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HST 680 Treaties, Land and Indigenous Governance

This guide is intended to assist students conducting research on the history of treaty making between Indigenous peoples and European settler-colonial governments from the Royal Proclamation of 1763 to today.

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

For certain assignments you might be asked to use primary sources. Primary sources are works created at the time of an event, or by a person who directly experienced an event.

It is the content that matters and an on-line source can still be a primary source. For example, an online copy of a newspaper from May 8, 1945, is still a primary source even though the original article has been digitized.

Primary sources can include:

  • Interviews, diaries, letters, journals, speeches, autobiographies, and witness statements
  • Original hand-written manuscripts
  • Government documents and public records
  • Art, photographs, films, maps, fiction, and music
  • Newspaper and magazine clippings
  • Artifacts, buildings, furniture, and clothing

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are works that are written after the original event or experience; they provide criticism or interpretation of the event or experience.

Some examples of secondary sources are:

  • Textbooks
  • Biographies
  • Historical films, music, and art
  • Articles about people and events from the past

Primary vs Secondary Video

Check out University of Victoria’s Library video on Primary vs. Secondary sources. (Closed Captioned)

Finding Primary Sources

To find primary sources in the TMU Library catalogue

Use keywords for your topic or historic person along with one of the following words:

  • archives
  • charters
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • documents
  • interviews
  • letters
  • manuscripts
  • notebooks
  • oratory
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • pictorial works
  • sources [this term is often used for collections of primary sources]
  • speeches


Additional, Free Sources of Canadian Primary Sources

Library and Archives Canada (See also the resources listed on the Treaties page of the Indigenous Law library guide)

Archives of Ontario (For example, see the online exhibit: The James Bay Treaty (Treaty No. 9))

Peel's Prairie Provinces (From the University of Alberta Libraries. This website contains both an online bibliography of books, pamphlets, and other materials related to the development of the Prairies, as well as a searchable full-text collection of many of these items. For example, a search using the word Treaty retrieves 1000 results)

City of Toronto Archives (there is mention here of Toronto falling under Treaty 13)

Toronto Public Library Digital Archive (includes books, pamphlets, maps, photographs and manuscripts)

Using Google to find resources. A couple of key words can turn up interesting sources. For example, a search blackfoot treaties returns almost 3 million results, and the first sites loaded look very promising. However, if you want to focus on tribes in what is Canada rather than the United States, you may want to include canada as a third keyword: blackfoot treaties canada This search still recovers almost 1.5 million results. Remember to check the source of a site to determine if it is a credible site. If consulting wikipedia, do not normally cite these entries but they can point you to new sources and search terms to find the original source documents or images of interest. You can use the "images" filter of Google to limit your search to visual resources that may be useful as a primary source. 

Digital Collections Purchased or Leased by the University Library that Include Primary Sources

Archival Newspaper sources

Don't forget to consult the Archival Newspapers section of the Journals and Articles Page of this guide.


Government Documents

Use the Early Canadiana Online link under the Digital Collections section from the Journals and Articles Page to find resources that are categorized in three distinct collections: Monographs (think of these as digitized books, mostly published before 1930), Serials: Periodicals, Annuals, Newspapers, and Government Documents.

Consult also the resources from Library and Archives Canada that you will find by following the links to our Law Librarians' guide:

A Sampling of Books Collecting Primary Sources

Further Explorations into Primary Sources

Primary Sources on the Web: Finding, Evaluating, Using -- a concise guide to finding and evaluating primary sources online created in 2015 by a sub-committee of the Instructional and Research Services Committee of the Reference and User Services History Section in the American Library Association.

A Sampling of Books that Discuss the Use of Primary and Secondary Sources