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Topic: Indigenous Resources: Articles

Search Tip: Choosing keywords and phrases

Indigenous people have long used their own words to name their people, nations, and territories. Contemporary researchers strive to be respectful and use this terminology when referring to Indigenous peoples. However, there have been times when authors have referred to Indigenous peoples using words that were inappropriate and/or disrespectful. You may encounter these words when you do research.This is especially true if you are doing historical research or looking for articles written in the past. 

When selecting words to use in a database search, you may need to use both old and new terminology, as well as general and specific words to find relevant material.

Here are a few examples:

  • General term examples: Indigenous, Aboriginal, Native American, First Nations, Inuit, Métis, Native, First Peoples, Indian
  • Specific examples: Ojibwe, Ojibwa, Anishinaabe, Cree, Dene, Haudenosaunee, Iroquois

In addition to using keywords, Boolean operators such as AND, OR, and NOT, can aid your search.

  • AND will return results with that contain both words entered in the search: such as Indigenous AND Canada
  • OR will return results with either search term used : Native OR Indian
    This can be helpful when searching for synonyms or related terms.
  • Quotation marks will search for an exact term: "Indigenous Rights"

Putting those together in a database search example:  (Ojibwe OR Ojibwa OR Chippewa OR Anishinaabe) AND "United States" AND treaty

Different databases and disciplines will use different terms. Many databases have an official list of subject terms. When you're in a database, look for "index" "subject" or "thesaurus" links.  Those will get you to the database's list of terms and often provide details on how that term is used.

Example from SocINDEX:

  1. Click on "Subject Terms" to get to the list of subject.
  2. Enter your term in the "Browsing Sociology Thesaurus" box to find the terms.
  3. Click on the term to see details about it. In this case, the scope note for the term Native Americans tells us 
    Here are entered general works on the aboriginal peoples of the United States. Use only if a narrower term does not apply (e.g., "Cherokee (North American people)"). Works on the aboriginal peoples of Canada are entered under "Aboriginal Canadians" and works on the aboriginal peoples of Mexico are entered under "Indigenous peoples of Mexico." 

screenshot of SocINDEX, the Subject Terms item in the top menu is circled. In the Browse Subject Terms box is "native americans".



Indigenous topics span multiple subjects and disciplines, so for some topics, it can be helpful to search some of our broad databases, or start with LibrarySearch.


LibrarySearch is our library's discovery tool and searches across our collections and databases.  It's a great place to start for topics that cross disciplines or which you're not sure which database to start with.  

Once you've run your search, you can use the Refine functions on the left side of the screen to narrow your results by date, subject, publication type, and more.

Multidisciplinary databases

Use these databases to search across multiple subjects

History databases

Other databases