Update on subject headings for Aboriginal peoples in Canada
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) initiated a review in 2007 of the terminology used in Canadian Subject Headings (CSH) to identify Aboriginal peoples in Canada. A LAC proposal to change these headings was posted on several discussion lists for comment. To recap, the proposal was to change the existing headings "Indians of North America" to "First Nations", "Native peoples" to "Aboriginal peoples" and headings for individual peoples such as "Sarcee Indians" to simply "Sarcee".
The feedback we have received since then from some 35 institutions or individuals indicates a recognition of the inadequacies and outdatedness of many of the existing headings. However, some users of CSH expressed concern about systems difficulties for them when Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) and CSH terms differ for the same concepts, as they would if LAC were to go ahead with the proposed changes. There was also some concern raised about the choice of the proposed new headings, and a lack of consensus on better terminology.
LAC has studied the feedback to the proposal thoroughly, and also consulted with the editors of LCSH and RVM as to future directions in those lists, considering that terminology differs in Canada and the United States. Based on these factors, LAC has decided not to go ahead for now with the changes as proposed. We will instead make a start by considering changing headings for specific Aboriginal peoples on a case by case basis, to see what we can do to improve access. We would be pleased to hear specific suggestions for terminology changes in line with this direction.
Since the overall problems with subject headings for Aboriginal peoples remain, LAC is not closing the file on this question. However, we believe the modest approach outlined above will serve to make a start at improving access in the short run.