What is Indigenous Research?

According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Indigenous Research is: 

“Research in any field or discipline that is conducted by, grounded in or engaged with First Nations, Inuit, Métis or other Indigenous nations, communities, societies or individuals, and their wisdom, cultures, experiences or knowledge systems, as expressed in their dynamic forms, past and present. Indigenous research can embrace the intellectual, physical, emotional and/or spiritual dimensions of knowledge in creative and interconnected relationships with people, places, and the natural environment. 

According to the Tri-Council Policy Statement - Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS 2) Chapter Nine: Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples of Canada (2022), there are characteristics that describe Indigenous Research. 

Article 9.1 

“Where the research is likely to affect the welfare of an Indigenous community, or communities, to which prospective participants belong, researchers shall seek engagement with the relevant community. The conditions under which engagement is required include, but are not limited to: 

  1. research conducted on First Nations, Inuit or Métis lands; 
  2. recruitment criteria that include Indigenous identity as a factor for the entire study or for a subgroup in the study; 
  3. research that seeks input from participants regarding a community’s cultural heritage, artifacts, traditional knowledge or unique characteristics; 
  4. research in which Indigenous identity or membership in an Indigenous community is used as a variable for the purpose of analysis of the research data; and 
  5. interpretation of research results that will refer to Indigenous communities, peoples, language, history or culture. 

According to TCPS 2, Chapter 9 

“is designed to serve as a framework for the ethical conduct of research involving Indigenous peoples. It is offered in a spirit of respect. It is not intended to override or replace ethical guidance offered by Indigenous peoples themselves. Its purpose is to ensure, to the extent possible, that research involving Indigenous peoples is premised on respectful relationships. It also encourages collaboration and engagement between researchers and participants.” 

If a researcher is conducting Indigenous research, there are specific processes that must be enacted, two of which are Community Engagement and Indigenous data governance principles.  

What is Indigenous Research by Keeta Gladue

Indigenous Methodologies

Indigenous research originates from Indigenous perspectives, encompassing their worldviews, languages, and deep connections to the land and all living beings. It embraces a holistic approach, incorporating the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of knowledge acquisition and dissemination.

Indigenous research methods emphasize the significance of being accountable through relationships and emphasize the necessity of anchoring research within the community's context, while upholding the fundamental principles of respect, reciprocity, and responsibility, as advocated by various scholars. (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 1991; Wilson, 2008; Kovach, 2009; Tuhiwai Smith, 2012, Restoule, McGregor & Johnston, 2018). This includes techniques and methods drawn from the tradition and knowledge of Indigenous People in research by and for Indigenous Peoples. 

  1. Storytelling

    Storytelling practices within communities serve multiple functions, including community sustainability, validation of experiences and epistemologies, expression of Indigenous perspectives, and the cultivation of relationships and knowledge sharing. Storytelling also holds a central position within Indigenous epistemologies, pedagogies, and research approaches.

    When applying storytelling as a research method, certain parallels with Western narrative inquiry become apparent, although with distinctive features. This approach allows the research process to transform into a dynamic dialogue that acknowledges the researcher's active participation in the journey of discovery and the construction of meaning. When conducted with cultural sensitivity, this approach has the potential to serve as a bridge between Indigenous and Western research methodologies. Beyond reshaping the essence of research, it fosters trust and collaborative meaning-making between researchers and participants through shared narratives.

  2. Sharing Circles

    Sharing circles are a crucial method in Indigenous research for several reasons. Firstly, they align with Indigenous traditions by promoting communal sharing and decision-making, fostering a culturally sensitive research environment. Secondly, sharing circles honor the oral tradition found in Indigenous cultures, preserving the authenticity and depth of Indigenous narratives by allowing participants to share their experiences and knowledge verbally.

    Moreover, sharing circles emphasize community involvement, reflecting the community-centered nature of Indigenous research. They offer a space for community members to actively engage in the research process, enhancing collaboration and ensuring research outcomes benefit the community. Additionally, these circles provide a holistic understanding of the research topic, as participants share not only their thoughts but also their emotions, cultural beliefs, and lived experiences. This comprehensive approach yields deeper insights, improving research quality and contributing to participant empowerment and healing. Sharing circles embody Indigenous self-determination, respecting Indigenous ways of knowing, and promoting trust and inclusivity in the research process.

  3. Ceremony

    Ceremonies are integral to Indigenous research because they demonstrate cultural respect, build trust, and offer holistic insights into Indigenous life. They involve the community, share valuable knowledge, and contribute to healing and well-being. Ceremonies also provide context, preserve culture, and adhere to ethical considerations, making them a vital method in Indigenous research.

  4. Art and Dance

    Art creation and dance are integral components of Indigenous methodologies in research. Firstly, art creation serves as a powerful means of expression, allowing Indigenous individuals and communities to convey their stories, knowledge, and cultural experiences visually. Artwork, whether in the form of painting, sculpture, or other creative mediums, can encapsulate profound cultural insights and perspectives that may not be easily conveyed through traditional research methods. It also provides a way for Indigenous people to reconnect with their heritage and traditions, fostering a deeper understanding of their identity and history.

    Secondly, dance plays a significant role in Indigenous research methodologies by serving as a form of embodied knowledge and storytelling. Indigenous dances often carry deep cultural significance, representing historical events, spiritual beliefs, and community bonds. In the research context, dance can be used to explore and convey these aspects, enabling researchers to engage with Indigenous communities in a holistic and culturally relevant manner. Dance facilitates the sharing of knowledge, traditions, and emotions, and it promotes collaboration and dialogue between researchers and Indigenous participants, fostering a more inclusive and respectful research process.





Guiding Principles for Indigenous Research

These Four R's provide a framework for conducting Indigenous research that is respectful, mutually beneficial, culturally relevant, and accountable. They guide researchers in fostering positive and equitable research relationships with Indigenous communities while upholding ethical and responsible research practices.

This principle underscores the importance of respecting Indigenous knowledge, cultures, and traditions. Researchers must approach Indigenous communities and individuals with respect for their ways of knowing and being. This involves recognizing the value of Indigenous knowledge systems, languages, oral traditions, and spiritual beliefs. Respect also includes obtaining informed consent and conducting research in an ethical and culturally sensitive manner.

Reciprocity in Indigenous research refers to the idea that research should be a two-way exchange of knowledge and benefits. It goes beyond simply extracting data from Indigenous communities. Researchers should aim to give back to the communities they work with by sharing research findings, providing resources or support, and ensuring that the research benefits the community in meaningful ways.

Indigenous research must be relevant to the needs and aspirations of Indigenous communities. This principle emphasizes that research questions, methods, and outcomes should align with the priorities and goals of the community. Research should address issues that are of significance and importance to the community rather than imposing external research agendas.

Researchers have a responsibility to conduct research in an ethical and accountable manner. This includes obtaining proper permissions and approvals, ensuring the confidentiality of data, and considering the potential impact of research on individuals and communities. Responsibility also extends to acknowledging the historical context of colonization and working to rectify past injustices in research.

Further Reading

Sources and Methods in Indigenous Studies by Andersen, C., & O'Brien, J. M. (2017).

Decolonizing Methodologies by Smith, L. T. (1999).

Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know by Absolon, K. E.(2011).

Research Is Ceremony by Wilson, S. (2008).

Indigenous Methodologies by Kovach M. (2009).

Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit by Battiste, M. (2013).

Yarning About Yarning as a Legitimate Method in Indigenous Research by Bessarab, D & Ng'andu, B. (2011)

Traditional storytelling: an effective Indigenous research methodology and its implications for environmental research by Datta, R. (2017).

Story-Telling as a Potent Research Paradigm for Indigenous Communities by Lekoko, R. N. (2007).

Indigenous Storytelling and Participatory Action Research by Caxaj, C. S. (2015).

Telling stories: Exploring research storytelling as a meaningful approach to knowledge mobilization with Indigenous research collaborators and diverse audiences in community-based participatory research by Christensen, J. (2012).

Indigenous Storywork as a Basis for Curricula That Educate the Heart, Mind, Body, and Spirit by Archibald Q’um Q’um Xiiem, J.. (2021).

Indigenous Education: Using the Science of Storywork to Teach With and Within Instead of About Indigenous Peoples by MacMath, S. & Hall, W., (2018).

Embodied Knowing: Getting Back to our Roots by Lawrence, R. L, Nieves, Y., Snowber, C., Kong, L., & Ntseane, G., (2013). 

Embodied Research: A Methodology by Spatz, D. (2017). 

Can Research Become Ceremony? Performance Ethnography and Indigenous Epistemologies by Magnat, V., (2012).

Conducting Embodied Research at the Intersection of Performance Studies, Experimental Ethnography and Indigenous Methodologies by Magnat, V., (2011).

Potlatch as Pedagogy by Davidson, S. F., Davidson, R., & Archibald, J. (2018). 

Indigenous Research Methods: A Systematic Review by Drawson, A. S., toombs, E., Mushquash, C. J. (2017). 

Applying Indigenous Community-Based Participatory Research Principles to Partnership Development in Health Disparities Research by Christopher, S., Saha, R., Lachapelle, P., Jennings, D., Colclough, Y., Cooper, C., Cummins, C., Eggers, M. J., FourStar, K., Harris, K., Kuntz, S. W., LaFromboise, V., LaVeaux, D., McDonald, T., Real Bird, J., Rink, E., & Webster, L., (2011). 

Contextualizing CBPR: Key Principles of CBPR meet the Indigenous research context by LaVeaux, D., & Christopher, S. (2010).

Local Understandings of the Land: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Indigenous Knowledge by Dudgeon, R. C., & Berkes, F. (2003).

A commentary on land, health, and Indigenous knowledge(s) by Greenwood, M., & Lindsay, N. M. (2019). 

Making Indigenous-led Education a Public Policy Priority by Cherpako, D. (2019).

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