Indigenous Research FAQs for student researchers
This FAQ is a living document and will be updated.
Q: How do I learn more about Indigenous groups in Newfoundland and Labrador?
See the General Aboriginal Peoples in Newfoundland and Labrador FAQ.
There are also some excellent orienting texts, including:
- Vowel, C. (2016). Indigenous writes: A guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit issues in Canada. Portage and Main Press. This book is consistently recommended by Indigenous teachers and researchers.
- The City of Vancouver’s First Peoples: A Guide for Newcomers.
You can also go to free and open sessions at First Light (formerly the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre) and Labrador Friendship Centre. Memorial’s Grenfell and St. John’s campuses also host events through their Aboriginal Resources Offices.
Q: I’m an international student and I want to learn more about Indigenous people in Canada. What is a good place to start?
The City of Vancouver has published First Peoples: A Guide for Newcomers that is specifically designed for newcomers to Canada. There is also an excellent text that is designed as a primer for Canadians that touches on many key issues: Vowel, C. (2016). Indigenous writes: A guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit issues in Canada. Portage and Main Press.
Q: I want to do research on Indigenous issues. Where do I start?
A good start is to think of the topic as Indigenous priorities, rather than issues. This helps orient the research. Ideally, you would draw on literature written by Indigenous authors and researchers (which may or may not include people with degrees) and by Indigenous organizations. Each of the province’s Indigenous groups, for example, have written extensively on things that are important to them.
Q: How do I get consent for doing Indigenous research as a student?
Undergraduate students will usually fall under their faculty member’s consent process. You can always ask for a copy of this for your files and for when you start research to include in the appendix your honours project, RA project, or other research output. If your project is quite different from your advisors, you will need to have your own consent in addition to other ethics approvals from ICHER, animal care, and other formal ethics reviews. Go to the researcher’s section.
If you are a graduate student, if you are working on a faculty member’s project you can fall under their consent, but if your project is your own and does not have pre-existing consent (such as a dissertation or thesis), then you must get your own consent. If you or your faculty advisor are unsure, ask Memorial`s Research Grant and Contract Services office.
You would follow the same process for getting consent as those outlined above in the researcher section.
Q: How do I ensure respect and proper protocols?
A: Ideally, your committee or supervisor(s) will prepare you for this. There is particular etiquette for working with Indigenous peoples, groups, and Lands that is different from academic etiquette. In general, good manners usually involve humility, not having an agenda (even a beneficial research or project agenda), good listening (listen more than you talk), and showing evidence of basic knowledge of that group. A very simple primer on respect in Indigenous-settler partnerships is available from Reconciliation Australia. There is also a simple guide called “Etiquette- Do’s and Don’ts” by SAMSHA.
Q: How does data sharing work between graduate students and Indigenous groups?
This is a very important question. Each research project has a different agreement between the researcher (you and/or your advisor) and the Indigenous group, which should be on file with the Research Grant and Contract Services (RGCS) office, and/or the Interdisciplinary Committee on Ethics in Human Research (ICEHR). This contract will outline who owns, controls, and has access to the data. As a graduate student it is very important that you know about this contract and you know that you have access to the data, even if you do not own or control it, so you can submit your thesis. If you or your advisor have questions, contact RGCS.
Q: I’m a graduate student doing fieldwork in an Indigenous community. How should I proceed.
If this is your leading question, you probably shouldn’t be doing this fieldwork yet. Your advisor(s) should give you some training in how to proceed—how to approach people, be respectful, what protocols are in place that you should know about, how your work relates to agreements about data sharing and ownership, and how community and individual consent and refusal might look and how to understand them, among other things. There are a few questions above about basic manners and etiquette, but as a researcher you must go beyond these for good relations. Ideally, there is someone on your committee who is from that community who will introduce you around. If you do not have someone on your committee who can do this, work with your advisor to have someone from the community do this introduction and take you around. If you and your advisor do not have this kind of relationship with someone in the community, then your research is probably going to suffer. Try to walk lightly.
Q: Can I write my thesis or dissertation in my own Indigenous language?
Memorial’s guidelines from the School of Graduate Studies states that, “with the exception of the Departments of French and Spanish or German and Russian, all theses and reports must be written in English, except with the express permission of the Dean of Graduate Studies.” You can also work with your committee to determine the best way forward, including possibilities for sections being in another language, a bi- or tri-lingual translated thesis, or obtaining special permission from the Dean of Graduate Studies for an entire work to be solely in an Indigenous language.
Q: Can I have an Elder or Indigenous community member on my committee?
This is possible and has been done before on committees at Memorial University. However, the make-up and conduct of a committee must be done in consultation with your thesis or dissertation chair/advisor, and in accordance with your department’s policies.
Q: Where can I receive training in Indigenous or anti-colonial research methods and protocols?
Through the Labrador Institute, Memorial University has an annual Summer Institute for Indigenous graduate students, junior faculty, and other Indigenous researchers to learn Indigenous methodologies. At the moment, there are no for-credit courses offered at Memorial on this topic. There are many text resources that can familiarize you with Indigenous and/or decolonial and/or anti-colonial research methods.
Indigenous thinkers define Indigenous research methodologies in different but related ways:
- Shawn Wilson suggests that Indigenous research methodology “... means talking about relational accountability. As a researcher you are answering to all your relations when you are doing research.” "What is an Indigenous Research Methodology?” Canadian Journal of Native Education 25.2 (2001): 177
- Linda Tuhiwai Smith is concerned “not so much with the actual technique of selecting a method but much more with the context in which research problems are conceptualized and designed, and with the implications of research for its participants and their communities.” Decolonizing methodologies: research and Indigenous peoples. 2d edition, (2012): ix
- Cora Weber-Pillwax distinguishes between Indigenous research methodology that may be selected as a methodology by all researchers and Indigenous research conducted by Indigenous scholars. Principles of Indigenous Research Methodology. Journal of Educational Thought (1999).
There are many texts about techniques and ways of doing research from an Indigenous worldview:
- Archibald, J. (2008). Indigenous storywork: Educating the heart, mind, body, and spirit. Vancouver: UBC Press.
- Denzin, N.K., Lincoln, Y.S., & Smith, L.T. (Eds.) (2008). Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
- Michell, Herman Jeremiah. (2008). Learning Indigenous science from place: research study examing Indigenous-based science perspectives in Saskatchewan First Nations and Metis community contexts. Aboriginal Research Centre.
- Henry, E., & Pene, H. (2001). Kaupapa Maori: Locating indigenous ontology, epistemology and methodology in the academy. Organization, 8(2), 234-242.
- Kovach, M. (2006). Searching for arrowheads: An inquiry into approaches to indigenous research using a tribal methodology with a Nehiyaw Kiskeyihtamowin worldview (Doctoral dissertation).
- Kovach, M. (2010). Conversational Method in Indigenous Research. First Peoples Child & Family Review, 5(1).
- Smith, L. T. (2013). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books Ltd.
- Tuck, E. (2009). Suspending damage: A letter to communities. Harvard Educational Review, 79(3), 409-428.
- Walter, M., & Andersen, C. (2013). Indigenous statistics: A quantitative research methodology. Left Coast Press.
- Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Fernwood publishing.
- Wilson, S. (2001). What is an Indigenous research methodology?. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 25(2), 175-179.
Overall, these are good starts, but Indigenous teachers and instructors are the best sources for learning about Indigenous methodologies.