Surfacing Knowledge, Building Relationships: Indigenous Communities, ARL and Canadian Libraries

This project is sponsored by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and led by York University Libraries. The purpose of the project is to advance a framework deliverables by using a case study approach to model community collaboration in the creation of structured data (linked open data or LOD) for archival and special collection materials related to Indigenous (First Nations, Inuit, Métis) communities in North America.

This website will be updated as the project progresses. Follow us on Twitter.

See this page for upcoming events, presentations and conferences.

In Our Own Words: Decolonising Description in the Library and Archival Community

Project goals

Broadly stated, this project is intended to:

  • provide pathways for research libraries to address and deconstruct systemic injustice present in systems of description through developing a collaborative community description practice and model power-sharing with Indigenous communities;
  • amplify the impact of contemporary special collections and archives in research libraries in the work of social justice;
  • advance social justice and diversity within multiple communities, but especially within the research library community;
  • create a model process of community-librarian/archivist/curator-scholar collaboration using Wikidata to create structured data related to Indigenous collections and communities in North America; and
  • address a gap in overall strategic engagement in the academic sector for connecting descriptive practices, and especially linked data, with advancing diversity and inclusion. Furthermore, digital initiatives for archival and special collections often sit in a middle ground between descriptive practices and sometimes act as sites of tension. Traditional descriptive practices in both archives and libraries often hide or obscure inequality in gender, sexuality, and racialization--reinforcing cultural hegemony. Open digital projects can enable more diversity, but only when deliberate inclusive and participatory practices are used. Inclusive engagement with communities and researchers interested in these topics is critical to making description more robust, pluralistic, culturally competent, and accountable.

Project activities


In the summer of 2016 a group of Wikimedians, along with representatives from the Wikimedia Foundation and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) came together to discuss common goals and ideas for collaboration. During two days of discussion of our respective cultures and roles within the information ecosystem, several big themes emerged. Two of those themes—1) the potential for linked open data to break down data silos and mutually enrich libraries’ and Wikipedia content; and 2) an overarching commitment to increase diversity and inclusion in library and Wikipedia culture and content. A project proposal was subsequently submitted to the Association of Research Libraries that proposed a framework for a new collaborative project with Indigenous communities in the United States and Canada. This was approved by ARL in 2017.


This project has many avenues for participation of librarians, archivists, and technologists. Different professional communities may be motivated to work on this project based on different local priorities. By working in the open and purposefully connecting various communities under a strong collaborative vision, project leaders anticipate that over time some of those motivations will converge and overlap. The project will focus on contemporary Indigenous people and collections, such as authors, artists, storytellers, and knowledge keepers. Activities include:

  • Building relationships of mutual respect by alerting Indigenous communities about collections of relevant materials and explain the nature of the materials. Work with community representatives to revisit indexing terminology and classification schemes.
  • Meaningfully document individuals and their relationships located in and between special collections and archival documents with a focus on contemporary individuals and documents.
  • Bring together LOD and Wikipedia communities of practice within the Libraries milieu by creating opportunities for thinking critically and creatively about approaches to the information environment, including collaborative work with Indigenous communities
  • Create heightened awareness around the politics and ethics of metadata, and especially linked data by producing templates, mechanisms for property proposals, discussions of models of description, and extensions of Wikidata to account for traditional knowledge structures as valid conceptual frameworks. This includes provisions to respect and defend the agency and authority of individuals, families, and communities to exercise their right to not participate, or have their information used in linked data initiatives.
  • Exploring how relationships with Wikidata will work with Indigenous communities and how Wikipedia and Wikidata platforms enable community involvement with the support of research libraries and within the research library context. Expand the means of description of Indigenous content in Wikidata with attention to property and identifier development
  • Address systemic issues related to social justice and diversity in library and archival description by a thorough and critical assessment of the landscape and literature in regards to this work. For example,mapping best practices as outlined in such documents as the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials, as well as  specific Calls to Action directed at knowledge and heritage institutions released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
  • Amplify and build on existing work related to decolonization of knowledge organizations
  • Test available tools for the visualization and interpretation of data from Wikidata, for example timelines, knowledge graphs, and maps, and their ability to support the work of students, researchers, and community members
  • Organize workshops, colloquia, and community events to foster trust, facilitate discussion and support training and reciprocal education
  • Create opportunities for Indigenous students and individuals to work within ARL libraries. For example, through a specialized graduate student fellowship or Wikidata-ist in residence potentially as an exploration of an experiential education (EE) or service learning opportunity.

Project Lead Team 

  • Stacy Allison-Cassin, Project Manager / Project Lead (York University Libraries)
  • Joy Kirchner, Project Sponsor/ARL Director Lead (York University Libraries)
  • Anna St. Onge, Archivist Lead (York University Libraries)
  • Jamie Lee Morin, Indigenous Digital Collections Assistant (York University Libraries)
  • Association of Research Libraries Project Partners: Judy Ruttenberg, Mark Puente
  • Team profiles

Project Participation

Partnerships and community collaborations will be developed that include:

  • A steering group of ARL partner institutions to provide overarching guidance for the project including the development of the participation model in consultation with an advisory committee comprised of key community and organizational contacts.
  • Deep consultation and collaboration with the ARL Diversity and Inclusion Committee
  • Partnerships with Indigenous communities and the Wikipedia community

Related Initiatives

Contemporary Indigenous Culture Wikipedia Meet-ups