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Indigenous peoples in history

This page has some ideas and sources for finding information by and about Indigenous peoples in history, with the main focus being on First Nations in what is also known as Canada. It may be helpful for students in courses such as HIST 101, HIST102W, HIST 325, HIST 443, and more. 

If you need help, please contact Baharak Yousefi, Librarian for History, International Studies, Liberal Studies, & Political Science at 778.782.5033 or byousefi@sfu.ca or Ask a librarian.

Ways to look for academic sources

This section outlines some tips and strategies you can use when searching for information in academic sources. To learn more or to get more search ideas, see the Library Catalogue search guide or the general Help pages.

Generating search terms

To come up with terms that you can use to start searching, think about the topic or title of your project and decide on the most important words. For example:

  • How and why did British Columbia First Nations' reactions to settlers change over the first fifty years of European settlement?

Next, take some time to think of any related terms or ideas. Examples here might be Aboriginal and Indigenous for First Nations or colonization in addition to settlement. As you search, try different combinations of these words, and look for other words that may also describe your topic. You may find that the results you get change significantly based on which words you use.

Note: Keep in mind that the words used to describe something may have changed over time or between places, and the names First Nations have for themselves may not be the same as those that have been used by settlers.
 
Also remember to include alternative spellings: for example, searching for Wet'suwet'en will not give you results that use the spelling Witsuwitʼen.

You can get more ideas for search terms from background sources or articles on your topic. SFU Library's First Nations Terminology Guide may also help with choosing relevant keywords, terms, and concepts.

When searching the Library Catalogue and most databases, you can use the filters on the left side of your search results to narrow your results by resource type, date published, and more. Narrowing your results by date can be especially helpful as one way to find primary sources from a certain year or era.

Using AND, OR, asterisks, and quotation marks with your search terms can also help you focus your search and get different combinations of results.

  • Searching for  Musqueam AND repatriation will connect these different ideas and show results that contain both of them anywhere in the text.
  • Searching for  Wet'suwt'en OR Witsuwet'en will connect these related spellings and show results that contain either of them.
  • Searching for Indigen* will search Indigenous, Indigenizing, Indigenized, etc.
  • Searching for "duty to consult" will only show results where these three words appear together.

You can also use some of these techniques in general web searches. For more examples, see the Library Catalogue search guide to power searching.

Using subject headings

Once you have found a book or article that works for you, you can sometimes use the subject headings for that item to find similar materials. Subject headings are specific phrases that are assigned to items. Adding subject headings to your searches can often give more focused results than searching by keyword.

You can find and click on subject headings in the records for many items. You can also search for subject headings using the Advanced Search in the Library Catalogue and in many databases. Here are a few examples of subject heading searches for this area:

Note: Subject headings are one example of how knowledge can be organized and mediated through colonial structures and inaccurate terminology. Together with other Canadian libraries, SFU Library is working on changing its subject headings, first to replace "Indians of North America" with "Indigenous peoples" in all cases, and later to add subject headings that reflect what individual nations and communities call themselves.

Places to look for information

Background sources

Background sources can be helpful if you are trying to get quick facts or basic information about important ideas, people, events, and more. Some examples in this area include:

To look for information from other background sources, search for your terms in the Library Catalogue and select 'Reference Entries' from the Resource Type filter on the left side of the results. You can also see the pages on general Background reference sources and Background information for History.

    Article databases

    Databases are collections of information that often deal with a specific topic or type of resource and can include academic articles, newspaper articles, reports, images, and more. Searching in databases can give you more focused sets of results, though you may notice some overlap with the Library Catalogue. Here are some suggested databases for this area:

    • America: History and Life
      Literature on all aspects of U.S. and Canadian history, culture, and current affairs.

    • Bibliography of Native North Americans
      Covers all aspects of Native North American culture, history, and life, including topics such as archaeology, multicultural relations, gaming, governance, legends, and literacies. Also contains references for books, essays, journal articles, and more.

    • Early Canadiana Online
      A full-text, searchable, online collection of more than 3,000 books and pamphlets documenting Canadian history from the first European contact with First Nations to the late 19th century.

    • Indigenous Peoples: North America
      Monographs, manuscripts, newspapers, periodicals and photographs about Indigenous populations in North America. Topics include the political, social, and cultural history of Indigenous peoples from the 16th century into the 20th century.

    • North American Indian Thought and Culture
      100,000+ pages of full text and images dating from the 17th century to the present day. Life stories of American Indians and Canadian First Peoples in their own words and through the words of others.

    You can also look at the full list of History databases. Depending on your topic, you might also want to check databases for other fields, such as First Nations Studies, Sociology, and Political Science. To find these, go to the main Article databases pages and pick the field you want from the dropdown menu in the first box.

    Primary source databases

    Many of the databases above as well as the Library Catalogue contain primary sources. You may also be interested in the Primary Sources: Definition and Resources page.

    Additional sources

    Many sources about and by Indigenous peoples may not be part of the Library collections. In addition to searching outside the Library website, consider these websites as potential starting points: