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Expanding the Academy and its Toolbox to Include Indigenous Research and Methodologies

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Guest blog by Caleb Snider, Congress 2017 blogger

The Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences brings together leading thinkers, academics, researchers, policy-makers, and innovators to explore some of the world’s most challenging issues. Congress celebrates the vitality and quality of Canadian research contributions and helps train the next generation of Canadian ideas leadership. This year’s theme “The Next 150, on Indigenous Lands” celebrates the history, legacy, and achievements of the peoples and territories that make us who we are, and anticipates the boundless opportunities of the future. Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, this year’s Congress is being hosted by Ryerson University in Toronto from May 27–June 2. Follow this series of Big Picture at #congressh blogs.

Canadian academia needs to expand its methodological toolbox and its definitions of legitimate and fundable research in order to further the cause of Indigenous academic work, according to the panelists who participated in Wise research practices: Reconciliation and HSS research.

Chelsea Gabel of McMaster University—a scholar of Métis ancestry—described some of the findings of her current project that critically examines the methodological trends in social science research on Indigenous issues. Her findings show that Indigenous knowledge systems and epistemologies are not being published, that while there is a general increase in research into these issues that there is a concurrent decrease in participatory research, and that of the more than 200 articles encoded in the project so far, only 12 were Indigenous led. Gabel said that institutional norms and expectations are systematically biased against Indigenous-published research, meaning that Indigenous research is perceived in the academy as less valuable for earning tenure, acquiring funding, or other measures of academic success.

Margaret Kovach of the University of Saskatchewan—of Plains Cree and Saulteaux descent—described the difference between Indigenous research and Indigenous methodology. The two terms are often confused, which either overtly or inadvertently leads to the appropriation of Indigenous methodologies. According to Kovach, Indigenous research is an umbrella term for projects concerned with Indigenous issues that may or may not make use of Indigenous methodologies. A lack of inclusion or participation by Indigenous researchers or communities should raise flags, as there should always be reciprocity for the betterment of the communities involved. Kovach defined Indigenous methodologies as those based on Indigenous knowledge systems, resulting in research processes guided by Indigenous philosophies. Indigenous methodologies must include a belief in, valuing, and acknowledgment of these systems, and an understanding that they are separate from Western systems. They are living, breathing, changing systems of stories and oral traditions of pre-contact origin, and their use should be led by Indigenous people. For Kovach, who can use these systems is dictated more by relationships than personal identity: their proper use is all about benefiting the community.

Heather Castleden of Queens University (and the only scholar of settler ancestry on the panel) said that White scholars working on Indigenous research have to do so in allyship and solidarity with Indigenous communities, and that they have to become comfortable with the politics of their work. With “reconciliation” being the keyword of the year, academics and researchers must ensure that they aren’t merely “checking the right boxes” or adhering to mere tokenism on the part of settler scholars. Castleden said that settler scholars need to spend more time listening and understand that their relational work is more important than research product. For too long, Indigenous knowledge has been delegitimized. Castleden ended with a genuinely funny story of her own first foray into Indigenous research fieldwork where she learned quite thoroughly just how ill equipped (materially and intellectually) she was to go hunting for caribou in the Northwest Territories in January, and pointed out that humility and humour are essential for settlers doing Indigenous research.

Wise research practices: Reconciliation and HSS research featured panellists Margaret Kovach (Associate Professor, Educational Foundations, College of Education, University of Saskatchewan), Chelsea Gabel (Assistant Professor, Indigenous Studies Program and Department of Health Aging & Society, McMaster University), and Heather Castleden (Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Reconciling Relations for Health, Environments, and Communities, Queen’s University) and was a hosted by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences at Congress 2017.

 

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