Cuturally Appropriate Library Subject Headings For Indigenous Peoples

Anna Wilson - Moccasin Telegraph

When I research Indigenous populations in the United States they refer to themselves as "Native Americans" or "Indians" while in my research in Canadian Indigenous populations they refer to themselves as either "Indigenous, First Nation, Aboriginal, Metis or Inuit." So this can be difficult when researching subject-headings and when identifying these populations in my research papers.

The term "Aboriginal"  is supposed to encompass both First Nations and Metis people in Canada, however, I recall a First Nations colleague telling me that the "Aboriginal" has the connotation of abnormal because the first two letters in the term is "ab".

Certainly International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) should try to work with Indigenous populations to find cultural sensitive terms that can be used universally, which is a tall order that needs to be addressed. The process of deliberative democracy in consulting with the Indigenous peoples who are the key stakeholders impacted by how these subject-headings represent their ethnicity is equally important as the resulting subject-headings from the process.

Therefore, the journey of deciding on the most culturally appropriate subject-headings is equally as important as the destination of the subject-headings-however, from an Indigenous Research Methodology perspective- learning is in a continuous circle like the ocean tides. Thus, I leave you with the quote from

Black Elk:

"You have noticed that everything an Indian does in a circle,
and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles,
and everything tries to be round.

In the old days all our power came to us from the sacred hoop
of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken the people
flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop,
and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace
and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain and the north
with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This
knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion.

Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle.
The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball
and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls.
Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours.
The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon
does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great
circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were.

The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is
in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the
nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop,
a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children".

Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux 1863-1950

 Based on Black Elk's epistemology of the circle, I believe that learning and deciding upon the best subject-headings for Indigenous peoples is a continuous process flowing within fluid circles of social justice.



Black, E., & Neihardt, J. G. (1961). Black Elk speaks [electronic resource] : being the life story of a holy man of the Oglala Sioux / as told through John G. Neihardt (Flaming Rainbow) Illustrated by Standing Bear. Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 1993.