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Indigenous Research Guide: Searching, terminology and help

Mindful research | Searching, terminology and help

Names of communities (Canada)

Given the diverse range of terms that you can use in your searches, it can seem daunting to know exactly what word or spelling to use. The First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Indigenous Ontology (FNMIIO) is a document prepared by the Canadian Federation of Library Association Indigenous Matters Committee’s – Red Team-Joint Working Group on Classification and Subject Headings and the National Indigenous Knowledge and Language Alliance (NIKLA). In this file, you will find a working list of Indigenous Names to better reflect how Indigenous peoples currently refer to themselves based on their public websites. In the list, you will find related terms and spelling variants.

Searching tips

Here are 2 suggestions to try when using any type of catalogue, database, or other search tool.

  1. Enter a term or phrase using natural language, for example: indian residential schools

  2. Broaden your search by entering a string of various terms that group synonyms together and connected with the Boolean operators: AND and OR, for example:

(indigenous OR "first nations" OR  indian OR "indians of north america" OR "american indian") AND "residential school*" AND canad*

Whichever option you choose, once you have a list of results, use the filters on the left hand navigation bar to focus by relevance, publication date, subject and more.

Terminology used for searching

When looking for resources related to Indigenous topics, you will interact with different searching interfaces (such as the Library catalogue, databases, institutional repositories, archival records, and search engines).

The institutions responsible for each of those search interfaces may describe works by and about Indigenous topics in different ways. In most cases, you will find evidence of outdated, inaccurate, and offensive terminology that reflects the Colonial history of classifying and describing Library materials and talking about Indigenous issues more broadly.

The terminology used in each of these interfaces can range from standardized terms (often used in Library catalogues and Databases) to non-standardized words, such as keywords provided by an author, taken from an abstract, or obtained from within an article's full text.

Terminology use in...

Library catalogues use standardized terminology (also known as 'subject headings', 'controlled vocabularies', or 'access points'). This standardized wording helps group together resources that are related in topic, geographic area, personal names of authors and names of institutions.

At most academic libraries in Canada and the United states, the standardized terminology comes from the US Library of Congress and/or Library and Archives Canada, which can result in terminology that is more reflective of the Colonial nature of the catalogue, than the way in which Indigenous peoples refer to themselves. When doing research in North American library catalogues, you may come across terms like: Indians of North America to globally refer to all Indigenous peoples (including, in the Canadian context, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis).

Some Canadian libraries have actively engaged in replacing the term Indians of North America and related subject headings in their catalogues, choosing other alternatives instead of the Library of Congress terminology. The following resources show you examples of additional terminology that you may see and you can use when doing research using other library catalogues:

The library catalogue at the University of Waterloo contains a mix of terminology coming from the Library of Congress and Library and Archives Canada. In December 2019, our catalogue became shared with thirteen other universities across Ontario. At present, a total of 16 institutions are part of this shared catalogue. As a result, our efforts to remediate outdated terminology need to be informed by the work done in collaboration with our partners.

For more information about the work of the Cataloguing and Metadata department at the University of Waterloo Library, you can read our statement on Language in the Library catalogue.

Description of archival materials often relies on the language that is used in the documents themselves. Given the historical nature of many archival collections, some of the terminology that appears in documents and their archival descriptions may be outdated, inaccurate, or offensive.

To learn more about the Language used in Archival descriptions at the University of Waterloo, you can read the statement in the Special Collections and Archives website.

Databases often give you the option to do keyword searching, as well as search using standardized terminology that each database provider creates. Standardized terminology used in databases is often found in a section called 'thesaurus'. For some databases, you can browse the thesaurus to find the most precise terminology to use. In other databases, you must rely on keywords to do your search.

Institutional repositories are primarily used to find theses from a particular institution, as well as research outputs from faculty and students at those universities.

Institutional repositories may use a combination of standardized terminology (such as Library of Congress subject headings) as well as keywords that authors provide at the time of submitting their thesis to the repository. Author-provided keywords are not standardized, for this reason, you may need to try different spelling variants to get the results that are related to your topic of interest.

For additional information on institutional repositories, please refer to the Theses and dissertations section of this guide.

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