Updating Canadian Metadata for Indigenous Materials

The Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN) that is responsible for the Canadiana collection of digitized documentary heritage has replaced the subject heading “Indians of North America” with “Indigenous peoples.”

This will effect a little under 2,000 records.

“The content, metadata, and resource descriptions in the Canadiana collections contain language that reflects the biases, norms, and perspectives of the time in which they were created. With the guidance of CRKN’s Preservation and Access Committee (PAC), CRKN staff are replacing inappropriate language in the metadata and resource descriptions introduced during legacy cataloguing practices. The first phase of this critical three-phase project is now complete.”

The Canadiana collection contains tens of thousands of titles of digitized historical publications, including monographs, journals and popular magazines, and government and parliamentary publications, from the pre-Confederation era to the early 20th century. Many university libraries, as well as law society and courthouse libraries, have a subscription.

The next phase will involve removing the term “Indian” from subject headings indicating individual communities and updating Indigenous names.

The CKRN has worked on this initiative with Indigenous organizations, library associations and local libraries and archives.

It is one of many projects in the library and archival world to implement what some are calling the “decolonizing of the catalogue”.

These efforts include many law libraries and law library associations.

For example, many law libraries are updating the subject headings in their catalogues used to describe Indigenous realities.

Canadian libraries tend to use and adapt for their own local purposes a system known as the Canadian Subject Headings maintained by Library and Archives Canada.

There are ongoing efforts to remove any biases from that system because it is felt that:

The existing Canadian Subject Headings do not reflect current terminology used by First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation for describing material with Indigenous content. The direct contribution of First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation is an essential part of our efforts to update this list. In the fall of 2019, we began discussions with the librarian community, particularly with Indigenous librarians and knowledge keepers across the country.”

One of the major changes being applied in many libraries is the creation of a new term, “First Nations—Canada”, to replace the older “Indians of North America—Canada”.

As well, the word “Indigenous” might soon appear in your library system (if it already hasn’t) where the word “Native” used to be, for example: “Indigenous business enterprises—Taxation—Law and legislation—Canada” instead of “Native business enterprises—Taxation—Law and legislation—Canada”.


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