We Are Not History Part II: How You Can Help

By Mikayla Redden (Follow us on LinkedIn)

Last summer I posted a critique of the Library of Congress classification system’s treatment of materials about Indigenous peoples in We are Not History. Since then, I’ve received many questions about decolonizing professional practice and services: Where do I start? How do I know what is okay and not okay for me to do (as a settler)? How can I help? These types of questions are nothing new to me (nor any other Indigenous, Black, or a person of colour). In this post, I’ll answer these questions and provide some practical suggestions to get you started.  

How do I know what is okay and not okay for me to do, as a settler? 

Decolonization is the responsibility of all settlers. Non-Indigenous partners are needed to propel decolonial projects forward. What is okay is determined by the Indigenous partners you are working with. Consultation is a circular process—listen to the experts, ask what you can do, build relationships, and nurture them.  

Where Do I Start?

Ask yourself what you know about the peoples, land, and waters where you live and work. Then learn more.

Do you know anything more than what is covered in your institution’s land acknowledgement? What do the First Peoples of that territory call it? What is the meaning of that original name and what language is it in? What do the First Peoples of the territory call themselves? What kind of activities occurred there before European contact? What kind of foods were grown, hunted, and eaten?  

Start at Native-Land.ca. Use the territories, languages, and treaties it lists for your location to investigate further. This might go without saying, but don’t rely on the scholarly record to find this information—it might provide you with something, but it won’t provide you with everything. Indigenous Nations and organizations often have helpful information on their webpages. Next, seek community resources to help you learn. Ask a local friendship centre or another Indigenous led community organization. Donate money or time in exchange for information! On top of being a cultural hub, Indigenous led organizations offer essential services that are difficult for Indigenous peoples to access elsewhere due to stigma and systemic racism (e.g. foot care for patients with diabetes; advocacy for patients with cancer; food banks with delivery services for elders and people with disabilities; supports for healing from abuse or addiction). Native-Land.ca also relies on volunteers who have skills common to librarians.  

Below is an example of an expanded land acknowledgement (still in development) that I wrote for my library’s website (the section above (not pictured) reads: “Our library is located in Tkaronto, which has been home to the Mississaugas, the Wyandot, and the Seneca for time immemorial”). The image directly below is the institutional land acknowledgement. I’ve provided both to give you an idea of how much more information you can provide about the history of a place than is contained within the typical land acknowledgement. 

A quick note: My workplace did not ask me to expand on our land acknowledgment. I am interested in Indigenous histories, happened to put this together, shared it with colleagues, and someone said, “This is really interesting! Would it be okay if we put it on the website?”. I have editorial control of the webpage.  

Figure 1. An expansion of D.G. Ivey Library’s land acknowledgement, which incorporates Indigenous perspectives, languages, and histories. 

Figure 2. The official land acknowledgement of the University of Toronto. 

Be an advocate for frameworks, movements, and policies that affirm Indigenous rights. 

I’m working under the assumption that if you’re reading this, you’re familiar with colonization of Turtle Island, the 500 years of genocidal acts that followed, and the way Indigenous peoples are being affected today. 

Become familiar with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the rights and duties it affirms. Look into how your institution, organizations within the sector, and governing bodies have responded to it. Advocate for using it to inform institutional policies and procedures. The Declaration has wide implications in the library sector. It has been a driving force behind Indigenous data sovereignty (the right of Indigenous peoples to control all aspects of data that was derived from or relates to their communities). For an in-depth look at Indigenous data sovereignty, key organizations, and the principles and frameworks behind it, check out the recent chapter a colleague and I wrote for First Principles in Research Data Management. 

How can I help?

Identify where your institution has done harm and propose projects that advance reconciliation. 

Look into historic or contemporary ways that harm has come to Indigenous peoples by your institution or region. Raise awareness and propose projects that provide reparations and forge a new, respectful relationship between the institution and Indigenous peoples. 

Did your institution, like mine, preside over an Indian Hospital or sanatorium? Is it affiliated with a religious institution who operated Indian residential (or boarding) “schools”? Does it sit on land that once held one of these “schools”? Did it run experiments on Indigenous children?  Was it or any of its buildings named for someone responsible for genocide?

Follow the lead of Indigenous led institutions, or institutions that have created respectful, reciprocal relationships with Indigenous communities. 

Look for recommendations from Indigenous professionals, such as those outlined in the Canadian Federation of Library Association’s Truth and Reconciliation Report and Recommendations.

If you’re in cataloguing and metadata: 

If you’re in research data management:  

  • Formalize the use of principles to use when developing data management plans for work that includes Indigenous data or research partners. Use the CARE Principles, Principles of OCAP, or Principles of Māori Data Sovereignty to guide you.  
  • Advocate for the research ethics board at your institution to include principles of Indigenous data sovereignty as part of their assessment procedures. 

Address the ‘low hanging fruit’ in other functional areas of your library. 

In collections:

  • Assess the Indigenous content in your collection and consult local experts about what you find.
  • Look for: 1) Potentially harmful or offensive content; and 2)Content of questionable or unethical origin such as works created by Pretendians or works published against the wishes or knowledge of the Indigenous communities it affects (e.g. cultural knowledge that was not meant to written, published, or shared with people outside the community).  
  • When selecting new materials, verify the authenticity of its authorship and purchase it from an Indigenous-owned business.  
  • Consider infusing Indigenous content throughout your collection by adding Indigenous perspectives to subject areas such as agriculture, ecology, geology, biodiversity, and music.  

In user services and spaces: 

  • Partner with the Indigenous services department or an Indigenous student group to conduct a user experience study of your spaces and services. 
  • Consider the relationship Indigenous peoples have with education institutions and how this might affect their relationship with the library. Also consider: Do you have security guards in your library? If you have art in your library, is any of it created by Indigenous peoples? How visibly diverse is the library employee group? 
  • Do you host any information sharing events? Consider partnering with local Indigenous organizations to host Storytellers or artists in the library.  

In reference, instruction, and liaison: 

  • Remember that oral knowledge is a tradition as long-standing and rich as the written record that the Eurocentric worldview privileges. This means that Indigenous knowledges should not be classified as personal communications and should not be cited and referenced as such. Follow the Indigenous citation guide developed by Lorisia MacLeod.  
  • Advocate for Indigenous perspectives to be included in course reading lists across all subject areas. 
  • Consider that there are mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical aspects of information literacy and that the research process and certain topics can be a source of trauma for some Indigenous students (as outlined by Loyer, 2017). 
  • Advocate for the inclusion of “non-academic” knowledge as acceptable source material in research.  


Andrews, N. (2018, April 2). Reflections On Resistance, Decolonization, and the Historical Trauma of Libraries and Academia. https://doi.org/10.31229/osf.io/mva35 

Bone, C. & Lougheed, B. (2017). Library of Congress subject headings related to Indigenous peoples: A project changing LCSH for use in a Canadian archival context. Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, 56(1), 83-95. Retrieved from https://winnspace.uwinnipeg.ca/bitstream/handle/10680/1321/C%26CQmanuscript.ForInstitutionalRepositoriesCOMPLETE.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y   

Canadian Federation of Library Associations / Federation Canadienne des Associations de Bibliotheques. (n.d.). Truth and Reconciliation Report and recommendations.   

CBC News. (2021, June 2). Algoma University, located on former Ontario residential school site, to probe for possible burial spots. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/shingwauk-residential-school-algoma-university-1.6050388 

Chakasim, N. M. (2022, May 10). Pretendians and their impacts on Indigenous communities. The Indigenous Foundation. https://www.theindigenousfoundation.org/articles/pretendians-and-their-impacts-on-indigenous-communities  

Dahl, S., & MacLeod, K. (2023). Decolonizing the Authority File: Creating Contextualized Access to the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Authors Collection. The International Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion, 7(1/2), 1–9. https://www.jstor.org/stable/48731172  

First Nations Information Governance Centre. (2022b). The First Nations Principles of OCAP.https://fnigc.ca/ocap-training/  

Fournier, E. (2023, June 29). Cadaver dogs sniff out potential human remains near old Royal Victoria Hospital site. APTN National News. https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/cadaver-dogs-sniff-out-potential-human-remains-near-old-royal-victoria-hospital-site/  

Global Indigenous Data Alliance. (2019, October 17). CARE principles for Indigenous data governance. https://www.gida-global.org/care  

Griffin, T. (2023, April 26). Toronto Metropolitan University reflects on new name change one year later. Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/9651716/oronto-metropolitan-university-name-change-one-year-later/#:~:text=Indigenous%20students%20penned%20an%20open,opted%20not%20to%20replace%20it  

Indigenous Foundations. (n.d.) Oral traditions. http://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/oral_traditions/  

Loyer, J. (2017). Indigenous information literacy: nêhiyaw kinship enabling self-care in research. In K.P. Nicholson & M. Seale (Eds.), The Politics of Theory and the Practice of Critical Librarianship (pp. 145-156). Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press. 

NorQuest College Library. (n.d.). Referencing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers. https://libguides.norquest.ca/IndigenousEducation/cite 

Redden, M., & Kwan-Lafond, D. (2023). Indigenous Data Sovereignty: Moving Toward Self-Determination and a Future of Good Data. In K. Thompson, E. Hill, E. Carlisle-Johnston, D. Dennie, E. Fortin, (Eds.), Research data management in the Canadian context: A Guide for Practitioners and Learners. University of Western Ontario: Western Libraries.  

Troian, M. (2021, June 15). Emerging from the long shadow of Canada’s Indian Hospitals. The Local. https://thelocal.to/emerging-from-the-long-shadow-of-canadas-indian-hospitals/  

Te Mana Raraunga. (2018). Principles of Māori Data Sovereignty. http://static1.squarespace.com/static/58e9b10f9de4bb8d1fb5ebbc/t/5bda208b4ae237cd89ee16e9/1541021836126/TMR+Māori+Data+Sovereignty+Principles+Oct+2018.pdf  

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. (2017). https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2018/11/UNDRIP_E_web.pdf 

University of Victoria Libraries. (2022, March 15). Principles of Indigenous description. https://libguides.uvic.ca/c.php?g=728465&p=5225808 


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not those of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.