Kurtz, 2013

Kurtz, D. L. M. (2013). Indigenous Methodologies: Traversing Indigenous and Western worldviews in research. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 9(3), 217–229. https://doi.org/10.1177/117718011300900303


Using Indigenous methodologies to guide a doctoral study honouring cultural traditions and protocols was integral in working with the local community. Traditional talking circles were used to create a culturally safe environment for urban Aboriginal women to talk about their health care experiences and recommend strategies for change. The methodological research process was guided and shaped by Elders and community members sharing their knowledge and stories. This fluid non-linearity and unpredictability, common in Indigenous methodologies, challenged the researcher to stay true to the methodology while simultaneously respecting cultural protocols and traditions. The successes and challenges of embracing Indigenous methodologies in the midst of academia without losing sight of respect, commitment and accountability to Indigenous peoples and the institution are offered.


Indigenous research, Indigenous methodology, Indigenous knowledge

The methodology chosen was a living process, not a static framework, model, or flowchart of step- by- step lists of things to do along the way. All aspects of the study and methodology were developed, monitored, implemented, and evaluated by myself in collaboration with doctoral supervisors, community Elders (particularly one who is my mentor and was Elder Advisor for the study), 14 urban Aboriginal women who participated in the study, an advisory committee, and a steering group that oversaw the study. The advisory committee included members who were Aboriginal and experts in Indigenous research, education and culture, and the steering group consisted of some of the urban Aboriginal women who wanted to be more intimately involved in the research by taking on a leadership role.

Finding a research methodology that honoured Indigenous and Western worldviews

  • important for R to write about their position in the world at the outset of the work as "a promise that the research will not take place without the trust of the community"
    • personal historic details in respect of one's family and land and so that others can relate
    • act of asking for mutual trust based on relations and connections
  • elders guided and mentored R in appropriate and culturally safe ways
  • R rejected narrative inquiry, post-colonialism, post-structuralism, gender analysis, and white studies as they are all grounded in Western colonial research discourse
  • Western research processes originate in oppressive systems and fail to recognize methodologies that decolonize
  • Indigenous approach can draw on both interpretative and critical/emancipatory theories but does not fit into pre-existing Western paradigms

Decolonizing methodologies “privilege Indigenous knowledge, voices, experiences, reflections, and analyses of their social, material and spiritual conditions” (Rigney, as cited in Smith, 2005, p. 87) and in doing so increase the presence, visibility and voice of Indigenous people (Brown & Strega, 2005; Kovach, 2005; Smith, 1999) and protect Indigenous knowledge.

Understanding Indigenous knowledge in Indigenous research

  • IR should be developed and led by Indigenous scholars alongside non-Indigenous researchers
  • IR is a tool used for survival, healing, and self-determination ... Indigenous ppl must be the ones to plan, implement and evaluate solutions for Indigenous communities
  • Indigenous knowledge spans culture, history, geography and is centred in the spiritual
    • includes intuitiveness about the connectedness of life and cosmos
    • multiple ways of knowing
    • language and place
    • values
    • holistic
    • metaphysical
    • emphasizes relationships between persons and these entities
  • no single definition b/c it is a holistic perspective where arts, science, religion, and philosophy are not separate
  • cumulative BoK handed down through generations
Three themes to inform R practice

Kovach, M. (2005). Emerging from the margins: Indigenous methodologies. In L. Brown & S. Strega (Eds.), Research as resistance: Critical, Indigenous, and anti- oppressive approaches (pp. 19–36). Toronto, Canada: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

  • relational
    • all life forms
    • only what is needed is taken
    • what is not needed is given back with thanks
  • collective
    • requires long-term, enduring relationships characterized by reciprocity and accountability
    • ensure process was directed by community members and co-researchers who were to benefit and be affected by research
    • avoid imposing Western concepts, so work with Elders and advisors
    • define RQs
    • determine whom to invite to participate
    • choose methodology
    • direct sharing of findings
    • work with non-Aboriginal advisory members and doc supervisors
    • community research agreement was signed by Elders and member of Aboriginal community
  • methods
    • acknowledge alternative ways of knowing
    • insights from dreams and storytelling

4 (5)Rs

Kirkness, V. J., & Barnhardt, R. (2016). First Nations and Higher Education: The Four R’s-- Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, Responsibility. Journal of College & University Student Housing, 42(2), 94–109. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=119119262&site=ehost-live&scope=site

  • respect
  • relevance
  • responsibility
  • reciprocity
  • relationship

Indigenous methodologies, insights and guides

  • decolonizing methodologies is critical and requires
  • long- term process involving the bureaucratic, cultural, linguistic and psychological divesting of colonial power” (Smith, 1999, p. 98) in which First Nations people have the right to self- determination through principles of “ownership, control, access and possession” of research in order to transform change for and by Aboriginal people (Schnarch, 2004, p. 94).

  • community requires OCAP of Indigenous knowledge
    • Ownership
    • Control
    • Access
    • Possession
  • Women in this study struggled with the time it took to ensure confidentiality and proper ownership of knowledge before they shared

  • in order for ownership to occur
    • R must be locally and ethically developed
    • culturally appropriate
    • critically evaluated

Porsanger (2004), a Sámi, describes Western research as starting with a research problem or question and leading to investigations or experiments to discover and interpret facts. For Indigenous people, this approach often takes for granted that there is a link between being “Indigenous” and having “problems.”

Constructing Indigenous methodology: Urban Aboriginal terrain

Indigenous methodologies start by defining an Indigenous agenda based on Indigenous epistemology and building reciprocal relationships between the researcher and the researched, “including and consulting indigenous peoples, not as objects but rather as participants, to predict possible negative outcomes, to share and protect knowledge, to use appropriate language and form in order to communicate results back to the people …” (Kovach, 2005, pp. 112–113).

  • inclusion of cultural protocols
  • ethical, respectful, useful values and behaviours
    • embedded through reflexivity
    • part of design, results, and sharing
  • research aims to decolonize
    • requires new methods
  • ongoing, respectful, reciprocal relationships
  • shaped by aboriginal ways of knowing and doing
  • guided by ethics
  • co-shaped methodology that echoed ancient teachings

For us, Indigenous methodology was Indigenousled research by and for Indigenous peoples that is respectful, purposeful, intuitive, organic and fl uid without a step- by- step framework. It is relationship- based and shaped along the way by local knowledge and traditions and acknowledges life experiences and stories as authentic ways of knowing.

  • use of talking circles has increased but should be considered as ceremony and sacred
    • the information shared in talking circles is transmitted from generation to generation, usually by Elders who have specifi cally been chosen by other Elders or gifted from the spiritual world as keepers of the teachings of traditional culture (Wilson & Restoule, 2010). This knowledge must be protected and not shared freely.

    • Elder/facilitator must be involved in planning and preparing of safeguards
    • all 4 talking circles in this study were preceded by a feast together
    • Elder started the talking circle w/ traditional prayer and used a stone with special meaning to her for the current speaker
    • speakers were encouraged to share only what they were comfortable for as long as they wanted

Insights in traversing the borderlands of Indigenous and Eurocentric worldviews in research

Being aware of the philosophical intent and cross- cultural perspective throughout the Indigenous research, as Smith (1999) suggests, researchers need to continually ask: Who owns the research? Who will design it, carry it out, write about it, and how will the results be distributed?

Colleagues suggested to me that using Indigenous methodologies could cause further marginalization of Indigenous people because of perceptions within the research academy that Indigenous research and researchers are not legitimate. As a researcher I was aware that naming or labelling the inquiry as Indigenous research risked criticism by those steeped in traditional Western research frameworks in which Indigenous research was “soft,” “second rate,” and similar to positivist views of qualitative paradigms.

  • acknowledgment that IR is sound is increasing
  • Canadian tri-council agencies recognizing importance

Academic hierarchal and linear realities of the academy specify ethical protocols, language, and Western methods of research, which challenged and impacted the research process. Research language in human ethics documents includes terms such as subjects, analysis and dissemination, whereas we used “women” rather than subjects, “letting the stories speak for themselves” rather than analysis, and “sharing knowledge” in place of dissemination. For example, the consent form was very problematic.

From my own experience in this and other Indigenous research projects, the following are guidelines to be mindful of when working with Indigenous people:

  1. Work with community members or Elders who can introduce you to the community and ensure protocols are respected and followed.
  2. Start face- to- face conversations long before the research begins and throughout the whole process.
  3. Ensure inclusiveness of First Nations/ Métis/Inuit people in all levels of the research process and policy development.
  4. Use research methodologies and methods acceptable to the community.
  5. Gain knowledge and understanding of historical colonization and be aware of ongoing contemporary colonial practices within the health care system and society.
  6. Realize that our own actions may purposefully or unintentionally perpetuate racist and discriminatory practices that marginalize and place people as “other.”
  7. Advocate for Aboriginal people to be part of the whole within health, education, policy, decision making and delivery.
  8. As researchers, be humble, willing to learn, and patient doing research “with” rather than “on” Aboriginal people. They are the experts.
  9. Realize that embracing cultural safety is a learned way of being and acting with all people and in all areas of life, not just professional health care practice.