Indigenous Literature and Knowledge in Libraries

Wisconsin Water Library > Indigenous Literature and Knowledge in Libraries

At the Wisconsin Water Library, we understand that the active inclusion of Wisconsin’s Indigenous voices in our work is essential to our goal of promoting Great Lakes Literacy. In fact, as libraries exist to serve their communities to the fullest, it is the responsibility of all libraries to both include and listen to the voices of their local Indigenous peoples.

It is our hope that the resources below will serve as a productive starting point for any library hoping to fulfill this responsibility.

Happy learning!


– Maya Reinfeldt, Community Engaged Intern, Wisconsin Sea Grant (Summer 2022)

Are you interested in expanding your library’s collection of literature by Indigenous authors and on Indigenous topics? Do you want to ensure that your collection contains only accurate, up-to-date and respectful materials? Explore the following resources and learn where to begin.

Photo: Sigrid Peterson

American Indians in Children’s Literature

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Collection Development Strategy 2017 to 2021*

Culturally Safe Libraries: Working with Indigenous collections: ATSILIRN Protocol 7: Offensive*

How to Tell the Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children’s Books for Anti-Indian Bias

Maadagindan! Start Reading! Ojibwe Children’s Literature Book Club

Native American Authors Index

*The starred resources are not from the United States, but can still serve as useful guidelines for ethically expanding our collections of Native American literature.

Q&A with Dr. Phillips

Q: How can non-tribal librarians and informal educators answer questions about tribal nations today?


A: “[Tribal nations] cannot do all of this advocacy work on our own. And if a little kid is like, ‘Wait, Native people are still around today?’ That’s a perfect place for you to jump in and be like, ‘Yes, they are. You know, they live in houses, just like you do. They go to the grocery store, they go to Target…’ because so much of that is still so deeply ingrained, like, this is a thing of the past. I would say answer the questions, you know? And then just be honest, if there’s a question you don’t have the answer to, be like, ‘You know, that’s a great question. I don’t know the answer. But I bet if you talk to your grownups at home, and ask them to look it up, I bet they can help you find the answer.’” – Dr. Katrina Phillips

The following resources introduce tribal libraries and practices of Indigenous librarianship.

American Indian Library Association Resources

Burns, Kathleen et al. “Indigenous Librarianship.” Article. Taylor & Francis, 2014.

  • A comprehensive and detailed approach to Indigenous librarianship, which is “grounded in the contemporary realities of Indigenous people and Indigenous aspirations for self-governance and sovereignty” (Abstract.)

Indigenous Librarianship Wikipedia

Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums (TLAM) Project

Tribal Libraries, Museums, and Archives Map, see map below

Indigenous Knowledge (IK), sometimes called Traditional Knowledge (TK), refers to the invaluable and irreplaceable collections of knowledge, practices and inventions that Indigenous communities around the world hold based on centuries of experience living in a certain environment. Historically, IK has been extracted, oftentimes without consent, from Indigenous groups and misused, misrepresented and stored where said groups cannot access it. Today, preserving IK and emphasizing its legitimacy and relevance is crucial – how can libraries ethically and productively play a role in this process? Look to the resources below for information.

Photo: Wisconsin Sea Grant

Anderson, Jane. “Access and Control of Indigenous Knowledge in Libraries and Archives: Ownership and Future Use.” Article. American Library Association and The MacArthur Foundation Columbia University, 2005.

  • Engages with the changing understanding of IK ownership and stewardship, copyright and copyright laws in the context of Australian IK, and acknowledges the ways in which copyright laws as they are traditionally known in library settings may need to shift to accommodate the changing Indigenous public sphere and its rights and requests.

Archaeology of Indigenous North America: Traditional Knowledge

Culturally-Responsive Guidelines For Alaska Public Libraries

Indigenous Knowledges (IK)

Littletree, Sandra et al. “Centering Relationality: A Conceptual Model to Advance Indigenous Knowledge Organization Practices.” Article. Knowl. Org. 47(2020)No.5.

  • Discusses the potential shortcomings and colonial roots of Western Knowledge Organization, introduces additional factors of Indigenous ways of knowing that must be considered when organizing and making accessible IK, such as relationality, holism, and peoplehood.

Sarkhel, Juran Krishna. “Strategies of Indigenous Knowledge Management in Libraries.” Article. Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries (QQML) 5: 427-439, 2016.

  • Provides an overview of IK, then explains how libraries and librarians can assist in recording, codifying, storing, and disseminating IK in a respectful and equitable way that is dependent on the unique characteristics of each form of IK.

Whaanga, Hēmi et al. “He Matapihi Mā Mua, Mō Muri: The Ethics, Processes, and Procedures Associated with the Digitization of Indigenous Knowledge—The Pei Jones Collection.” Article. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 53:5-6, 520-547, 2015.

  • This article uses a prominent New Zealand case study to illustrate how libraries may tackle the challenging task of confronting, and maybe changing, their own systems in order to most ethically digitize Indigenous cultural content.

Q&A with Dr. Phillips

Q: How can libraries best support Indigenous language revitalization efforts?


A: “The first thing that comes to mind is offering support in whatever will best serve that community. Let’s say somebody wants to start a language table, but they don’t have space for it – my brain always goes right away to tangible things that can happen really fast… like, opening… a side room for the language tables, or publicizing events, working or helping host events, bringing in speakers… I think helping helping facilitate is one thing, and I would also honestly say helping plan things like that, because if the THPO office is drowning in requests for this or that, if libraries have the staff, the resources, the space, to support things like that, and are coming from a place of recognizing the impact that that will have – not like the whole savior kind of narrative – but to be like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a space, if you need room for the language table. Let’s figure it out.’” – Dr. Katrina Phillips

Indigenous peoples across America and the globe have long been the subjects of study, research, museum and archive collections, etc. However, many of these interactions were informed by colonialism, paternalism, violence, and the historicization of Indigenous cultures (regarding them as a part of history, not as a part of the present). Indigenous cultural artifacts were taken from the tribes to whom they belonged to be displayed in museums, and valuable materials such as old videos of elders have been stored in archives to which the tribal members do not have easy access. How can we remedy these wrongs today and work towards a future in which invaluable Indigenous cultural information and materials are collected and stored ethically? The resources below can answer this question.

“So few Native nations are actually the holders of their own histories.” – Dr. Katrina Phillips

Photo: Sigrid Peterson

CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance

Indigenous Research Guide

Miron, Rose. “Fighting for the Tribal Bible: Mohican Politics of Self-Representation in Public History.” Article. Native American and Indigenous Studies , Vol. 5, No. 2 (Fall 2018), pp. 91-122, University of Minnesota Press.

  • This article uses the example of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans’ three-decade-long fight to regain ownership of their own tribal Bible to illustrate how Native self-representation, including the curatorship and stewardship of their own cultural objects, is key to ensuring that public perception sees Native tribes as they are: still in existence today, capable, relevant, and persevering.

Native American Archives Section

Protocols for Native American Archival Materials

Tribal Research Policies, Processes and Protocols

Photo: Macalester College

Suggestions from a conversation with Dr. Katrina Phillips, Assistant Professor of History at Macalester College and citizen of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe:  

  • Should a library or an archive find itself in possession of Native objects, archival materials, or other information/items of cultural importance, the first step should be to reach out to the tribal nation in question and inform them that you have these objects. Oftentimes, tribal nations have had such cultural artifacts taken from them and today, may not even be aware of their existence.
  • The end goal is always for the Native nation to have easy and high-quality access to or final stewardship of the cultural artifacts. Some potential outcomes include:
    • The tribal nation reclaims their cultural artifact in collaboration with the library/archive
    • The tribal nation reclaims their cultural artifact and gives the library/archive permission to keep a high-quality copy (for example, a digital scan of a document)
    • The tribal nation chooses to leave the original with the library/archive, and opts to receive a high-quality copy themselves
    • The tribal nation leaves the artifact with the library/archive, but the library/archive consistently and reliably collaborates with the tribal nation to ensure they will have easy and permanent access to said artifact
  • We must work to avoid repeating situations like the following: “An archaeologist at Beloit College did a field school or a big study up at Red Cliff in 1979, and was there with permission, the tribe knew he was going to be there. But he took everything back to Beloit with him, and Red Cliff didn’t have access to his findings, to anything he found…” -Dr. Phillips