Celebrating Indigenous Cultures

A report from the Ninth International Indigenous Librarians' Forum

August 12, 2015

New Zealand-based musician Ariana Tikao performs at IILF9.
New Zealand-based musician Ariana Tikao performs at the Ninth International Indigenous Librarians' Forum. (Photo: Loriene Roy.)

In November 1999, Te Rōpū Whakahau, the national organization for Māori information workers, hosted the first International Indigenous Librarians Forum (IILF). Since that inaugural event, the forum has been held every other year in locations as far afield as Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, and the United States. Each IILF is organized by either an indigenous library association or by local indigenous representatives. IILF resembles other meetings and conferences, but it is much more. It provides an opportunity for indigenous libraries, archives, and museum (LAM) workers to discuss, plan, encourage, commemorate, and celebrate their efforts and potential to contribute to the lives and futures of their communities.

Canada hosted the Ninth International Indigenous Librarians’ Forum (IILF2015) on August 4–7 on the campus of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and on the surrounding land of the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) people.

The IILF mauri stone
The IILF mauri stone.

The theme of IILF2015 was Anikoo Gaagige Ganawendaasowin, a phrase in the Ojibwe language of Anishinaabemowin that expresses the importance of LAM workers as keepers of knowledge who extend learning across generations. The theme was recognized at the forum’s first event, a field trip to Turtle Lodge, a meeting center 120 kilometers north of Winnipeg on the Sagkeeng First Nation on the southern tip of Lake Winnipeg. There, delegates welcomed the mauri stone, an oval rock carved by New Zealand-based artist Bernard Makoare for IILF use and formally blessed by Taranaki elder, the late Te Ru Koriri Wharehoka. The stone was imbued with the mauri, or life principle, of the forum and holds the essence of discussions. It spiritually binds indigenous peoples who attend each forum and carries indigenous aspirations for a positive future. The mauri stone is presented to the hosting nation to hold in safekeeping, giving continuity to the aims and aspirations of the forum. At the conclusion of IIFL2015, the mauri stone was passed from the American delegation that hosted IILF2013 in Bellingham, Washington, to the Canadian First Nations hosts of IIFL2015.

IILF delegates at the Winnipeg Public Library
IILF delegates at the Winnipeg Public Library.

IILF highlights included keynote addresses by Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), and First Nations Librarian Gene Joseph; tours of the NCTR, the University of Manitoba library and archives, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Centre, and the University of Winnipeg collections; a trip to Winnipeg’s multicultural celebration, Folklorama; sunrise, pipe, and water ceremonies; presentations by delegates from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, and the US; eight poster sessions; and gatherings of elders sharing reflections on the forum’s events.

IILF delegates at the Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Centre
IILF delegates at the Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Centre.

An important component of each forum is the indigenous council, a meeting of the indigenous delegates attending the forum. Each council contributes a unique product to the IILF, such as a vision statement, manifesto, or action plan. The results of this year’s council are currently under deliberation and will be released to the public later in the year. Non-indigenous delegates also met to discuss how to be effective allies for their indigenous colleagues’ work.

The next two IILFs will be held in Sydney, Australia, in 2017, and Auckland, New Zealand, in 2019—the 20th anniversary of the forum.