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.
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.
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.
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
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).
Women in this study struggled with the time it took to ensure confidentiality and proper ownership of knowledge before they shared
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.”
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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Work with community members or Elders who can introduce you to the community and ensure protocols are respected and followed.
- Start face- to- face conversations long before the research begins and throughout the whole process.
- Ensure inclusiveness of First Nations/ Métis/Inuit people in all levels of the research process and policy development.
- Use research methodologies and methods acceptable to the community.
- Gain knowledge and understanding of historical colonization and be aware of ongoing contemporary colonial practices within the health care system and society.
- Realize that our own actions may purposefully or unintentionally perpetuate racist and discriminatory practices that marginalize and place people as “other.”
- Advocate for Aboriginal people to be part of the whole within health, education, policy, decision making and delivery.
- As researchers, be humble, willing to learn, and patient doing research “with” rather than “on” Aboriginal people. They are the experts.
- 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.