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APA 7: Indigenous Peoples

Citing Traditional Knowledge or Oral Traditions of Indigenous Peoples

The designation of Indigenous Elder or Knowledge Keeper are given to them by their communities. APA style does not have a format to acknowledge them as a reference. Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers are the repositories and disseminators of Indigenous Oral Tradition and we feel they should be cited in the reference sections of scholarly works. Pacific Oaks College Library follows this citation template, developed by Librarian Lorisia MacLeod at NorQuest College and modified by Lekeyten, Kwantlen First Nation Elder and Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Elder in Residence.

Last name, First names initials. (or traditional name, as below) (Elder), Nation/Community. Topic/subject of

            communication if applicable. personal communication. Year, Month Date. Territory Acknowledgement of where

            information was shared/collected.

Lekeyten (Elder), Kwantlen First Nation. Community justice. personal communication. 2019, April 4. Shared on

            the traditional unceded territory of the Kwantlen, Musqueam, Katzie, Semiahmoo, Tsawwassen, Qayqayt

            and Kwikwetlem Peoples.  

In-Text Citation: Narrative
Lekeyten (2019)    In-Text Citation: Parenthetical (Lekeyten, 2019)

Works Credited in the Text: Standard Citations

If the information has been recorded and is recoverable by readers (e.g., video, audio, interview transcript, book, article), cite it in the text and include a reference list entry in the correct format for that source. (Citing different materials:

Ensure that the information you are citing about Indigenous Peoples is accurate and appropriate to share before citing. Some stories are told only at certain times of year or by certain people and may not be appropriate to publish. Indigenous cultural heritage belongs to Indigenous Peoples in perpetuity, matters concerning copyright and authorship may arise depending on the scope and nature of the material.

Works Credited in the Text: Research Participants and Personal Communications

To describe Traditional Knowledge or Oral Traditions that are not recorded (and therefore are not recoverable by readers), provide as much detail in the in-text citation as is necessary to contextualize the origin of the information. Because there is no recoverable source, a reference list entry is not used unless the information comes from an Indigenous Elder or Knowledge Keeper.

Example of a Research Participant Quote
Participant A agreed, “I’ve see this happen so many times. It feel like it will never stop.”

Example of a Research Participant Block Quote (40 Words or Longer)
Tom, a counselor, reflected on the lifelong pain brought about by abuse endured at residential
schools, even when treatment was sought.
          Whatever happened over there, they just as soon leave it over there. But the thing is, it doesn’t stay
          over there. That’s what they have to realize: that it doesn’t go away until they deal with it. People
          go to their graves with a lot of pain.

Personal Communication (not an Indiginous Elder or Knowledge Keeper)

If you spoke with an Indigenous person directly to learn information (but they were not an Elder, Knowledge Keeper, or research participant), use a variation of the personal communication citation: 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. Provide an exact date of correspondence if available; if correspondence took place over a period of time, provide a more general date or a range of dates. (The date refers to when you consulted with the person, not to when the information originated.) Ensure that the person agrees to have their name included in your paper and confirms the accuracy and appropriateness of the information you present.

Example of a Detailed Personal Communication In-Text Citation
          We spoke with Anna Grant (Haida Nation, lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, personal communication, April 2019) about traditional understandings of the world by First Nations Peoples in Canada. She described . . .

Adapted from American Psychological Association publication manual (7th ed.).

Indigenous Information Literacy by Rachel Chong

This open access ebook outlines best principles for working with Indigenous print and oral sources in academic research. Topics include evaluating Indigenous print sources for credibility and authenticity, finding Indigenous authors, and respectfully working with Elders. Access ebook here.


When writing about Indigenous Peoples, use the names that they call themselves. Refer to an Indigenous group as a “people” or “nation” rather than as a “tribe.”

Capitalize most terms related to Indigenous Peoples. 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 intentional and demonstrates respect for Indigenous perspectives.

Personal Experience

If you are an Indigenous person and are sharing your own experiences or the previously unrecorded Traditional Knowledge or Oral Tradition of your people, describe yourself in the text (e.g., what nation you belong to, where you live) to contextualize the origin of the information you are sharing. Do not use a personal communication citation or provide a reference list entry because you do not need to cite personal information.