Citing Indigenous Elders & Knowledge Keepers: MLA (9th ed.) citation guide

Respectful research

Citing is about relationship building, and showing relationship between the author/creator/speaker and the knowledge. 

SFU Library recognizes a responsibility to pursue a path that elevates the knowledge shared by Indigenous Elders or Knowledge Keepers, and encourages all researchers who learn from and engage with Indigenous Elders or Knowledge Keepers to include these information sources in the reference list. To that end, SFU Library follows the recommendations by NorQuest College to include these citations in the reference list.

This section of the guide is based on the NorQuest College Library templates, which were created by librarian Lorisia McLeod (James Smith Cree Nation) and NorQuest Elders.

These templates are for community-based research when citing an Elder and/or Knowledge Keeper as an information source NOT research participant. See the MLA 9th edition style guide for citing other resources.

MLA 9 does not include specific guidelines for citing Indigenous Knowledge and Elders. We recommend following the template on this page for citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers, which includes a reference list in addition to in-text citing. 

If in doubt about what citation practice to follow, check with your instructor or TA. 

For more about Indigenous ways of knowing and Western intellectual property regimes, see Respectful research.


When engaged in research with an Indigenous community member, communication between researcher/learner and the Elder and/or Knowledge Keeper regarding citation and information parameters is of vital importance. Discuss how the Elder and/or Knowledge Keeper would like to be known in a citation (i.e. Indigenous name, English name, community), and what information is okay to be shared in the final assignment/product/film, etc.. It is best practice to also provide Elder and/or Knowledge Keeper with a copy of the final assignment/product/film, etc. 

Due to past research practices, information and knowledge was routinely extracted from Indigenous communities and Peoples. Reconciliation in regards to research requires a new practice of respect, trust, and good communication. Without engaging in these new research and citation practices and, the work is not being done in a good way. 

For more information on research and Indigenous communities, please see chapter 9 of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (2018).


We are grateful to Elder Margaret and Elder Syexwaliya from SFU's Indigenous Students Centre (ISC) for allowing us to create citation examples using their names. 

We also give thanks to Lorisia MacLeod, member of the James Smith Cree Nation & Librarian who, in the spirit of wahkôhtowin and reconciliation, developed these templates in collaboration with Indigenous Student Centre staff while at NorQuest College.

Citation template & examples

Last name, First name., Nation/Community. Treaty Territory [if applicable]. City/Community they live in [if applicable]. Topic/subject of communication [if applicable]. Date Month Year.

Reference list example

George, Margaret., Skawahlook First Nation. Lives in North Vancouver, BC. Oral teaching. 9 July 2020.

Syexwaliya [Ann Whonnock], Skwxwu7mesh Uxwumixw [Squamish Nation]. Lives in Vancouver, BC. Oral teaching. 9 July 2020.

Whonnock, Ann., Squamish Nation. Lives in Vancouver, BC. Oral teaching. 9 July 2020.

Reference in text example





  • There is flexibility in this template. Those fields marked as "if applicable" can be used if relevant OR if requested to be left out. 
  • The Topic/Subject field can also be used for additional description when needed. For example, to note those stories/teachings which are shared only at certain times of year or with specific people. 
  • Ensure to follow protocol and ask how the Elder or Knowledge Keeper wants to be known as and format accordingly. 
  • Use square brackets [ ] to add further descriptive information as needed.

Find out more

NorQuest College MLA works cited entry and in-text citation templates 

More than personal communication: Citation templates for Elders and Knowledge Keepers, Lorisia MacLeod (2020) [YouTube] 

Gregory Younging The Elements of Indigenous Style [print

Indigenous Research Support Initiative (IRSI) Blog: Decolonizing citations: Help X̱wi7x̱wa Create a Template for Citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers in Chicago Style [Blogpost]. 

SFU Library ICRC Respectful Research: Writing and Citing 

Royal Roads University Writing Centre, Four Feathers Writing Guide