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Moving in the Circle: Indigenous Solidarity for Canadian Libraries

Reviewed By: Lucia Flores & Destiny Rivera

Link to article: https://doi.org/10.21083/partnership.v12i2.3781

Article synopsis and description of how this article represents an international perspective:

This articles centers on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action and how libraries can and must respond to this call. This articles advocates that library staff become informed on the role that libraries have played in the marginalization of Indigenous communities throughout time. The authors feel and express that it is through “solidarity and relationship building” that the process of reconciliation can begin. This article is international in that it is set in the context of Canadian libraries and focus on First Nations of Canada, specifically on Metis and Inuit communities. We can surely apply these thoughts to a U.S. context, as well. This article informs us that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was lead by indigenous activists and communities. This article also offers us insights into a few key ingredients for reconciliation, such as : education, relationship building, allyship, and solidarity. When we begin to look at libraries as colonial structures, as establishments that are more often than not on occupied land, we begin to see libraries in a new light. We often glorify libraries for being the center of a democratic institution, but do not often consider that libraries themselves are extensions of the colonization and marginalization of indigenous people. Many cultural institutions are. This article highlights how libraries are a “settler colonial institution” and describes settler colonialism as “ the process in which the exogenous settlers displace Indigenous peoples for access to their lands and resources. Settler colonialism is a structure with ongoing effects rather than a single or past series of events” (pp. 2). The topic of treaty rights are also presented and we are reminded that often libraries are located on lands of broken treaties and promises. Library staff can become more aware of colonial-indigenous relationships by learning about the treaty rights in one’s own location. Perhaps the next step in the process of decolonization is to be advocates and uphold treaties to our respective administrations.
We must look at how programs serve indigenous communities and how our collections represent indigenous knowledge and stories. The article provides hope that reconciliation is possible and that Library staff can play a part in this healing. Library staff must be aware of Indigenous issues, subscribe to indigenous publications, be safe spaces for indigenous communities through recognition and acknowledgement, and provide indigenized and decolonized library services. We must look at our own intersectionalities and positionalities such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ways of being and expressing. We must also consider how our own identities interact with the identities of the people in the communities we serve. While this level of reflection, self-scrutiny, and self-inquiry is challenging, it is the fertile grounds which can lead to a truer form of empathy, allyship, and solidarity. Concepts of allyship and solidarity are further discussed in the article.

Core research question(s):

The core research questions we felt this article tackled were:
How can libraries support indigenous communities and reconcile their colonial history?

How is institutionalized racism and Eurocentric intellectual control perpetuated in our collection?

In order for the colonialism processes to continue, people must simply do nothing. By doing nothing, colonization takes greater roots. To create a disturbance in this pattern through acknowledgment, recognition, and dissonance, we are able to interpret colonial patterns and imprint a new way of being and doing. This article provides strategies to begin reconciliation and healing.

Methods used to answer the research question(s):

Various methods are encouraged that address the de-colonizing of library spaces, as well as ways to proceed utilizing respect and cultural protocols. As we begin to look at colonial history and see cultural institutions as establishments of settler colonists, we begin to consider what we must do to reverse these processes. “Library staff should consult with and listen to their Indigenous communities and work to educate their non- Indigenous colleagues and patrons…Libraries should reach out through direct consultation with Elders and community leadership” (Blair & Wong, 2018, pp.5). Thus creating places these discourses and conversation might be one way libraries can facilitate reconciliation.

We must also create resources for non-Indigenous library staff as it is with non-indigenous people that possess power dynamics that need to shift. Also, incorporating indigenous histories into the collection and celebrating indigenous cultures is important. Yet, we must make sure to not exclusively retell stories of heartbreak and tragedy. We all too often are habitualized to refer to indigenous cultures as cultures of the past- ancient. This does a complete disservice to indigenous youth and indigenous communities who are living modern lives in this modern world. Stories of today shape stories of tomorrow. We must preserve and perpetuate indigenous realities by representing authentic indigenous voices. One method for doing this was by supporting “small community publishers” and indigenous authors. This ensures a broad ranges of voices and experiences be heard and has the potential to remove financial barriers and obstacles of publication.
The last method involved in the reconciliation process, as well as how libraries can support communities, is referred to in the article as a “Medicine Wheel methodology”. This method is considered an indigenous research method and was utilized by the Canadian Federation of Library Associations. This method was utilized as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Council. As stated, “the corresponding focuses of the Report were Research and Best Practices (Black), Relationships (Yellow), Analysis (White), and Decolonize (Red). (Blair & Wong, 2018, pp.4). Utilizing indigenous research methods ensures that the process of reconciliation is in a culturally-relevant, integral process that places indigenous knowledge and voices at the center.

Findings and conclusions:

Given their colonial past, it is the duty of libraries to reconcile with indigenous communities by establishing a relationship with tribes, and directly consulting them to ensure their needs are met. It is the duty of the library to educate the public on reconciliation via collections, audio-visual materials, programming and services, or oral history dissemination (Blair & Wong, 2018, pp.5). Many Canadian libraries were built on appropriated indigenous lands, and they likely contain problematic and racist materials not approved by the communities about whom they are written (Blair & Wong, 2018, pp.3). To not confront these issues would be to expand and continue a pattern of settler colonialism.

As a result, libraries should give indigenous people the space to express their needs and respect their agency over their own matters and heritage. In addition, libraries should ensure that their collections include authentic indigenous voices with indigenous experiences written by indigenous authors (Blair & Wong, 2018, pp.4).

What American libraries can learn from global practice about designing services for diverse populations:

Blair and Wong’s article has demonstrated how libraries can effectively stand in solidarity and build relationships with indigenous communities to reconcile their colonial past. According to one of the principles in the United Nations’ report on the Protection of the Heritage of Indigenous People, “3. Indigenous peoples should be recognized as the primary guardians and interpreters of their cultures, arts and sciences, whether created in the past, or developed by them in the future” (UN, 1995, pp.8). When designing services for diverse populations, Blair and Wong urge libraries to directly consult with community leadership to determine the best method to move forward; to not do so would be an act of oppression by continuing the very pattern of colonialism that they are trying to prevent (Blair & Wong, 2018, pp.3). Simply put, “using needs assessment helps a library design and deliver services to multicultural populations that are authentic, intentional, and high quality” (Smallwood & Becnel, 2013, pp.5). While this article has emphasized the importance of conducting needs assessments with indigenous communities in Canada, this practice can be extended to any diverse population; American libraries can effectively serve their own indigenous populations and other diverse communities by doing the same.


Blair, J., & Wong, D. (2018). Moving in the Circle: Indigenous Solidarity for Canadian Libraries. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 12(2). https://doi.org/10.21083/partnership.v12i2.3781

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Discrimination Against Indigenous Peoples: Protection of the heritage of indigenous people. Final report of the Special Rapporteur, Mrs. Erica-Irene Daes. Geneva, Switzerland, June 21, 1995. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1995/26

Smallwood, C., & Becnel, K. (2013). Library services for multicultural patrons: Strategies to encourage library use. Plymouth, UK: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.