The eagle flies the highest in the sky, and in a coast salish story people would seek guidance from the eagle to gain knowledge of faraway places. This representational eagle wing relief was created to bring the knowledge to students as they seek guidance in their studies. -- Marissa Nahanee

Contact Ashley Edwards, Indigenous Initiatives and Instruction Librarian, with any questions.

“Classification, however, although necessary in systems of language, contributes to hierarchies of power.” Vaughan (2018, p. 2)

How information is organized influences “the way we view reality” (Chester, 2006) and impacts how information is found. Library classification and categorization systems are primarily based on Western-European view of how information should be organized (Chester, 2006 ; Cherry and Mukunda, 2015). How library patrons “access, view, and use [that] knowledge” (Chester, 2006) is impacted by how it’s organized and classified. In the classifications systems used by most libraries, Indigenous topics are located primarily in the history sections. This impacts not only how people view those topics, but how Indigenous view themselves. 

The late Mohawk librarian, Brian Deer, developed his system in the mid 1970s while working at the National Indian Brotherhood library. It was developed around Indigenous knowledge structures, and honours relationality above all else. The Brian Deer Classification (BDC) system prioritizes “issues of importance to Indigenous peoples, and described their world, their ordering of social relations, and in short, their epistemologies" (Cherry and Mukunda, 2015). A nontraditional classification system, the BDC is informed by a collection, reflecting its purpose and the knowledge(s) included (Bosum and Dunne, 2017). The ICRC Classification was envisioned using a spiral or ripple metaphor, understanding that community is at the heart of all Indigenous Nations and communities. With communities at the heart of the classification scheme, what makes up a community, such as language, worldview, and culture, was identified and placed at the centre. While this isn’t a perfect system, it hopefully reflects a (pan) Indigenous worldview.

In British Columbia, librarian Gene Joseph (Wet’suwet’en – Nadleh Whut’en) modified the BDCS first for the Union of BC Indian Chiefs library and then for UBC’s Xwi7xwa branch. The Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute (located in Quebec) uses another revised version of the BDCS. These three revisions are all publicly accessible, and will be the foundation of the version used at SFU. 

If you would like a Word version, please email 

For an introduction to the BDC system, check out these resources created for as "Crash Course on the Brian Deer Classification" workshop, developed for the University of Toronto iSkills.

References and further reading

Adjei, K. (2019, June 6). Indigenous academic library serves as a model for centering First Nations cultures, communities, collections.

Bosum, A., & Dunne, A. (2017). Implementing the Brian Deer Classification Scheme for Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute.

Chester. (2006). Proposed tribal college cataloging systems: From isolation to association. [unpublished dissertation, University of Minnesota] 

Cherry, A. & Mukunda, K. (2015). A Case Study in Indigenous Classification: Revisiting and Reviving the Brian Deer Scheme.

Doyle, A. (2006). Naming and reclaiming Indigenous Knowledges in public institutions: Intersections of landscapes and experience.

Lee, D. & Kumaran, M. (2014). Aboriginal and visible minority librarians : oral histories from Canada.

MacDonell, P., Tagami, R., & Washington, P. (2003, April 2). Brian Deer Classification System. Student paper, UBC SLAIS, LIBR 517. (accessed November 9, 2011; currently unavailable). 

Rowe, D.J. (2019, February 7). Humble intellectual leaves unique legacy

Swanson, R. (2015). Adapting the Brian Deer Classification System for Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute.

Szeto, W. (2020). B.C. First Nations council is moving to Indigenous-developed library system. 

Tomren, H. (n.d.). Classification, bias, and American Indian materials.

Van Dijk, A. (2012). A new class system: The need for First Nations classification.

Vaughan, C. (2018). The language of cataloguing: Deconstructing and decolonizing systems of organization in libraries

Woolman, J. (2017, June 23). Sharing knowledge: How UBC’s Xwi7xwa Library is helping community Aboriginal libraries better serve their communities.

Worth, S. (2019, March 22). This library takes an Indigenous approach to categorizing books.

Xwi7xwa Library. (n.d.) Indigenous librarianship, Brian Deer Classification System.