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How to cite using APA in the Health Sciences


The information on this page comes from a discussion that took place between Elder Margaret Lavallee, Elder Charlotte Nolin, Pipe Carrier Nitanis Leary, and librarian Margaret Banka on April 29, 2024 at Ongomiizwin. The discussion resulted in two objectives:

  • to decolonize the (mis)treatment of information from Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers in citation styles such as APA;
  • and to reinforce culturally safe and respectful practices in working with Traditional Knowledge from Elders and Knowledge Keepers (Lavallee, 2024; Nolin, 2024; Leary, 2024).

We thank Elder Margaret, Elder Charlotte, and Pipe Carrier Nitanis for giving their knowledge, guidance, and time towards this section of the LibGuide. We are also grateful to Lorisia MacLeod (2021) for sharing their fundamental work on citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers, and Kwantlen Polytechnic University (2024) for sharing their adapted template. The template recommended below incorporates elements from both. 

Beyond APA and Towards Decolonization

Among Indigenous ways of knowing, the story that comes before the answer has great value in the process of learning and sharing information (Lavallee, 2024). Consider how this perspective aligns with the act of citation, one purpose of which is to provide the context of a researcher's knowledge. Your citations tell a greater story about what you know and how you know it, and providing these details will help the reader understand your answer better.

As a researcher, it is important to contemplate information. If a piece of information is significant enough for you to share, then it contains value. Ask yourself, do you ascribe varying levels of value to information, and how do you do this? It is critical to evaluate the forces that may be acting upon you. As the seat of Western knowledge, academia is inherently colonial and Eurocentric, and researchers working within its institutions are exposed to this implicit bias as well.

Citation guidelines such as APA perpetuate colonialism in academic research and publishing by discounting and diminishing the value of Indigenous knowledge (Younging, 2018). Indigenous Peoples around the world have always had-- and continue to have-- effective and dynamic ways of communicating information. These knowledge processes are intricately tied to relational worldviews that exist in cultural conflict with the landscape of Western thought (Kovach, 2021). Oral Tradition and Teachings are a pillar of Indigenous knowledge dissemination, and yet in APA, the significance of this type of information shared by Elders and Knowledge Keepers is reduced to a personal communication. In essence, because personal communications do not receive a reference list entry like every other form of citation, this means that in APA, a Facebook Post or an Instagram selfie hold more value than an Oral Tradition.

In order to move forward in Reconciliation, it is vital to decolonize citation styles by working with Indigenous communities. Supporting the creation of Indigenous spaces in academia begins by respecting the value of traditional methods of information sharing. Drawing on the work on MacLeod (2021), it is recommended to cite Elders and Knowledge Keepers the same as authors in-text, in addition to a reference list entry which details the community relationships. 

For more on how add an Indigenous Knowledge source as a reference list entry, see Indigenous Knowledge References.

Protocols for Working With Elders and/or Knowledge Keepers

Engaging with Elders and Knowledge Keepers

While citing Indigenous Knowledge "properly" forms part of an inclusive research practice, great care must be taken to maintain proper cultural protocols which are in place to ensure that both you and the Elder are entering into a positive relationship (Lavallee 2024; Nolin, 2024; Leary, 2024). Additionally, if you do intend to interview any participants for your research, you must submit your request to Research Ethics and Compliance for approval.

Mutual respect and consent should form the basis for every engagement with an Elder, Knowledge Keeper, or member of an Indigenous nation. If you would like to ask something of an Elder or Knowledge Keeper, it is imperative that you familiarize yourself with the proper protocols for doing so:

  • The first gesture you must make is to offer tobacco to the Elder or Knowledge Keeper.
    • Tobacco is the First Medicine, the most sacred to Indigenous Peoples, and is offered to is offered to the Creator, grandmothers, and grandfathers by the Elder if they accept your request.
    • Ceremonial, loose tobacco is best. A good place to find some is in an Indigenous specialty store, tobacco shop, or gas station. Commercial tobacco or pipe tobacco is also acceptable if traditional tobacco is not available.
    • Tobacco can be presented in its original package.
    • A gift or honorarium is also presented to honour the Elder or Knowledge Keeper along with the tobacco. Determine how much to offer by considering the weight of your request. How much are you asking of the Elder? Is your request for your own learning, or do you plan on sharing with others? How much of the Elder's time and knowledge will you be asking for?
    • If you are unsure, ask-- not knowing allows you to learn.
  • This offering will give you the opportunity to ask the Elder or Knowledge Keeper what it is you are seeking. Remember, they can either refuse or accept, depending on if they feel that they can take on your request and help you.
  • If an Elder or Knowledge Keeper agree to help you, listen to them carefully.

(Lavallee, 2024; Nolin, 2024; Leary, 2024).

Different Types of Knowledge

Elders and Knowledge Keepers are vital and highly regarded sources of wisdom and information in their community, and part of their role is to safeguard information which is sacred to their culture. For this reason, an Elder or Knowledge Keeper may have limitations on the way you use the information they share with you, or they may hold back some information completely (Lavallee, 2024; Nolin, 2024; Leary, 2024).

  • Always ask if you are able to record or write down what they say.
  • Be transparent in how you plan on using the information.
  • Before you include any Oral Teachings or Traditional Knowledge in your research, ensure that you have the permission from the Elder or Knowledge Keeper who shared it with you. 

(Lavallee, 2024; Nolin, 2024; Leary, 2024)

Additional UManitoba Resources

Citing Indigenous Knowledge

Use the standard author-date approach for citing Elders and Knowledge Keepers. If they have a traditional name they would like use, replace the last name with the traditional name. Use the year of the date of correspondence.


Narrative Citation

According to Lavallee (2024), Nolin (2024), and Leary (2024), not all knowledge that an Elder or Knowledge Keeper shares with you is allowed to be told to anyone else.

Parenthetical Citation

It is important to consult an Indigenous Elder or Knowledge Keeper to make sure that you are entitled to publish information they pass on to you (Lavallee, 2024; Nolin, 2024; Leary 2024).

Missing Information?

Don't leave it blank! Find out how to properly indicate that information is missing from one of your reference elements by reading more about missing information.


Kovach, M. (2021). Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations, and contexts (2nd ed.). University of Toronto Press.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University. (2024). Citation and references - Indigenous studies.

Lavallee, M. (Elder), Sagkeeng Anicinabe Nation. Treaty 1, 3, and 5 Territory.  Residing in Treaty 1. Citing Indigenous

Knowledge [Personal communication]. 2024, April 29.

Leary, N. (Pipe Carrier), Kinosao Sipi Cree Nation. Treaty 5 Territory. Residing in Treaty 1.Citing Indigenous Knowledge [Personal

communication]. 2024, April 29.

MacLeod, L. (2021). More than personal communication: Templates for citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers.

KULA: Knowledge Creation, Dissemination, and Preservation Studies 5(1).

Nolin, C. (Elder), Metis Nation. Red River Settlement. Residing in Treaty 1. Citing Indigenous Knowledge [Personal communication]. 

2024, April 29.

Younging, G. (2018). Elements of Indigenous style: A guide for writing by and about Indigenous Peoples. Brush Education.