Supporting the International Decade of Indigenous Languages

Language is integral to Indigeneity. Language is a transgenerational spiritual bond between the physical, cultural, and social that connects the individual directly to the land and their relations. The way language is used relates directly to the land we live on and our connection to the land or place fosters our sense of self; thus an interruption of language becomes an interruption of Indigenous identity. Colonialism works to purposefully disrupt Indigeneity but there are beautiful and powerful initiatives around the world that are actively aiming to disrupt colonialism by reclaiming, revitalizing, maintaining, and strengthening Indigenous languages.

Reclaiming and supporting various language initiatives is one critical step towards fighting colonialism. Language reclamation is the main goal of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032):

The United Nations General Assembly (Resolution A/RES/74/135) proclaimed the period between 2022 and 2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL 2022-2032), to draw global attention on the critical situation of many indigenous languages and to mobilize stakeholders and resources for their preservation, revitalization and promotion.

The proclamation of an International Decade is a key outcome of the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, for which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) lead global efforts. The Organization will continue to serve as lead UN Agency for the implementation of the International Decade, in cooperation with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and other relevant UN Agencies.

The International Decade aims at ensuring indigenous peoples’ right to preserve, revitalize and promote their languages, and mainstreaming linguistic diversity and multilingualism aspects into the sustainable development efforts. It offers a unique opportunity to collaborate in the areas of policy development and stimulate a global dialogue in a true spirit of multi-stakeholder engagement, and to take necessary for the usage, preservation, revitalization and promotion of indigenous languages around the world.

In line with the objectives of the International Decade, the online platform of the IDIL 2022-2032 aims to build a global community for indigenous languages, facilitate information-sharing on activities and events organized all over the world, promote relevant resources and tools, report and monitor progress made, and create new opportunities for exchange and dialogue among a wide network of stakeholders.

(About the IDIL2022-2032)

Indigenizing language is a step we take seriously here at Xwi7xwa. The Library is named after William Bellman, who was gifted the name Xwi7xwa from Chief Simon Baker of the Squamish Nation. Xwi7xwa means “echo” in the Squamish language and directly aligns with “the mandate of the Library [being] to echo the voices and philosophies of Indigenous people through its collection, services, spaces and programming” (Doyle, Lawson, and Dupont, p. 108).

Not only does the name Xwi7xwa support language revitalization, but our approach as a library actively disrupts colonialism. Typically, libraries are organized using classification systems. The most popular classification systems that are found in libraries are the Library of Congress Classification System (LCC) and the Dewey Decimal Classification System (DDC). Both of these systems are rooted in colonialism and are well known for centering Indigenous communities as a part of ‘history’ and “using obsolete anthropological terms that are different from the preferred local usage” (Cherry & Mukunda, p.551). Centering Indigneous peoples in the past invalidates the very dynamic nature of their resistance and continual existence. It is suggesting that they are dead and gone, a problematic part of Canadian history. It is wrong to blame and then silence Indigenous communities for the wrongs that the country called Canada has (and continues to) enacted, especially because it is a gross misrepresentation of the truth. While it may seem small to some, adjusting the language in subject headings which refer to Indigenous communities is an important step being taken as an act of language revitalization.

At Xwi7xwa, instead of using either the LCC or the DDC, we use a modified version of the Brian Deer Classification System (BDC)—read more here. The BDC is well known for reflecting “Indigenous values and perspectives, and unlike the dominant systems, it is not discipline-based but designed for action” (Doyle, Lawson, and Dupont, p.112). The terminology we use in the classification system plays a significant role in assisting communities and researchers in finding materials appropriate to their interest. The language and terminology we use makes a significant difference in supporting language revitalization efforts.

For more in depth information about the significance of terminology, please read Chapter 6: “Terminology” in Gregory Younging’s Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples. This text is especially beneficial for anyone interested in learning respectful ways to talk about Indigenous peoples and communities.

While the Xwi7xwa is a small team—composed of our Head Librarian, Sarah Dupont; Access Services Coordinator, Tamis Cochrane; Indigneous Programs and Services Librarian, Kayla Lar-Son; Information Services Librarian, Karleen Delaurier-Lyle; Technical Services Assistant, Eleanore Wellwood; and a collection of part time students—we are continually reviewing the language we use about communities and individuals. The more articulate and respectful we can be, the more accessible our collection will be.

Using Xwi7xwa’s Classification System

  • X – Languages – General
  • XA – Teaching Methods
  • XAB – Second Language


X D45 N67 2019 – Northwest voices: language and culture in the Pacific Northwest / edited by Kristin Denham.

FNHL (Xwi7xwa) Subjects:

Library of Congress Subjects:

  • Indians of North America–Northwest Coast of North America–Languages.
  • Language and culture–Northwest, Pacific.
  • Northwest Coast of North America–Languages.
  • Northwest, Pacific–Languages.

Further resources:

Language revitalization is an ongoing and extensive process. Throughout the next decade we intend to highlight as many initiatives as we can and hope to help foster a growing awareness and appreciation of the processes. The Decade of Indigenous Languages is important to us, and not just for the decade that it intends to be supporting language revitalization efforts, but for how this will impact our collective understandings of our past, present, and future.

Research Guides of Interest

Aboriginal Languages:

This research guide provides strategies for finding information about Aboriginal languages, including:

  • Specific languages or language families
  • Curriculum materials
  • Language learning materials produced by Aboriginal communities
  • Language revitalization

First Nations Languages of British Columbia

This research guide has been designed to help students, faculty and researchers in First Nation Languages access and utilize relevant resources available through the UBC Library. Some historical language names are inaccurate, but useful for locating resources. The spelling of language names used in this guide are not intended to describe or characterize the native speakers in any regard and are used here solely to help researchers locate resources for the study of these languages.

Major language groups in British Columbia include:

  • Athapaskan (Athabaskan) Languages: Dalkelh, Dena-thah , Dunne-za, Kaska Dena, Sekani, Tagish, Tahltan, Tsilhqot’in, Tutchone, Nat’ooten, Wet’suwet’en
  • Salishan Language Family: Comox, Halkomelem, Nlaka’pamux, Nuxalk, Okanagan, Secwepemc, Se’shalt, Squamish, Stl’atl’imx, Straits Salish
  • Tsimshianic Languages: Gitxsan, Nisga’a, Tsimshian,
  • Wakashan Languages: Haisla, Heiltsuk/Owik’ala, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth
  • Tlingit
  • Algonquian (Cree)
  • Language Isolates: Haida, Kootenai
  • Chinook Jargon

Decolonization & Anti-Racism

In support of UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP) this guide assists in finding and facilitating decolonial & anti-racist research. Here you will find key resources, search strategies, & additional open access information sources.


Cherry, Alissa and Keshav Mukunda. 2015. “A Case Study in Indigenous Classification: Revisiting and Reviving the Brian Deer Scheme.” Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 53 (5-6): 548-567.

Doyle, A., Lawson, K., & Dupont, S. 2015. Indigenization of knowledge organization at the X̱wi7x̱wa Library. Journal of Library and Information Studies, 13(2), 107-134.

Younging, G. 2018. Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing by and about Indigenous Peoples. Edmonton, Alberta: Brush Education