Indigenous Knowledge Organization: A Study of Concepts, Terminology, Structure and (Mostly) Indigenous Voices

Deborah Lee


Due to the lack of published information (especially in Canada) on modified classification systems and thesauri for describing and organizing Aboriginal materials, I set out to conduct a survey on this topic. The surveys were distributed at five Indigenous-related conferences and gatherings in Canada and the United States between the Fall, 2009, and the Fall, 2010, and more than 50 completed surveys were collected. Research findings included preferred changes in terminology from Library of Congress subject headings (which were seen to be outdated and inappropriate) but there was no resounding consensus on a “one-size fits all” terminology for thesauri terminology. However, this was not seen to be problematic given the diverse range of participants who took part in the survey. Respondents also commented on a survey question inquiring about the use of the “Medicine Wheel” concept as a way to organize Aboriginal-related materials, as well as other possible structures that might prove more culturally relevant for organizing these materials. There was both support for and strong opposition to the use of the Medicine Wheel for this purpose, for a variety of reasons. Participants indicated a preference for non-hierarchical and less linear structures than what current mainstream classification systems provide. There also seemed to be support for “landscape-based” structures. Although research findings were not conclusive, some valuable insights were gained from this study. The exploratory nature of this research project suggests more research (and more in-depth research) in this area is required.

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Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research (ISSN: 1911-9593)