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Indigenous Research and Ethics

a guide to reading, researching, and studying topics related to Indigenous Peoples and Communities


On this page, you will find two different ways in which to cite Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers. First, you will find a recommended practice developed by librarian, Lorisia MacLeod, and the NorQuest College Indigenous Student Centre staff. Below that, you will find the official APA guidelines for citing Traditional Knowledge and Oral Traditions.

The CityU librarians recommend using the recommended practice for citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers, which includes both an in-text citation, as well as a reference list format.

To read more about the importance of effectively citing Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and to find a more in-depth overview of the below templates, please see:

Citing Elders and Knowledge Keepers - Recommended Practice


In APA Style, Traditional Knowledge and Oral Traditions are treated as "Personal Communication." Formal APA style does not have a format to acknowledge Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers as a reference. However, the following format was created by Lorisia MacLeod and NorQuest College Indigenous Student Centre staff to meet this need (CC BY-NC 4.0). You can read more about the development of this format below.

Recommended Practice


Unlike other personal communications, Elders and Knowledge Keepers should be cited in-text and in the reference list. The in-text citation should follow the same guidelines noted for a paraphrase or direct quote:

Name of Elder/Knowledge Keeper with year of communication.

Delores Cardinal (2004) described the nature of the...


The nature of the place was... (Cardinal, 2004).

Reference List


Last name, First initial., Nation/Community. Treaty Territory if applicable. Where they live if applicable. Topic/subject of communication if applicable. personal communication. Month Date, Year.


Cardinal, D., Goodfish Lake Cree Nation. Treaty 6. Lives in Edmonton. Oral teaching. personal communication. April 4, 2004.

Citing Traditional Knowledge and Oral Traditions - Official APA Guidance


The APA style guide includes information about citing Traditional Knowledge or Oral Traditions of Indigenous Peoples in Section 8.9 Personal Communications (p. 260-61). How you cite this information will depend on the format and availability of the material. You can find details on the APA recommendations below.

Is the information recorded and recoverable by readers?

If the information is recorded and recoverable by readers, cite the information in the correct format for the type of source. For example, if the information is recorded and available via YouTube, use the YouTube format.

Did you speak directly with an Indigenous person?

If you spoke directly to an Indigenous person (who is not a research participant) and the material is not recoverable by your reader, APA style recommends using a variation of the "person communication" format.

"Provide the person's full name and the nation or specific Indigenous group to which they belong, as well as their location or other details about them as relevant, followed by the words "personal communication," and the date of the communication."

Please see the section above for the recommended practice on how to adapt this format. If the person is a research participant, follow the guidelines for using quotes from research participants.

Are you an Indigenous person sharing your own experience or Traditional Knowledge?

Describe yourself in the text to provide context about the origin of the information you are sharing (e.g. what nation you belong to, etc.). Personal information does not require an in-text or reference list citation in APA Style.

Important Notes


If you would like to approach an Elder or Knowledge Keeper for teachings, remember to follow protocol or if you are unsure what their protocol is, please ask them ahead of time. Traditional Knowledge and Oral Traditions are cultural property and should not be used without consent from the Indigenous Peoples in which the knowledge and/or traditions originate.


You should capitalize most terms related to Indigenous Peoples. As the APA Publication Manual notes:

"These include names of specific groups (e.g., Cherokee, Cree, Ojibwe) and words related to Indigenous culture (e.g., Creation, the Creator, Elder, Oral Tradition, Traditional Knowledge, Vision Quest). The capitalization is the intentional and demonstrates respect for Indigenous perspectives."

For more information about working with and citing Indigenous Peoples, please see the book, Elements of Indigenous Style, linked in the "Further Reading" section of this guide.

Further Reading and Resources