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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 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 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. 

For more information on the second objective and working with Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers, see Citing Indigenous Knowledge.

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. 

Indigenous Knowledge

Elements for Indigenous Knowledge

Last name, First initial. (Elder, Knowledge Keeper, or other preferred title), Nation/Community. Treaty Territory if applicable. Where

they live if applicable. Topic/subject of communication if applicable [Personal communication]. Year, Month Date.


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

2024, April 29.

Formatting Tips

  • If there are additional elements which the Elder or Knowledge Keeper wishes to include that do not appear in this template, or if they would like to exclude certain details, respect their wishes. Always consult them if you are unsure!
  • Author: Provide the last name and first initial of the Elder or Knowledge Keeper. Include their role in title case and in parentheses. 
  •  If they have a traditional name they would like use, replace the last name and first initial with the traditional name.
  • Nation/Community: Provide the nation or community the Elder or Knowledge Keeper identifies with, along the treaty territory the nation belongs to, and where they currently live.
  • The nation/community element recognizes the important relationship that an Elder or Knowledge Keeper has to their nation or community. It also helps unravel the concept of pan-Indigeneity, and ensures that members of that community can find that work while searching for information about their community.
  • Treaty: Note that some Elders and Knowledge Keepers may not come from territory that is part of a treaty, or they may not want to include it. If this is the case, omit. 
  • Where They Live: You may also omit this element if it is not applicable; it is meant to express the relationship that an Elder or Knowledge Keeper has to a place that is not the community, nation, or place of their origin.
  • Title: Italicize the title and make sure it is in sentence case.
  • Consult with the Elder or Knowledge Keeper about the title to include them in the classification process.
  • After the title and before the period, list "Personal communication" in square brackets in normal font.
  • Date: Use the date that the consultation occurred. Be as specific as possible, listing first the year and then the month and date.
  • Remember, APA recommends capitalizing any terms related to Indigenous Peoples as a sign of respect, which should be prioritized over title and sentence case. This includes names of specific groups and words related to Indigenous culture:
    • e.g. Anishinabeg, Metis, Cree, Inuit, Creation, the Creator, Elder, Oral Tradition, Traditional Knowledge, Knowledge Keeper, Sun Dance, Vision Quest

Sentence Case and Title Case

What is the difference between sentence and title case? Find out in Formatting Tips.

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.