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Indigenous research webinar explores ethics, risks and community engagement 

By Vama Saini, July 5 2023

Every June, national Indigenous history month aims to promote authentic education on Canada’s history with Indigenous peoples, foster meaningful dialogues and celebrate the diverse cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis. 

The University of Calgary’s Indigenous Research Support Team (IRST) recently hosted a webinar titled Indigenous Research: Ethics, Risks, and Relationships on June 20. The webinar, facilitated by Indigenous scholar and researcher Keeta Gladue, explored the significance of conducting ethical research on Indigenous peoples. Gladue, who has a Cree and Métis background, brings an Indigenous community-based perspective to her work, focusing on diversity, equity and anti-racism. Her research areas include Indigenous mental health, post-secondary education and academic integrity.

During the webinar, historical case studies were examined to highlight the unique aspects of Indigenous research. These studies shed light on instances of unethical research conducted on Indigenous children, particularly associated with residential schools and the federal government. Gladue also expressed concerns about the ongoing misuse of Indigenous data for unethical research purposes.

Community engagement plays a vital role in Indigenous research, as it involves establishing relationships between researchers and the relevant Indigenous community. This engagement acts as a preventive measure against the risks of research.  

“In the past and today, we know that the risks of the research include the colonial framework of research that has been established in our institutions. We know there is historical and current unethical research going on. We know that Indigenous peoples experienced being over-researched. We know that much of the research currently established is extractive research. There are contextual risks that [the researcher] may not have been aware of before doing this kind of learning,” said Gladue.

Gladue discussed Indigenous data sovereignty, including OCAP and CARE principles that prioritize collective benefit, decision-making authority, and Indigenous rights throughout the data life cycle. The principles prioritize the collective benefit of the community, decision-making authority, and the rights and well-being of Indigenous peoples throughout the data life cycle.

“Imagine knowledge systems as organic living systems. They have to be nurtured and cared for in order to survive and thrive throughout time,” said Gladue. “Indigenous knowledge systems include oral and visual storytelling as well as the opportunity for our relationally-based sciences to come forward. All of these ways of being and knowing are part of what I consider Indigenous research.”

Indigenous research draws from land-based knowledge, language, stories, and cultural protocols, requiring engagement with Indigenous communities.

Gladue emphasized that conducting good Indigenous research may require significant time and effort. Indigenous research is not solely about completing the work but also about building relationships and fostering mutual growth between researchers and Indigenous communities in the process.

“Every time we do work in a good way, the history of unethical research gets a little more distant, and there is a little more opportunity,”

IRST at the U of C is a pilot project aimed at strengthening Indigenous-related research capacity. It provides guidance and support to researchers working in Indigenous environments and acts as a point of contact for collaborations between Indigenous communities and university researchers. IRST promotes culturally responsive research and facilitates partnerships that align with the needs of Indigenous communities.

More information about the Indigenous Research Support Team can be found here.

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