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First Nations and Indigenous Studies

What is a Primary Source?

The definition of a primary source depends upon the discipline and on how one is using the source.

Usually, a primary source is a direct, first-hand account of an event. It is usually something that was created at the time of an event, or shortly thereafter. Examples include:

  • Diaries
  • Letters
  • Speeches
  • Interviews
  • Statistics
  • Photographs
  • Art
  • Newspapers
  • Maps
  • Video and audio recordings
  • First-hand narratives or stories

In contrast, a secondary source would be something that interprets, analyses, or remarks upon a primary source. Examples include:

  • Journal articles
  • Essays
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Textbooks
  • Biographies
  • Stories or films produced about an historical event

Finding Primary Sources at UBC

UBC's Library, Archives, and Rare Books & Special Collections (RBSC) are each separate institutions. RBSC Archives holds archival materials collected by UBC, while the UBC Archives holds material created by UBC departments and professors. You will have to search each institution separately to find all the primary source materials held at UBC.

UBC Library

In the UBC Library Catalogue, try combining your topic keywords with one of these terms.

  • biograph?
  • autobiograph?
  • "first person"
  • interview?
  • perspectiv?
  • diary OR diaries
  • autoethnograph?
  • narrativ?
  • photograph?

For Example: "Residential schools" AND Autobiograph?

Search Tip: Use quotation marks to search for a phrase (e.g. "First Nations"). Use a question mark to truncate a term to search for words with the same stem (e.g. Biograph? retrieves Biography, Biographies, Biographical, etc.). 

UBC Archives 

UBC Archives has put together a guide to finding First Nations Historical Resources in the UBC Archives. Note that further searching within finding aids may be necessary to locate this material.

UBC Rare Books & Special Collections

The best way to search for this material is to use Rare Books & Special Collections database search. RBSC's search does not use phrase (e.g. "residential school") or truncated (e.g. residential school?) searching. Try a simple keyword search (e.g. Residential school). 

Contemporary Sources

Government Records

Historical Sources

Oral Narratives

In the UBC Library Catalogue, use the terms "oral narratives" or "oral history" with your search (e.g.: "tlingit oral history").

The following are examples of online oral history projects – you will find many more online or in the UBC Catalogue.

Citing Elders

The formal MLA and APA style do not have a format for Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers. 

Norquest College has developed the following citation styles in the spirit of wahkôhtowin and reconciliation, and we thank them for sharing their template.

APA Style

Unlike other personal communications, Elders and Knowledge Keepers should be cited in-text and in the reference list.

In Text:

The in-text citation format should follow the same guidelines as noted in the paraphrase and direct quote tabs: 

Delores Cardinal described the nature of the... (2004). OR The nature of the place was... (Cardinal, 2004).

Reference:

The citation format for the reference list follows the following format:

Last name, First initial., Nation/Community. Treaty Territory if applicable. Where they live if applicable. Topic/subject of communication if applicable. personal communication. Month Date, Year.

For example: Cardinal, D., Goodfish Lake Cree Nation. Treaty 6. Lives in Edmonton. Oral teaching. personal communication. April 4, 2004.

MLA Style

Unlike most other personal communications, Elders and Knowledge Keepers should be cited in-text and in the reference list.

In text:

The in-text citation format should be formatted as:

Delores Cardinal described the nature of the... OR The nature of the place was... (Cardinal).

Reference Citation:

The citation format for the reference list follows the following format:

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. 

For Example: Cardinal, Delores., Goodfish Lake Cree Nation. Treaty 6. Lives in Edmonton. Oral teaching. 4 April 2004.

Note: If you would like to approach an Elder or Knowledge Keeper for teachings, remember to follow protocol or if you are unsure what their protocol is, please ask them ahead of time.