Decolonizing Canadiana Metadata

An Overdue Step in Removing Harmful Subject Headings

January 25, 2022

CRKN has completed the first step in decolonizing Canadiana collection metadata by replacing the subject heading “Indians of North America” with “Indigenous peoples.”

When CRKN became the stewards of the Canadiana collections in 2018, our first promise to the community was to remove the paywall to the 60 million pages of digitized documentary heritage found in the collections, ensuring access to all. Our second promise, one that is long overdue and represents a small yet significant step in the work ahead, was to decolonize the metadata of Canadiana. The Canadiana collections contain content created over five centuries that tell an incomplete, oftentimes distorted, and sometimes harmful, story of Canada. 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.

Phase I implementation has included replacing the subject heading “Indians of North America” with “Indigenous peoples” and “Indiens d’Amérique—Amérique du Nord” with “Autochtones.” “North America” has then been added as a geographical sub-division in the metadata or replaced with another geographical sub-division as appropriate.

These changes are reflected in 20 records in the Government Publications sub-collection, 1,855 records in the Monographs sub-collection, and 14 records in the Serials sub-collection. These changes will be incorporated into Canadiana MARC records, and institutions that ingest these MARC records will find the new subject headings in the 650 field with indicator \4.

Phase II of decolonizing Canadiana metadata is underway and includes removing the term “Indian” from subject headings indicating individual communities and updating Indigenous names and terminology using guidance from Indigenous communities and pre-existing work from GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) organizations. As with the Phase I changes, these changes will be incorporated into Canadiana MARC records, and institutions that ingest these MARC records will find the new subject headings in the 650 field with indicator \4.

CRKN is providing a spreadsheet outlining interim subject headings developed as a stop-gap measure while a national vocabulary is being established. The goal of this spreadsheet is to provide greater transparency to our work and to aid cataloguers pursuing decolonization and equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiatives at their own institutions. This spreadsheet is a living document and should not be considered exhaustive or definitive. It will be updated as language changes, or as an updated national vocabulary is created. We encourage input and feedback on this document.

CRKN acknowledges the need for national solutions to harmful and inappropriate subject headings and resource descriptions, and for respectful terminology for Indigenous peoples and all who have been marginalized or inappropriately represented in the history of Canada. Increased and ongoing consultation with Indigenous peoples is a priority, as is supporting collective, national solutions to ensure that efforts are coordinated.

CRKN wishes to acknowledge the labour of Indigenous librarians and GLAM workers who have been leading this effort, as well as our consultation of the following resources:

  • Indigenous community websites from across Canada
  • Greater Victoria Public Library interim subject headings
  • Manitoba Archival Information Network subject headings
  • First Nations, Métis, and Inuit – Indigenous Ontology (FNMIIO), created by the National Indigenous Knowledge and Language Alliance (NIKLA) and the Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA)
  • X̱wi7x̱wa Library