If a student were to go to a library, and look up the word “genocide,” they would find very little about the atrocities committed against Indigenous people in North America.
Michael Dudley, the Indigenous librarian for the University of Winnipeg (U of W), noticed something strange when he was creating notes on how to find books on Indigenous Studies. It was very hard to find books that talked about the horrible treatment of the Indigenous population.
He created a sample size of 45 books and looked at them closely for double standards, misleading headings and a “colonial narrative.” Out of the sample size, only three out of that 45 were categorized under “genocide.” One such book, The Genocide Machine in Canada, is described with the heading “Environmental Policy - Canada” and “Economic Policy.”
“Most of the books have headings like ‘Indians of North America - Treatment Of’ or ‘Indians of North America - Government Relations.’ So the subject headings that are used for books that are very explicitly about holocaust, genocide, extermination, and ethnic cleansing, are treated with these very bland kind of headings, that really disguise what the author is writing about,” Dudley says.
Because the U of W is part of a world catalogue, if the library was to change the headings locally, they wouldn’t appear in the larger search engine used by other schools. According to Dudley, some librarians have been trying to get these categories changed for a long time with no luck.
Dudley says this is due, in large part, to the fact that Canadian and American historians have a hard time classifying what happened in North America as genocide.
“A student in the US, an Indigenous student ... took objection to her history professor refusing to call what happened in the US genocide. And when she pointed out what historians were saying, about it being a genocide, he kicked her out of the class. There’s this resistance in intelligencia to admit it was a horrible thing,” Dudley says.
Kevin Settee, editor of Red Rising magazine and president of the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association, says making sure this history is easy to access is important for not just students and historians, but Indigenous people looking to cope with colonization.
“I think it’s important for people to learn about colonization and to learn how their actions and their behaviors could be re-creating trauma. We need to educate people so that Indigenous people live safe lives. We need to have a mutual respect for each other and the land, and that comes from learning Canada’s true history,” Settee says.
The UWSA committee, with Settee at the head, pushed for Indigenous Studies to be required for first year students at the U of W. This means students will likely head to the library to search for course materials.
Until something can be done about it, Dudley has created a guide to finding books on Indigenous genocide, advising students to use search terms like “crimes against Indigenous people” and other related phrases.
“Our discourse around this history of genocide on this continent is made worse by the fact that you can’t just walk into a library and find a section on Indigenous genocide, that you can’t look in a catalogue and find subject headings that actually describe it the way other genocides are described,” Dudley says.
Dudley’s library guide can be found at libguides.uwinnipeg.ca/c.php?g=124957&p=817562. For more information on how Indigenous books are catagorized, you can find and download Michael Dudley’s notes here: winnspace.uwinnipeg.ca/bitstream/handle/10680/1068/Library%20Genocide_Feb%2026%202016.pdf?sequence=4.