How do I cite Indigenous oral teachings?

Anyone working with Indigenous oral teachings will want to consult the guidelines created by Lorisia MacLeod, a member of the James Smith Cree Nation, while she was a librarian at NorQuest College in Edmonton, Alberta, and adopt them wholesale or adapt them to the citation system they are using. In what follows, we offer some suggestions for adapting MacLeod’s recommendations for use with MLA style.

Citations in MLA style are based not on the format or genre of a source but on a standard template of core elements, which are arranged in a specific order and designed to apply to a wide range of situations. Thus, the information that MacLeod recommends including can be incorporated into the MLA template, though the order of the information and the punctuation used may differ from MacLeod’s examples. Following is an example of an Indigenous oral teaching citation adapted to MLA style and then an explanation of the MLA core elements used to create it.

Works-Cited-List Entry

Cardinal, Delores (Goodfish Lake Cree Nation). Lives in Edmonton. Oral teaching, Treaty 6. 4 Apr. 2004, Canadian Native Friendship Centre.


MLA practice template filled in with information.

Elements Explained

Author: Cardinal, Delores (Goodfish Lake Cree Nation)

Include the nation or community of which the knowledge keeper (the person providing the teaching) is a member. In MLA publications, Indigenous authors or those citing them most often provide this information in parentheses, as shown in the above example; however, separating it from the name with a comma would also be acceptable.

Supplemental Element: Lives in Edmonton

You may include the city or community where the knowledge keeper lives, if they wish to include it, preceded by the phrase “Lives in.” MacLeod observes that Indigenous people “may live in places that differ from the origins of their knowledge, nation, or birthplace, and, in some cases, this may be an important relationship they want to recognize” (4). Notable here is that this is the first instance of the MLA’s recommending that a supplemental element be used after the Author element—precisely the type of flexibility the citation method was designed for.

Title of Source: Oral teaching, Treaty 6

Follow the provisions in section 5.23 of the MLA Handbook and provide a concise but informative description of the oral teaching. As MacLeod notes, this might include its subject matter, the name of the story keeper who passed on the teaching, and the name of any treaty to which the knowledge pertains, if applicable.

MacLeod recommends that any description of the teaching be made in discussion with the knowledge keeper. An example MacLeod offers is “Story about the sisters of the river as told to [name of story keeper] by their grandmother [or the grandmother’s name]” (4). But if it is not possible to discuss the nature of the teaching with the knowledge keeper, including only the essential information—in our example, “Oral teaching, Treaty 6”—in the Title of Source element is sufficient. 

Publication Date: 4 Apr. 2004

This is the date that the teaching was conveyed. As the MLA Handbook notes in section 5.68, the Publication Date element may include the date on which a source was heard firsthand.

Location: Canadian Native Friendship Centre

The Location element can be used to refer to the site where the teaching was passed on, per section 5.99 in the MLA Handbook (although MacLeod does not highlight this as necessary).

Works Cited

MacLeod, Lorisia (James Smith Cree Nation). “More Than Personal Communication: Templates for Citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers.” KULA: Knowledge Creation, Dissemination, and Preservation Studies, vol. 5, issue 1,

MLA Handbook. 9th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2021.