permanent Resident Card’ with their photo and name on it (these are often multi-coloured, but mostly a light bluish colour).

A refugee claimant is person who has applied for refugee protection status while in Canada and is waiting for a decision on his/her claim from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

A protected person, according to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, is a person who has been determined to be either (a) a Convention Refugee or (b) a person in need of protection (including, for example, a person who is in danger of being tortured if deported from Canada).

A convention refugee is a person who meets the refugee definition in the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. This definition is used in Canadian law and is widely accepted internationally.

First Language

Please note, the list provided represents the languages most frequently spoken by students in the WRDSB (but it is not complete). It is important to reassure and support students (as needed) if their language is not on the list.

The open-ended box has been provided in order to ensure that all students have the opportunity to self-identify their first language.

If a student first learned to speak a First Nations, Métis (Michif), or Inuit language, a follow-up question will allow them to identify the language more specifically.

Religion, Spiritual Beliefs and Worldviews

This question includes most major world religions, but it is worth noting that there may be denominations within each religion that students may wish to specify (they may use the open text box for that).

Non-Catholic Christian denominations are quite diverse and may include: Protestant denominations (Evangelical, Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Mennonites, United, Charismatic, Adventist), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons (Latter Day Saints), Eastern Orthodox, Christian Science, and any other Christian identity or group that does not identify as Catholic.

Indigenous Spirituality (adapted from the Ontario Human Rights Commission:) – While Indigenous spiritual beliefs and practices can vary significantly among different First Nation, Métis and Inuit groups and individuals, and across different regions, some common elements are shared across many communities. For example, many Indigenous people describe Indigenous Spirituality as a “way of life” and “way of knowing” (or worldview) that was centered on a relationship with the Creator, the land and “all our relations.” This often includes all other beings and forms of life, including what are commonly perceived as inanimate objects, which were generally seen to be imbued with a spirit or soul. Many Indigenous people describe Indigenous Spirituality as being inseparable from their traditional Indigenous culture and identity.

Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

Gender identity is a person’s individual sense of being a boy/man, a girl/woman, both, neither or having another identity on the gender spectrum.  A person’s gender identity may be different from the sex that was identified for them when they were born (such as female, intersex, or male). For more information about gender identities, you can read the Ontario Public Service Glossary on Gender Identity.

Two-Spirit – An Indigenous person whose gender identity, spiritual identity or sexual orientation includes masculine, feminine and/or non-binary spirits. (as per Ontario Public Service Bilingual Glossary on Gender Identity).

It is important to note that to identify as Two-Spirit, one must understand and identify with the Indigenous heritage and the responsibility of holding this identity. Being an Indigenous person who identifies as a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, does not necessarily mean that someone is a Two-Spirit person.

The question on sexual orientation will only be asked of students in Grade 7 and up.

Sexual orientation is a personal characteristic that forms part of who you are. It covers the range of feelings and expressions related to an individual’s romantic and/or physical attractions. Sexual orientation is distinct from an individual’s gender identity.

Disabilities and Health Conditions

Some people identify as having a disability because of a permanent or long-term health condition that makes it difficult for them to function in an environment that is not fully inclusive and accessible. A person’s disability may be diagnosed or not diagnosed. It may be hidden or visible. Some students who have disabilities may have a special plan at school to help them (an Individual Education Plan or IEP), but some do not.

A disability may be physical, mental, behavioural, developmental, sensory, communicational or a combination of any of these. Barriers such as settings that are hard to access (like school, shops or public places), negative attitudes, and barriers to information contribute to a person’s experience of having a disability.

For more information about human rights and disabilities, you may wish to refer to information shared by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Students Sharing Their Thoughts

Some students may find it sensitive or difficult to respond to questions, for example those about religion/spirituality, gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or disabilities. After these questions, students are encouraged to take a moment to reflect and share any thoughts that they have about the census and the information that they have shared.

Food Security, Learning Environment, Access to Programs

For some students, questions about food security, learning environment, and their ability to access programs may be sensitive and personal. It is important to remind students that they can skip questions if they are uncomfortable and that their responses will remain private.

We understand that student responses to this question will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This will be factored into how the response are interpreted and reported.

Regarding skipping meals, we do not expect any student to explain specifically why they may skip meals, but do want them to reflect on if they have control and choice if/when they miss meals. Students may have different ideas about nutritious food. For this census we want to know if they are eating food that is helping them stay focused and energized throughout the school day.

Regarding joining activities the goal is to identify barriers that might prevent students from being able to join programs and activities in their school and community that might be interest and value to them. There are a number of options available for students to choose from, or they may choose to enter their own response.