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Searching for Indigenous Scholarship

Course Number: Social Work

Subject: Social Work


This guide accompanies a workshop about searching for Indigenous scholarship in social work. 



Indigenous scholarship can be (1) scholarship by researchers who identify as Indigenous (2) scholarship that engages with Indigenous research paradigms (3) scholarship about Indigenous peoples or topics.


1. Secondary Research Methods


Secondary research = how you identify and work with existing research.

Example: Doing a literature review is a form of secondary research.


Methods for secondary research = the strategies, tactics, processes, techniques, and tools you use to identify and work with existing research.

Example: When you undertake a literature review for your thesis and need to be comprehensive.

  • The methods for secondary research need to fit the project goals.
    • Where will you search?
    • How will you search?
    • How will you manage your results?


2. Literature Review Types

(a) Traditional (Narrative) Literature Review

  • This type of review is ubiquitous - it gets described in research methods textbooks.
  • The methods are often unexamined and usually invisible (not reported).
  • It's a comprehensive analysis of existing scholarship on a topic.
  • The overall goal is to identify a "gap."
  • A traditional (or narrative) literature review is part of a research project/research paper.
  • It can also be carried out as a standalone research project/paper.


"Sharing Circle Versus Focus Group in the Development of Diabetic Retinopathy Mobile Health (Mhealth) Intervention for Aboriginal Women: A Literature Review" (Umaefulam & Premkumar, 2017)


The search strategy is highlighted: "All computerized searches were conducted and the data parameters were limited from 2006 to 2016 to capture the most recent literature from the following databases: Ovid Medline, Scopus, Web of Science, and Pubmed using search terms for "Aboriginal health and Focus groups" and "Aboriginal health and Sharing circles". To generate every combination of keywords, the following search terms were used: "sharing circle", "focus groups", "sharing circles and focus groups", "mHealth and focus groups", "mHealth and sharing circles". A literature search was also conducted through Google Scholar using the combinations of keywords described above and complemented by informal search. Two books were included in the review and the two journals yielding the highest number of articles were also hand searched. The entire search resulted in the identification of 885 articles" (p. 91).


(b) Relational Literature Review

"Decolonizing the Literature Review: A Relational Approach" (Bishop & Tynan, 2022)


The abstract is highlighted: "As two (ab)Original women, we consider how a relational approach to the literature review can reflect our broader Indigenous and decolonizing research methodologies. In our research training, we have been exposed to dominant literature review models that advocate for researchers to “identify the gaps” and “occupy a territory,” a process (and vernacular) that feels at odds with Indigenous, relational, and decolonizing principles. We intend to apply the teachings we have learned from Indigenous scholars to the literature review process by proposing a reframing of the literature review, to one that is relational."


3. Search Strategy

(a) What Does "Literature" Mean?

Tynan & Bishop (2022) pose this question. It's a good place to start - what are you searching for? Scholarship comes in many forms.

"we primarily discuss academic literature but understand this is a standard approach that should be expanded to include, for example, knowledge, Country, story, songs, dance, dreams, and ancestors as forms of literature" (p. 2).



From the Oxford English Dictionary:

The attainments or works of a scholar; knowledge or expertise.

The collective attainments or works of scholars, esp. within a particular field of academic study.


Scholarship is conversation. Scholarship is collaborative. Scholarship is process.

  • Peer-reviewed journal articles
  • Research monographs (aka books)
  • Conference papers
  • Presentations
  • Podcasts (e.g. Secret Feminist Agenda)
  • Conversation in classrooms, hallways, coffee shops, etc.



(b) Searching for Peer-reviewed Articles and Books

Databases are the best places to search for peer-reviewed articles, and there are several of relevance to Indigenous scholarship in social work. 


Start here

Bibliography of Indigenous Peoples in North America (via EBSCOhost) Contains citations to books, journal articles, essays, conference papers, and government documents. Canadian Business & Current Affairs (via ProQuest) Provides access to Canadian journals, magazines and news resources on all topics. Education Source (via EBSCOhost) Scholarly research and information relating to all areas of education. iPortal: Indigenous Studies Portal Index to articles, books, and other documents related to indigenous peoples of Canada and North America (e.g. Indigenous Studies Portal > Decolonization). Web of Science Core Collection Citation indexes for the arts & humanities, the social sciences, and the sciences.

Also useful

CINAHL (via EBSCOhost) Index for nursing & allied health literature including full text for some content. ERIC (via ProQuest) Index with education related literature. Includes links to full text on the free version of ERIC. PsycINFO (via ProQuest) A comprehensive database for the field of psychology and psychological aspects of related disciplines. Social Services Abstracts (via ProQuest) Citations and abstracts focused on social work, human services, and related areas, including social welfare, social policy, and community development. Social Work Abstracts (via EBSCOhost) Citations and abstracts for articles on social work, social welfare, and related fields. Sociological Abstracts (via ProQuest) Comprehensive, international coverage of journal articles, books, papers, etc. in sociology and related disciplines.
Selected Journals


If we don’t have a book in our collection, you can recommend it for purchase by emailing the Social Work librarian (


The Library search tool, Omni, is a good place to search for books.

Selected Indigenous Publishers

You might consider looking at books from Indigenous publishers in Canada.

Theytus Books Theytus Books is First Nations-owned and operated. Inhabit Media An Inuit-owned publishing company in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Pemmican Publications A Manitoba-based Métis publishing house.


(c) Search Tactics

Try using some of the following database search tactics to get better results.

Search Tactics
What is the tactic? What does the tactic do? Examples
Boolean AND

Use AND to ensure that all terms appear in every search result.

Métis AND post-secondary

Boolean OR

Use OR to ensure that at least one term appears in every search result.

“First Nations” OR Inuit OR Métis

Phrase searching Use quotation marks to find more than one term in a row.

First Nations

Truncation Use an asterisk* at the end of a term to include multiple endings.


Indegenous, Indigeneity, Indigenize, Indigenized, Indigenizing, Indigenization

Wildcard Use a question mark ? within a term to search for variations of a single character.


decolonize, decolonise


These are controlled terms from a database thesaurus that are assigned to articles.

Databases have different thesauri, which affects the subjects you use.

MeSH 2019 Thesaurus 


Use term for: Aleuts, Eskimos, Inupiats, Kalaallits

Field Searching
  • Use the drop-down beside a search box to find terms in specific areas of results. Codes beside each field tell the database where to search for a term.

Example: ti("adverse childhood experiences") in PsycINFO (all results will have the term in titles).


Databases include filters so that we can easily limit our searches by things like peer-review and date of publication. Limits can help you decrease results and make them more relevant.

  • The "peer-reviewed" or "scholarly" checkbox limits results to those coming from peer-reviewed journals.
  • The "date" limit lets you search within a specific timeframe.


(d) Search Terms


The terms that (1) researchers use and that (2) search tools use to describe Indigenous scholarship show clear evidence of colonization. 

  • Contemporary researchers aim to use terms that different groups of Indigenous people use to refer to themselves, but you will still encounter inaccurate and offensive terms in the literature.
  • Libraries and search tools classify scholarship so we can find it easily, but the systems we use "marginalize and colonize” (Vaughan, 2018, p. 4) Indigenous peoples. They do not represent Indigenous ways of knowing.
    • See "Libraries in the U.S. and Canada are Changing How They Refer to Indigenous People" (Bullard, 2022).



What are the major concepts in your topic? What are some synonyms or alternate terms you can use? 

  • Consider the terms typically used in the literature.
  • Google "synonyms for ..."
  • If you have an on-topic article, see what terms get used in the title/abstract.

General keyword examples

Indigenous, First Nations, Inuit, Métis, Aboriginal, First Peoples

Specific keyword examples

Anishinaabe, Athapaska, Cree, Dene, Iroquois, Ojibway

If you are searching with more specific keywords, there can be spelling variations to consider (e.g. Anishinaabe, Anishinabe, Anicinape, Anishinaabeg, Anishinabek).

Page Owner: Meredith Fischer

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Last Updated: September 7, 2023 9:58am