Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month! Libraries play an important role in preserving and sharing their rich culture. Here are some of the key issues and resources that librarians should be familiar with.


Anyone who has tried searching for information about Native Americans has likely wondered about the best terminology to use. American Indian, Native, First Nations, Aboriginal, and Indigenous have all been used to describe this group, not to mention more specific terms such as Inuit and Metis. The current Library of Congress Subject Heading is “Indians of North America”, a term that many Native researchers in Canada today find offensive (Lee, 2011, p. 2). The Art & Architecture Thesaurus uses the term “Native American“. A survey conducted by Deborah Lee of the University of Saskatchewan found that there is a wide range of preferred terms among Aboriginals, suggesting that the term to use should be decided by local library patrons (2011, p. 2); however, this does not solve the question of what to use for a broadly-applied term, such as the LCSH.

When searching for work by Native Americans, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:

– “indigenous” is generally thought to refer to Native populations on an international scale, and may be useful when searching for work concerning indigenous peoples of Oceania and Africa, for example;

– “aboriginal” is the legally recognized term given in Canada’s Constitution of 1982, and may help find documents pertaining to the Native populations in Canada.

Of course these are broad generalizations, and the most successful search may include trying variations of these terms with other keywords.

Another challenge for librarians concerning Native American resources relates to its format. As Native knowledge tends to be passed on orally, it can be difficult to align with traditional LIS resources. This friction is also evident in the comments of Aboriginal patrons who use academic Indigenous study portals. They have mentioned that the webpages are too linear and Euro-centric in their design, which can become a barrier to the use of these resources (Lee, 2011, p. 2).

Native elders have also raised concerns about ownership of traditional knowledge. When knowledge is more widely available through library systems, it is more likely that it will be assumed to be public knowledge. Elders have expressed the wish to have more control over what is documented, who has access to it, and how it is used, particularly knowledge that is considered sacred (Maina, 2012, p. 18). Granting ownership rights is challenging in this situation, as much of what makes up traditional knowledge is not considered to belong to a specific individual or group (Maina, 2012, p. 18). Despite these challenges, it is important for libraries and Native communities to collaborate to find solutions so that their knowledge and culture is preserved.


If you’d like to learn more about contemporary Native American culture, check out one of these events.

– The Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina, SK, is currently showing 7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. Have a look at their website for biographies of the artists with work on display.

– The National Museum of the American Indian has many events listed on their Events Calendar throughout the coming weeks, such as film screenings, tours, and family activities.

Resources for Native American Art

One of the largest libraries focusing on Native American art is the library at the Institute of American Indian Arts, or IAIA. Located in Santa Fe, NM, the IAIA is considered one of the top art institutions by UNESCO and the International Association of Art. The library boasts over 33,000 titles, the IAIA archives, and special collections such as the Smithsonian Photographs from the National Anthropological Archives.

The Heard Museum, in Phoenix, AZ, is another important centre of Native American art and culture. The museum library has a collection covering topics such as Native American art, particularly that of the Southwest; indigenous art of Oceania, Africa, and Asia; museum studies and library and archival studies; and more. Their digital library includes selections from their Native American Artists Resource Collection, which holds biographical information for close to 25,000 artists.

Some other important resources for studying the culture of Native Americans are: is a great directory for finding Canadian artists. Their Aboriginal section can be searched by province and city, and provides a link to the artist’s website.

– The Aboriginal Art Centre in Gatineau, Quebec, holds a collection of 4,000 works by First Nations, Inuit, and Metis artists. Their resource library includes artist files, images, reports on Aboriginal art, and more, but may be visited by appointment only.

– The National Museum of the American Indian exists as part of the Smithsonian Institution. Their research programs are housed in the Cultural Resource Centre in Suitland, Maryland.

Ready for more? Check out these great research guides:

– Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, BC, offers many useful links on their Contemporary First Nations Art subject guide.

– Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s research guide for Native American History has a huge number of links, including many useful websites in their Arts & Crafts section.

Over the next few weeks, I will be adding these and many more resources as pins to the Native American Art Resources pinboard on ArLiSNAP’s pinterest page. Follow along for more!

Cited Sources

Lee, D. (2011). Indigenous Knowledge Organization: A Study of Concepts, Terminology, Structure, and (Mostly) Indigenous Voices. Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 6(1), special section 1-33.

Maina, C.K. (2012). Traditional knowledge management and preservation: Intersections with Library and Information Science. The International Information & Library Review, 44(1), 13-27.