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Revised vocabulary describing Indigenous peoples in the RVM

The RVM is a gateway used by the many clients of Canada’s French-language libraries to find information on any topic. It is therefore essential that the terms used be precise and respectful of the realities they describe.

The vocabulary used to describe Indigenous Peoples presents significant cultural, historical, and colonial biases. This terminology needs to be revised in a way that respects Indigenous communities. Over the past several months, the RVM team has taken on the monumental task of reviewing all subject headings describing Indigenous Peoples.


Our approach: Co-creation with Indigenous Nations

Heading changes are the result of a co-creation process involving First Peoples, in line with Université Laval’s “By, for, and with” approach.

This project is a decolonization effort. We are trying to correct a serious problem by developing ongoing, respectful collaboration with Indigenous communities. According to University of Ottawa Professor Cyndy Wylde, “decolonization requires integrating an Indigenous perspective.

Consultations are held with different groups based on individual project requirements and the expertise and skills of the people involved. We are building a network of contacts so the RVM team can have a circle of partners to support them in their efforts.


A two-pronged approach

The revisions touch on two areas: specific vocabulary, or subject headings that affect a particular nation, and generic vocabulary, which concerns many or all nations.


  • Specific vocabulary

    To revise the corpus, the RVM team first finds Indigenous contacts within a nation who know the local language and community and are willing to work on the project. Then they compile a document containing all subject headings that affect that nation. Finally, a working group comprising nation partners and two Université Laval librarians meet to analyze the subject headings, evaluate any that are problematic, and discuss the options. The nation partners provide input on the best way to correct the headings.

    To date, the project with the Atikamekw Nation has been completed. We would like to thank Sylvie Létourneau, library technician in charge of documentary services at Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw, and Nicole Petiquay, linguist in charge of education, language, and cultural services at Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw, for their involvement. Projects with other nations are underway or in development.

    This project only covers the subject headings related to the First Peoples living in the territory that we call Québec. The revision will then be extended to subject headings related to First Peoples in Canada’s other provinces and territories, and then in the rest of the Americas.

  • Generic vocabulary

    Because generic vocabulary affects many or all nations, these revisions are to be made with First Nations members who can provide expert advice. They are familiar with Indigenous issues, work with different First Peoples, and know which terms are being used to describe different concepts and which have fallen out of use.

    A multidisciplinary group of experts was formed with the following members:

    • Alexandre Bacon, Innu Nation, Indigenous Specialist and President, Institut Ashukan
    • Edith Bélanger, Wolastoqiyik Nation, Institut Ashukan Consultant
    • Annie Wolfe, Senior Librarian – Information Standards, Head of Canadian Subject Headings (CSH), Library and Archives Canada
    • Marie-Ève Plante, Indexing Librarian, Ville de Montréal Public Library
    • Joë Bouchard, Consultant Librarian and PhD student in Native Studies, Université Laval
    • Marie-Joëlle Tardif, Library Technician, RVM
    • Susanne Brillant, Controlled Vocabulary Librarian, RVM


    Various sets of subject headings have been discussed to date:

    • The subject headings that have been changed to “Premières Nations” or “Peuples autochtones”
    • Gender and number agreement of nation names used as adjectives in French The term “Autochtones”
    • The semantic network of literature headings
    • Subject subdivision —Habitat urbain
    • French translation of “Elders” as “Anciens”


    These subject headings cover complex topics and require careful consideration. Revisions often go far beyond replacing one word with another.

    The group’s work is ongoing and involves other sets of problematic subject headings, such as those related to reserves.

  • Database changes and production of monthly updates

    The corrections cannot be made all at once. They will be done in multiple batches, in a logical sequence to preserve the semantic networks linking the subject headings. Each batch of corrections will be analyzed to determine if automatic revision is possible. If not, subject headings will be corrected manually.

    The first update containing 1,714 modified subject headings was produced on May 1, 2023, and is now available to libraries. The terms “Premières Nations” in the Canadian context and “Peuples autochtones” for other countries in the Americas are now used as headings. The update also includes corrections to nine headings pertaining to the Atikamekw Nation and removal of the parenthetical qualifier for 695 nation names.

    As consultations with partners take place, changes will follow and be made available to libraries in the update released on the first day of every month on the “New thesaurus releases” tab of the RVM website.

  • Guide to the use of subject headings describing Indigenous Peoples in the RVM

    Guide pour l’utilisation des vedettes-matière décrivant les Peuples autochtones dans le RVM (en français seulement).



Working group

A working group has been formed to advise the RVM team. It is made up of Indigenous and non-Indigenous specialists with broad expertise in areas like controlled vocabularies, indexing, languages, and Indigenous issues, as well as university researchers.

The group will report to the RVM Coordinating Committee.

Find out more about RVM governance here (in French only).


  • Composition of the working group

    The current members of the working group are:

    • Sponsor: Michèle Audette, Senator, Assistant to the Vice Rector of Academic and Student Affairs at Université Laval and a recognized Indigenous leader
    • Annie Wolfe, Senior Librarian – Information Standards, Library and Archives Canada
    • Caroline Desbiens, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Heritage and Tourism, Université Laval
    • Marie-Ève Plante, Librarian, Cataloguing and Document Analysis, Ville de Montréal
    • Manon Tremblay, Senior Director, Indigenous Directions, Concordia University
    • Maïka Jérôme, Library Technician, Institut Tshakapesh
    • Marie-Josée Dupuis, Coordinator, Indigenous Affairs, Université Laval
    • Joë Bouchard, Liaison Librarian, Université Laval
    • Susanne Brillant, Controlled Vocabulary Librarian, Université Laval



Track our progress on the RVM website.

For questions and comments, email rvm@bibl.ulaval.ca