Snow, K. C., Hays, D. G., Caliwagan, G., Ford, D. J., Mariotti, D., Mwendwa, J. M., & Scott, W. E. (2015). Guiding principles for indigenous research practices. Action Research, 14(4), 357–375. https://doi.org/10.1177/1476750315622542
Based upon expansions of indigenous research methodologies in the literature, researchers are encouraged to understand indigenous research conceptualization and implementation within various communities. The purpose of this review is to outline six tenets or principles that are intended to engage researchers in practices that privilege the voices and goals of indigenous populations: indigenous identity development; indigenous paradigmatic lens; reflexivity and power sharing; critical immersion; participation and accountability; and methodological flexibility. Future research directions for expanding and operationalizing principles of indigenous research practices are also provided.
Indigenous research, qualitative research, guidelines, best practices
Research in social, economic, and natural sciences has been conventionally defined as discovering a generalizable truth based on systematic data interpretation while attending to reliability and validity concerns (Smith, 2012). Such research, employing scientific and positivistic methods frequently developed in lab settings, aims for replication of results via experimentation and often undervalues participant contributions to studies. These methodological “rules” guide how researchers proceed, often with detachment that further objectifies populations that have limited power. Results oftentimes privilege voices of those following conventional research practices with academic training in Eurocentric perspectives, likely excluding indigenous ways of knowing and equitable participation in research processes in general (Kovach, 2009; Smith, 2012).
Thus, research may be synonymous with power and control: power over what ideas and findings matter and from whose perspective. Research is seldom the idea of those being researched, and rarely directly benefits them. As Cram, Ormond, and Carter (2006) noted, “researchers are knowledge brokers, people who have the power to construct legitimating arguments for or against ideas, theories or practices. They are collectors of information and producers of meaning which can be used for, or against indigenous interests” (p. 177).
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Although developments in qualitative research address some concerns of conventional research methods, there are still limitations to employing qualitative methodology with indigenous populations globally. Even discourse on broad historical moments in qualitative research (see Denzin & Lincoln, 2011) address the transitions needed in methodology, speaking to the needs of indigenous populations.
beyond identity being rooted in a particular geography
Indigenous populations [as] individuals or groups belonging to developing or underdeveloped regions nationally or internationally, as well as those who have been marginalized by Eurocentric values and/or research methodologies
indigenous research recognizes indigenous communities develop shared ways of knowing guided by how they view the world, themselves, and the connection between the two.
As Smith (2012) notes,
History is also about power … it is the story of the powerful and how they became powerful, and then how they use their power to keep them in positions in which they can continue to dominate others. … in this sense history is not important for indigenous peoples because a thousand accounts of the “truth” will not alter the “fact” that indigenous peoples are still marginal and do not possess the power to transform history into justice. (p. 35)
see Tessaro et al, 2018
The core of indigenous research, then, is attention to ethics and reflexivity regarding access to and privileging of knowledge, selection of methodological tools, and presentation of perspectives possessing physical, psychological, and sociopolitical consequences.
Part of the conventional research struggle—whether quantitative or qualitative—is movement beyond “telling pain stories” (Tuck & Yang, 2014), which serves intentionally or unintentionally to further pathologize or disempower communities, towards humanizing common struggles while privileging communities’ conceptualization, ownership, and knowledge. Thus, there is a need for more specific practices researchers can use to unpack what indigenous research is, can, and should be.
involves active renegotiation of one’s cultural identity to accommodate understanding how colonization has influenced personal identity of self and others.
Privileging indigenous identity can allow for attending to how colonization has influenced individual and community ways of knowing and what gets prioritized as knowledge (Kovach, 2009; Smith, 2012).
Laenui P. (2000) Process of decolonization. In: Battiste M. (ed.) Reclaiming indigenous voice and vision, Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, pp. 150–160.
For researchers belonging to indigenous groups, decolonization phases must occur within personal and professional realms: decolonization of self and the research community. For non-indigenous researchers, valuing indigenous identity equates to advocating for new, affirmative research paradigms and methodologies for indigenous groups. While non-indigenous researchers cannot identify as indigenous, they can move towards greater empathy for historical and current struggles associated with colonization and create change in the research process, which also allows space for indigenous researchers to employ and/or develop indigenous methodologies.
When asserting indigenous knowledge systems are not to be viewed from confines of Eurocentric knowledge systems, Ray (2012), a member of the Anishnaabe indigenous group, included a personal story about indigenous methodologies; sharing of personal stories is part of this indigenous researcher’s commitment to Anishnaabe storytelling traditions and emphasizes the process is as important as the product.
using research approaches congruent with indigenous values and research goals, thus researchers must articulate a paradigmatic lens consonant with privileging the knowledge and voices of indigenous populations
an interdependent process requiring focused attention to intrapersonal and interpersonal relationship dynamics before, during, and after the research process; it challenges conventional research notions of ownership of research and researcher personal disclosure and detachment
c.f. open research; open data
employs holistic cultural awareness of self and others, full absorption into the research context, and the lens of critical consciousness
critical immersion involves being able to see the world through the eyes of indigenous people, to have knowledge of oneself as a cultural being, and to be aware how one’s own cultural experiences affect views of cultural differences.
Active reflection extends beyond cross-cultural understanding to refer to ongoing consideration of how researcher presence in a setting may shift power in negative manners for participants and communities (Waiters & Simoni, 2009).
The principle of critical immersion can be seen through a project developed by non-indigenous researchers Rossi, Rynne, and Nelson (2013) as they attempted to implement a grant-funded indigenous sports program within several Australian aboriginal groups. Rather than embracing the principle of critical immersion, they attempted to become objective researchers through setting aside the obvious cultural differences and inequalities with their research participants and to aim for universal connections by showing they were fellow humans with similar ideas, interests, and goals. The result of this approach had the opposite effect to that intended by the researchers; rather than setting aside their colonial mentalities they highlighted those mentalities. After realizing the effects White privilege and colonial approaches had upon their study, they began to look for ways to immerse themselves more deeply in the cultural differences and to develop ways of being more reflexive and critical of their roles within the research (Rossi et al., 2013). They restarted their approach to the research by “hanging out” with participants, getting to know them deeply by spending over two years in the field, respecting and honoring indigenous traditions and power dynamics (e.g. cultivating relationships with elders), and asking indigenous insiders to assist with critical reflection, research design, access to the field, and data collection, among other techniques (Rossi et al., 2013). Through implementing the elements of critical immersion the study moved from a colonizing project to a decolonizing one.
involves researchers, based on personal and professional commitments to conduct ethical research, empowering individuals and communities to engage in all aspects of the research process. Participation assumes that indigenous people can and should be able to conduct analysis of their experiences (Freire, 1968), and these data collection, analysis, and presentation activities are considered equally as or more valid than those of the researchers. Further, researchers serve to support these investigations as appropriate.
refers to researchers engaging in a variety of roles and using several “alternative” data collection, analysis and presentation techniques congruent with indigenous ways. Researchers “acknowledge the interconnectedness of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of individuals with all living things and with the earth, the star world, and the universe” (Lavallée, 2009, p. 23).
Lavallée (2009) employed symbols and artifacts to incorporate Cree, Ojibway, and Algonquin individuals; she included Anishnaabe symbol-based reflection as a data collection tool, asking participants to find or create visual symbols of their feelings and thoughts in a similar manner to photovoice. Several of her participants incorporated traditional symbols (e.g., Medicine Wheel, crafts such as soapstone carving) to illustrate their responses (Lavallée, 2009).
The final principle, methodological flexibility, challenges the researcher to be creative in measuring constructs conventionally understood through “standardized” and “validated” assessments and tools. Research questions that may be useful for this principle are as follows: (a) what research techniques are most congruent for specific indigenous populations; (b) how do data differ based on methods used in indigenous populations; (c) to what extent are conventional surveys incongruent with indigenous populations and how can surveys be adapted or reconstructed; and (d) what indigenous measures should be developed to evaluate community specific problems?
With regard to the quality of indigenous research methods and creating actionable research suggestions discussed within this paper, collaboration is a key component of the indigenous researcher toolbox, just as has been located in other action research methods like participatory action research and collaborative inquiry. One main component was absent from the course explored in this paper; direct collaboration with indigenous populations. To that end, future courses and projects exploring indigenous and critical research methods should incorporate the principles explored here to identify, seek permission from, and collaborate with indigenous research partners in ways that benefit the researched and the researcher according to the six identified tenets