Indigenizing research

On Jan. 7, 2013, Elder Billie Schibler opened the seminar by speaking in ceremony and sharing the perspective of the Grandmothers and Wisdom Keepers. She was followed by Sheryl Peters (Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence), who spoke on how to do research in Indigenous traditions, and Dr. Laura Funk (U of M, sociology) who led a discussion.

Schibler and other members of the Kookum Kaa Na Da Maa Waad Abinoojiiak (Grandmothers Protecting our Children) Council work to raise awareness of issues affecting all children – both the children of today and of the future. One such issue is water supply and sanitation.

Schibler worked in the James Bay area while the community leaders considered allowing large companies to start mining diamonds. Knowing that mining could have both positive and negative effects on the generations to come, Schibler approached the community leaders.

“I felt it was necessary to advocate on behalf of the children and say ‘Please take into consideration that as you’re making these decisions… it has to go beyond the economic gain of the communities that we’re talking about. We’re talking about environmental issues here [and] social issues as well.’”

Schibler reminded audience members that protecting children is not only the responsibility of Grandmothers and Wisdom Keepers.

“As Indigenous peoples, we call on all other races of people,” Schibler said. “We can call upon our government to take better care and pay more attention to these things that are necessities of life. We need that water and we need to keep it pure.”

One way non-Indigenous people can help is through doing decolonizing and Indigenizing research, which is rooted in developing respectful relationships with Indigenous communities.

Peters says that developing and maintaining these relationships involves “learning as much as you can with an open mind and an open heart” and understanding that “you’ll have to unlearn things and this process is uncomfortable, but you’re going to have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Peters outlined a number of questions that non-Indigenous researchers should keep in mind while working with Indigenous communities, including: “How might my research affect Indigenous peoples?” and “Should this research be done?”

See a list of relevant resources.

Issues discussed this week:

If collaborative community-based research starts with asking the community for research ideas, but you need to get ethics approval before starting research, is true collaborative research even possible?  

Peters noted that research ethics do not stop researchers from initiating relationships with communities. “You start out by reaching out and saying here’s who I am and can we talk? [True collaborative research] doesn’t start with research – it starts with relationship building.”

Are we making progress in terms of getting ethical approval for participatory research?

“Yes!” said Funk. “From what I’ve seen from the ‘70s to today, there is more understanding of participatory research.” However, the process is still far from perfect, as many review boards do not have members experienced in participatory research. “You need to make the space in your departments for people to get educated about how… this relationship should develop.”

“We need to be part of the evolution and the revolution of [ethical review boards at] institutions,” agreed Kathi Kinew (Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs).

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