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When the Subject is Indians

by Sanford Berman

Hennepin County Library

Having heard in early August that someone at the Library of Congress (LC) had asked for input from American Indian Library Association (AILA) on the possibility of "bringing Indians in line with other groups by eliminating subject headings such as INDI ANS OF NORTH AMERICA--NEW YORK in favor of INDIANS--NEW YORK," I sent these observations to AILA President Lisa Mitten, who had described the contemplated changes as "very minimal":

The present geographical treatment regarding Native Americans is "out of line" with how most other ethnic groups are handled. So converting INDIANS OF SOUTH AMERICA--BRAZIL to simply INDIANS--BRAZIL or INDIANS See OF NORTH AMERICA--MINNESOTA to INDIANS--MINNESOTA would be more consistent--and also result in less awkward forms.

Actually, to change the current subdivision practice is not "minimal." In fact, it would affect most INDIAN headings. So this is a wholly appropriate time to (possibly) propose a substitute term for INDIANS itself. And the AILA is surely the best "authority." That is, if AILA can agree on a better description/ethnonym (and perhaps suggest other name-changes, as well), it should formally propose & publicize those suggestions--and as quickly as possible. This is a case where AILA can effectively exert leverage/influence on library practice.

My personal preference (as a sympathetic & concerned outsider) is for "Native Americans" as a primary form (replacing INDIANS) and for "Native American" as a substitute for "Indian" in adjectival headings (e.g., NATIVE AMERICAN ART instead of INDIA N ART). At HCL, we're halfway there: All adjectival forms have been converted from "Indian" to "Native American," but we haven't yet transformed the primary headings like INDIANS, INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA, INDIANS OF SOUTH AMERICA, etc. Not so much for lack of will as lack of time, since each form needs to be individually examined & re-cross-referenced.

Over the years of noting terminology-usage, I've been impressed with how often Native writers & publications & speakers interchange "Indian" with "American Indian" with "Native American." Frankly, I don't think there's any clear-cut consensus, though "Native American" appears to be "on a roll" most recently, even used in government documents. It also seems to be favored by the more militant/activist people & publications, both native or not.

Well, that's issue #1: What umbrella term to use. And these are a few more:

2. Specific ethnonyms:

In an e-mail message concerning LC headings, Lisa Mitten asked "What about using people's own names for themselves, such as HODENAUSONEE instead of IROQUOIS and TSALAGI instead of CHEROKEE?"

LC is presumably committed to employing ethnic groups' self-preferred, authentic names. Indeed, within the past decade they've changed CHIPPEWA INDIANS to OJIBWE INDIANS, PAPAGO INDIANS to TOHONO O'ODHAM INDIANS, and HURON INDIANS to WYANDOT INDIANS. T hey've done similar switches for a number of African peoples (e.g., GALLAS becoming OROMO and HOTTENTOTS being transmuted into KHOIKHOI). And even LAPPS metamorphosed into that indigenous people's genuine name: SAMI.

So if AILA can supply persuasive documentation that establishes what the true names are for presently misnamed groups, it should. To Lisa's list I'd add APACHE INDIANS NEZ PERCE INDIANS (HCL uses "Nimipu"), CROW INDIANS (HCL: "Absaroke"), WINNEB AGO INDIANS (HCL:"hotcangara"), and GABRIELINO INDIANS (rather than "Tongva").

3. "Relocation" subhead:

AILA should demand that LC restore its previous subhead, --REMOVAL (or even better, HCL's --FORCED REMOVALS) under names of specific Indian peoples. What they changed to not long ago is the essentially misleading and inaccurate--RELOCATION (which sound s almost benign, making it appear that the Cherokee/Tsalagi undertook the Trail of Tears in order to get to a better place--for their own benefit!).

4. "Holocaust" heading

There finally needs to be a totally new heading to represent the 1492-1900 experience of native peoples in the Western Hemisphere. At HCL, we've been using NATIVE AMERICAN HOLOCAUST (1492-1900). The closest LCSH comes is the feeble INDIANS, TREATMENT O F. (Consider that they don't employ JEWS, TREATMENT OF to denote the 1933-1945 Jewish Holocaust.)

Getting down to "business," I propose that AILA make formal recommendations to LC on each of these four issues, and any others that AILA members may raise. To accomplish that, I volunteer to serve as a clearinghouse for comments and suggestions, ultima tely preparing a draft set of recommendations for action by the AILA Board. so, assuming that approach is acceptable, please send me opinions and ideas regarding a suitable umbrella term, ethnonyms that need to be corrected, replacing --RELOCATION as a su bhead, and creating a heading to denote the entire 1492-1900 genocide. Also welcome would be the identification of other cataloging problems, together with ways to solve them. To expedite this process, kindly submit comments by December 31, 1995. With luc k, that may permit discussion of draft recommendations at AILA's Midwinter meeting in January 1996.

Sanford Berman is Head Cataloger, Hennepin Country Library, Minnetonka, Minnesota.
Mailing address:

Hennepin County Library
12601 Ridgedale Drive
Minnetonka, MN 55305-1909
Phone: (612) 541-8570
FAX: (612) 541-8600
e-mail: sberman@sun.hennepin.lib.mn.us


American Indian Libraries Newsletter
Vol. XVIII, No. 2, Winter 1995

Editorial note: The discussion on this topic is ongoing.

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