How to decolonize your library without causing scandal

Decolonize libraries? This term bristles more than one. Especially since the headlines last week showed Ontario Catholic school libraries blithely confuse decolonization, censorship, pruning and reconciliation. What if we came back, with librarians and specialists, to the sense of ideas, now that the dust of the autodafe is starting to settle? Return, therefore, to the fundamentals: should we decolonize libraries? And how, without causing a scandal?

“Decolonizing is not even the right term for what we are doing,” said first Manon Tremblay, senior director of the native directorates. “At Concordia, we identify the obstacles that exist”, those that prevent certain people from accessing the places of knowledge such as libraries and universities. “It doesn’t just serve the Aboriginals. It’s for all the people we didn’t think about when we put the structures and organizations in place. “

“Decolonization requires the integration of an Aboriginal perspective,” continues Cyndy Wylde, professor of social work at the University of Ottawa. The University of Quebec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT) is an excellent example of this integration, says the one who also teaches there: “Physical planning, collection development, organization of research by theme, intellectual or cultural, so that it gives us back. also something. “

Mme Wylde continues: “The UQAT librarian knows the terms, the different nations, the great eras, etc. », Which allows him to do cultural security. “It also involves knowing the native students and the different cultures, at least the one where the university is located. On what traditional territory this library is erected. “

More knowledge

Decolonization in the library, summarizes Manon Tremblay, is not a subtraction of knowledge, whether dated, racist or contentious. Rather, it is an addition. We will pay attention vocabulary, especially the one that serves as references. We will increase, for example, books, authors, content, voices – indigenous or diversity. We will add context for dated content. We will also increase the accessibility and understanding of these voices for and by everyone. By making sure there are enough copies of Joséphine Bacon’s popular poetry books, for example. Or by offering lectures on Indigenous spirituality in order to better understand it.

Decolonization requires the integration of the indigenous perspective

Even adding books by native authors is not that easy. Daniel Sioui, co-founder of Hannenorak editions and bookstore, testifies to this. Since 2010, the publishing house has released around ten new products per year. “We don’t have so many communities represented by our authors. We have Innu. Wendats. Mohawks, not so much. Anichinabe, it’s coming. This winter, we are releasing a collective, with authors from all the nations of Quebec. This is the first time this has happened. “

The house had to do a competition to find a representative from each nation. “Otherwise, there aren’t any, from native authors. Our literature is brand new, it has been perhaps 25 years since we started to have authors. It’s just since the 1960s that aboriginal people have been allowed to go to university. The more education there is, the more authors there will be. It is certain that the schools in the communities are so wasteful compared to Quebec schools, it is difficult to get to CEGEP, and worse afterwards to university. The key is education. “

Facilitate training

Another key, then, is education. Increase the accessibility of the library for Aboriginals: whether they come, users, borrow books; or professionals, work there. “The problem,” says Guylaine Beaudry, director and head librarian at Concordia, “is that we do not receive applications. We said to ourselves that we had to act on training, to facilitate the entry into the profession of future native colleagues. “

An incentive program was therefore implemented a few years ago. McGill and the University of Montreal offer tuition to those who want to come, in English or in French, to their library schools. Concordia offers a student librarian position, 15 hours per week. “As with all our student librarians, it helps them enter the profession, to create their network,” she continues.

To date, the University of Montreal has not yet succeeded in attracting a student, while there are currently three at McGill – one in the first year, two in the second. “We don’t have a lot of credibility to say to people who don’t know us: ‘Come to us, we’ll help you,’” explains the director of the University of Montreal’s library school, Lyne Da. Sylva. “We have to find a way to explain to them why it is important for Aboriginals to be trained to manage their own archives. There is a lot to gain for people who want to make their voices heard. And probably a whole conception of archives to question, and to move.

Start by listening

Former Deputy Librarian and Archivist of Canada Normand Charbonneau recalls that the ways of decolonizing archives and libraries have already been mapped out. The path is described, almost like a recipe, in the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. It highlights number 57: “To provide competency-based training in intercultural skills, dispute resolution, human rights and anti-racism”.

“The development of these cultural skills is the key,” believes Mr. Charbonneau. “Too often organizations set off with modalities before having taken this essential step. Manon Tremblay calls it another way. “It requires a sustained and mutually respectful engagement with Indigenous communities. Not a consultation, done once: a commitment. A long-lasting relationship. “Later, she will correct:” RELATIONSHIPS, in fact, since there will not be a spokesperson who will decide for all, nor a nation which will represent all the others. We can see that one of the keys is to do business with local communities, first of all. “

Manon Tremblay is Cree from the plains of the community of Muskeg Lake. Cyndy Wylde is an anicinape and atikamekw from the community of Pikogan. Daniel Sioui is Wendat.

Watch video

Leave a Comment