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Anthropology 116 (DeLugan, Spring 2024)

Indigenous Activism in the Americas

About Terminology

Note: Historical documents may not refer to Native Americans or other indigenous cultures in terminology that is considered culturally appropriate or sensitive.  Depending on your research, you may find that perjorative terminology is used.


When starting your search, you may want to think about keywords you could incorporate into your search strategies.

  • Native
  • Native American
  • American Indian
  • Indian
  • Alaskan Native
  • Indigenous People
  • Pacific Islanders
  • Hawaii Natives
  • First Nations, Native, Aboriginal, First People (Canada)
  • Inuit (Canada)
  • Metis (Canada)

Materials and authors may include the specific names of groups. Note that different spellings may be common.  

  • Delaware
  • Ione Band
  • Me-Wuk / Miwok
  • Miami
  • Navajo
  • Nation Seneka
  • Seneca Nation of New York
  • Shawnee

Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)

The Library of Congress Classification (LCC) system includes a thesaurus of controlled vocabulary known as the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). You may have used subject headings for your own information-finding in the research process.

Catalogers started using these subject headings in 1898, and subject headings continue to be added. For instance, “refrigerators” became a heading in 1908. -- See Charting a Changing Language with LCSH (n.d.) by El-Hoshy (Library of Congress).

Though a classification system may appear neutral, terminology chosen at any point in history may represent the biases and ideologies of that time period resulting in controversial, offensive, and culturally insensitive subject headings that marginalize minorities. For instance, subject headings may use names imposed on North American Indigenous Peoples (NAIP) during colonization rather than preferred tribal names, or they may hide communities through grouping them into a single subject heading such as Indigenous Peoples.

Some subject headings have been modified in order to make subject-headings and their structures more inclusive and accurate. For instance, the Library of Congress changed Chippewa Indians to Ojibwe Indians in order to use this tribe’s self-preferred name. However, there is still much work to be done in this area. Calls to change subject headings to more accurately represent the Native American experience have not yet been made e.g. from relocation to removal. --See "Omissions and Distortion Abound in Libraries, Too" (4 Feb. 2019) by Sanford Berman.

See Examples:

Subjects headings for two books


Some libraries and organizations have embarked on projects to create alternate classifications or to modify Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) to better represent works related to Indigenous communities. For instance, Bone and Lougheed (2017) write about the Association of Manitoba Archives’ decision to make changes to Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) “to better describe material about or by Indigenous peoples” found in its archival repositories. --See Bone & Lougheed (2018) "Library of Congress Subject Headings Related to Indigenous Peoples: Changing LCSH for Use in a Canadian Archival Context".

Change the Subject

Change the Subject (~55 min.)

"Undocumented college students fighting for change in the Library of Congress Subject Headings.

Change the Subject looks at how an instance of campus activism at Dartmouth College entered the national spotlight, and how a cataloging term became a flashpoint in the immigration debate on Capitol Hill. The subject heading in question reveals how bias against immigrants is pervasive, even written into the very institutions that profess to serve an essential public good: libraries."

Change the Subject Trailer (2:38)