- Indigenous Notions of Ownership and Libraries, Archives and Museums ed. by Camille Callison, Loriene Roy, and Gretchen Alice Lecheminant
Like many international bodies, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) has a mandate to cover topics of contemporary interest to its constituents. So it is an indication of the progress Indigenous peoples have made toward cultural self-determination on an international stage to find that IFLA has devoted an entire monograph to ideas of possession, ownership, access, and use of materials of Indigenous heritage.
It would have been interesting to learn who initiated "IFLA's request for a book on this topic" (p. 3). In the preface, the editors invoke a growing professional consciousness among museums, archives, and libraries in "support of Indigenous ways of knowing" (p. 3). The preface also notes that heritage professionals are struggling with questions of Indigenous knowledge and possession and that Indigenous communities are advocating Indigenous models of knowledge for control of their cultural heritage; however, the preface does not explain how this translated into the selection of the authors or the subjects of their articles. The only organizing principle offered is that Indigenous "understanding and preservation of ways of knowing can only truly be upheld with the ultimate aim to transfer the knowledge to the next generation in the proper cultural context" (p. 1). Since IFLA has a professional relationship with UNESCO and the World Intellectual Property Office, the preface might have explained how this book is an expression of IFLA's approach to international advocacy and professional education on this topic. [End Page 182]
The book also requires an introduction with a methodology and thematic overview. The authors could have discussed the political minefield of colonial cultural policies, the de-colonializing work of Indigenous self-determination, and the embedded statist programs of allied cultural institutions. The book contains 22 articles from global jurisdictions, arranged into three sections: "Notions of Traditional Knowledge," "Notions of Ownership," and "Notions of Libraries, Archives, and Museums." The articles are relatively short, and they overlap the topic headings with a random feel. One has a sense that they may have been the result of conference proceedings, but this is never stated. Like the book, each section would also have benefited from an introductory thought piece. Given the profound paradigm shift in the relationship between allied heritage institutions and Indigenous societies, combined with IFLA's stated advocacy mission, the introduction is a missed chance to make a statement on how this relationship is changing and to discuss the social, political, cultural, and professional implications.
The opening section, "Notions of Traditional Knowledge," contains four articles that directly confront the concept of colonialism and its centuries of cultural appropriation. This section begins with Loriene Roy's article "Who Is Indigenous?" The question is a useful entrée to the fundamental issues. As she notes, "the process of considering and offering a definition underlies the foundation for discussing aspects of the stewardship of indigenous cultural knowledge" (p. 9). Roy argues that this question can be viewed as "a kind of needs assessment for preparing to work with Native library clientele" (p. 9). She acknowledges that this is a colonial perspective and pivots to a review of the many colonial attempts to form a definition. She ends with an endorsement of the professional decolonization articulated in Linda Tuhiwai Smith's Decolonizing Methodologies.1 But Roy's decolonization has limits: her article concludes with Indigenous perspectives, but they are referenced from the 1999 International Indigenous Librarians Forum, which defined Indigenous peoples as "those who have become minority peoples in their places of cultural origin."2 Quoting Sam Pack, Roy concludes that ultimately Indigenous peoples should answer the question. [End Page 183]
Trying to resolve the question of who is Indigenous may not be the best approach to safeguarding Indigenous knowledge and traditional cultural expression. James Henderson and Marie Battiste have both observed how international debates over who is Indigenous became prominent as the UN Commission on...