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The Ethics of Research Involving

Indigenous Peoples

Report of the

Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre

to the

Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics

Willie Ermine, MA

Raven Sinclair, PhD Candidate

Bonnie Jeffery, PhD

Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre

Saskatoon, SK

©Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre, July 2004


The Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre, a joint initiative of the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Regina and the First Nations University of Canada, has the pleasure to share its report, The Ethics of Research Involving Aboriginal Peoples. The report overviews key issues in the literature since the mid-90s. It has emerged from a collaborative partnership between the IPHRC and the Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics (PRE), with support from a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (the Agencies).

The Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics has been mandated by CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC to provide independent, multidisciplinary advice on the evolution of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS)*. PRE has identified the further development of Section 6 of the TCPS, Research Involving Aboriginal Peoples, as a priority. Thus, in concert with organizations from Aboriginal communities, CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC, PRE has initiated a process for studying and revising the relevant TCPS norms on research involving Aboriginal peoples (Section 6) of the TCPS. As part of a series of background papers, the literature review undertaken by the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre will assist this process. It will also contribute to the wider understanding of research ethics issues as they pertain to Aboriginal peoples and communities.

Willie Ermine Marlene Brant Castellano

Ethicist, Indigenous Peoples’ Health Member of PRE and Chair, PRE Research Centre Working Committee on Aboriginal



* Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, 1998 (with 2000, 2002 amendments): http://pre.ethics.gc.ca/english/policystatement/policystatement.cfm


This literature review was prepared for the Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics (PRE). The views contained herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of PRE or the Agencies.


In the spring of 2004, the Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics (PRE) called for input in the form of literature reviews from Aboriginal research organizations across the country. The Indigenous Peoples' Health Research Centre (IPHRC) in Saskatchewan responded to the call and undertook to summarize the current state of the art in Aboriginal health research ethics. The IPHRC wishes to acknowledge the call for applications by PRE and financial support of the Agencies as well as the ongoing encouragement and support of Thérèse De Groote, Senior Policy Analyst, SRE.


The authors wish to acknowledge the valuable input of Robin Smith, Community Research Facilitator, IPHRC. Robin’s outstanding editorial skills were invaluable to the final report. This report could not have completed in a timely manner without the excellent research assistant work of Robert Scott, MA graduate of the University of Saskatchewan, and Tawny Maxie, graduate of the First Nations University of Canada. Lastly, we extend our appreciation to Dr. Ralph Nilson for his encouragement and suggestion that IPHRC undertake this review.

We are living in the time of the parenthesis, the time between eras. Those who are willing to handle the ambiguity of this in-between period and to anticipate the new era will be a quantum leap ahead of those who hold on to the past.

John Naisbitt (1982)


Table of Contents

i. Clarification of terms 5

  1. Executive Summary 7

  2. Introduction 9

  3. Methodology 10

  4. Theoretical Framework 12

    1. Historical context 12

    2. The Foundation of the Ethics problem 16

a. Unequal Power Relations 16

b. Knowledge Context 18

    1. The Ethical Space 19

  1. Divergence - Issues and analysis 22

    1. Interpretation of Ethics 22

    2. Depiction of Aboriginal People in Research 23

    3. Scientific Discourse 24

    4. Academic Freedom 25

    5. Indigenous Experts 26

    6. Appropriation of Indigenous knowledge 26

    7. Collective Ownership 28

    8. Consent 30

    9. Benefits and Distributive Justice 32

    10. Confidentiality 33

  2. Trends 34

    1. OCAP 34

    2. Guidelines 35

    3. Research Ethics Boards 36

    4. Access to information and Access to Communities 37

    5. The Altered Research Process 38

  3. Analysis of Gaps in TCPS Coverage 38

    1. Jurisdiction 39

    2. Research Agreements 41

    3. Dialogue and Negotiation Process 42

  4. Convergence 43

    1. The Ethical Space development project 43

    2. Challenges 44

  5. Recommendations 45

  6. Conclusion - Synthesis 48

Sources 49

Appendices 69

Appendix I Bibliographies: Main, Timeline, Indigenous, Context

Appendix II Annotated Bibliography

i. Clarification of Terms

Indigenous Peoples are the tribal peoples in independent countries whose distinctive identity, values, and history distinguishes them from other sections of the national community. Indigenous Peoples are the descendants of the original or pre-colonial inhabitants of a territory or geographical area and despite their legal status, retain some or all of their social, economic, cultural and political institutions.

This review will use the terms “Indigenous”, “Aboriginal”, “Native”, “Indian”, and “First Nations” interchangeably. These terms refer to the first peoples of Canada and, with the exception of “First Nations” which generally refers to Indians who have “status” under the Indian Act, are inclusive of Indians as defined in the Canadian constitution – that is to say, Indian, Inuit, and Metis people.

The term “Western” refers to a mind-set, a worldview that is a product of the development of European culture and diffused into other nations like North America. According to Means (1980) “people are not genetically encoded to hold this outlook; they are acculturated to hold it” (cited in Graveline, 1998, p.23). As the “dominant meaning system” Western discourse is the primary expression of that culture (Minnich, 1990). It is the comprehensive repository of the Western experience that wills into being intellectual, political, economic, cultural, and social constructs of Western society and is therefore embedded within all the standing disciplines of the Western academy. Graveline (1998) clarifies that although the terms “European, Western, and White may be used interchangeably, it is not the race that is targeted” (p. 23) and Stuart Hall (1992) articulates for us that the “West is an idea or concept, a language for imagining a set of complex stories, ideas, historical events and social relationships” (cited in Smith, 1999b:42). ‘Western’ is representative of an “archive of knowledge and systems, rules and values” extracted from and characteristic of Europe and the Western hemisphere (Smith, 1999b, p. 42).

Eurocentrism is the notion that European civilization, or the “West”, has some special quality of mind, race, culture, environment, or historical advantage which gives this human community a permanent superiority over all other communities (Blaut, 1993). These qualities would seem to confer on this community the special duty of advancing and modernizing the rest of the world. Blaut (1993) continues, “the really crucial part of Eurocentrism is not a matter of attitudes in the sense of values and prejudices, but rather a matter of science, and scholarship, and informed and expert opinion” (p. 9). Henderson (2000b) states that Eurocentrism is a “dominant intellectual and educational movement that postulates the superiority of Europeans over non-Europeans…it has been the dominant artificial context for the last five centuries and is an integral part of scholarship, opinion, and law” (p. 58). Although understanding that Eurocentrism has a complex nature, Blaut succinctly states that. “Eurocentrism is quite simply the colonizer’s model of the world” (p. 10).

The term “Community” will be used to refer to the system of relationships within Indigenous societies in which the nature of person-hood is identified. This system of relationships not only includes family, but also extends to comprise the relationships of human, ecological and spiritual origin. Community is a structure of support mechanisms that include the personal responsibility for the collective and reciprocally, the collective concern for individual existence. Cajete (1994) suggests “community is the place where the forming of the heart and face of the individual as one of the people is most fully expressed” (p. 164). It is the primary expression of a natural context and environment where exists the fundamental right of person-hood to be what one is meant to be. Movement within this community context allows individuals to discover all there is to discover about one-self. In a sense, community is participatory thought in action.

1.0 Executive Summary

It is a positive development that the research institutes, which include the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Council, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council (hereafter “the three granting agencies”), are engaging in their own process of critical reflection and are attempting to revise research guidelines and policies to reflect a greater sensitivity to Indigenous knowledge and the rights of Indigenous communities. This literature review is intended to inform the process of review and revision of ethical policies for research involving Aboriginal peoples by synthesizing relevant literature and applying a critical gaze to the three granting agencies’ current policy statement. At the outset, we state emphatically that this review does not represent the views of all Indigenous Peoples in Canada. The content and orientation of this review represents the collective ideas and directions of focus of the authors and the review is intended to contribute a small piece toward the collective expression of Indigenous research ethics in Canada. Working at “ground zero” in Aboriginal health research has provided the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre (IPHRC) staff with insights and understandings that are not readily available to academics who are often removed, physically, culturally, socioeconomically, and politically from the participants in their research, particularly when the participants are Aboriginal. The lead author of the IPHRC team is a Cree speaker who is steeped in his culture and lives within his historical community. The co-lead and one research assistant are both urban Aboriginal individuals with strong ties to their communities of origin and who have indepth knowledge of their cultural foundations. The non-Aboriginal participants on the review team have a wealth of experience locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally with Indigenous Peoples as well as in the areas of research and Indigenous research ethics.

In the last few years, Canada’s research granting agencies have endeavored to revise the Tri Council Policy Statement regarding the ethical conduct of research involving humans. In the spring of 2004, the Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics (PRE) called for input in the form of literature reviews from Aboriginal research organizations across the country. The Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre (IPHRC) in Saskatchewan responded to the call and undertook to summarize the current state of the art in Aboriginal health research ethics. As an Indigenous, community-based health research organization with a mandate to build health research capacity in the Aboriginal community in Saskatchewan, the collective experience and knowledge of the IPHRC review team combine to provide a unique perspective of the current debate on Aboriginal research ethics.

The following summarizes the recommendations arising from the core issues explored in the literature review. This document asserts a primary recommendation that the granting agencies endeavor to incorporate the notion of the ethical space as a framework for the emergence of a new paradigm for research with Aboriginal people.

  • The jurisdiction of Indigenous Peoples over their culture, heritage, knowledge, and political and intellectual domains must be explicitly recognized in the Tri-Council Policy Statement. Appropriate mechanisms need to be established by the three granting agencies in concert with Indigenous authorities for the approval and review of research proposals involving Indigenous Peoples.

  • Further conceptual development needs to take place in regards to an ethical space as the appropriate venue for the expression of an ethical research order that contemplates crossing cultural borders. The conceptual development of the ethical space will require guideline principles put into effect by the three granting agencies that cement practices of dialogue, negotiation, and research agreements with Indigenous authorities in any research involving Indigenous Peoples.

  • In recognition of Indigenous jurisdiction, research agreements need to be negotiated and formalized with authorities of various Indigenous jurisdictions before any research is conducted with their people.

  • Empowerment and benefits must become central features of any research entertained and conducted with respect to Indigenous Peoples. Governments, international organizations and private institutions should support the development of educational, research and training centers which are controlled by Indigenous communities, and strengthen these communities’ capacity to document, protect, teach and apply all aspects of their heritage.

  • Ongoing efforts by scholars and political groups to formulate the parameters of national copyright laws and the protection of Indigenous Peoples’ intellectual and cultural property rights must take extreme urgency. Protection and recognition of Indigenous peoples’ intellectual and cultural property rights by researchers and institutions must be part and parcel of any funding received from the three granting agencies.

  • Indigenous Peoples must also exercise control over all research conducted within their territories, or which uses their peoples as subjects of study. This includes the ownership, control, access, and possession of all data and information obtained from research involving Indigenous Peoples.

  • Understanding Indigenous social structures and systems, and the role of education in the process of knowledge and cultural transmission, is a vital necessity in coming to terms with research involving Indigenous Peoples. Education in these respects must be supported with appropriate funding and resources.

  • Professional associations of scientists, engineers and scholars, in collaboration with Indigenous Peoples, should sponsor seminars and disseminate publications to promote ethical conduct in conformity with these guidelines and develop processes and structures to discipline members who act in contravention.

  • Steps must be taken to immediately implement policy that will ameliorate inherent conflicts between Research Ethics Board policies and Indigenous ethical requirements, the primary example being the barriers to meaningful negotiation of consent and research parameters on the part of community participants prior to the receipt of formal approval from institutional Research Ethics Boards.

  1. Introduction

Western knowledge, with its flagship of research, has often advanced into Indigenous Peoples’ communities with little regard for the notions of Indigenous worldviews and self-determination in human development. As a result, the history of Westernization in virtually all locations of the globe reads like a script of relentless disruption and dispossession of Indigenous Peoples with the resulting common pattern of cultural and psychological discontinuity for many in the Indigenous community. As the same script is replayed from nation to nation, reaction by Indigenous academics and other critics of the West will vary. Critique of research processes serves as a ray of hope that the intellectual community is not oblivious to impacts of a research regime that operates solely from a Western standpoint on the Indigenous community.

There exists a growing body of perceptive writings that provides new avenues of thought in decolonizing the research process. Indigenous scholars, with the professional support of non-Indigenous critical analysts from many Western institutions, contribute a much-needed injection of academic guidance in these matters of research. This critical reading of the literature is intended to highlight the body of dissension expressed by various critics to the nature and ethics of research involving Indigenous Peoples. In the first section of this report, a survey of the concerns reveals the broad scope of critique that stands as a testimony to the ethical breaches in the history of research involving Indigenous Peoples in North America and many parts of the globe. Further reading identifies crucial aspects in the research enterprise that, in their present configuration, have a cumulative bearing on the ethical issues and concerns expressed about research involving Indigenous Peoples, and point the way to an ethical order of research. Although at times, this work may be interpreted as another piece of rhetoric protesting the invasion and exploitation of Indigenous people, we understand that the Indigenous perspective must be stated resolutely, explicitly, and unequivocally. History has proven that the collective ‘voice’ of Indigenous resistance must be loud and long in order to have grievances redressed and effective change implemented. Despite the unpalatable nature of colonial history and the neocolonial present to the academy, Indigenous people experience those realities daily. While it may be difficult to read about the realities of Indigenous Peoples, it is without a doubt more difficult to live those realities.

With these issues in mind, Indigenous peoples are now poised to assert the Indigenous perspective on research and reclaim a voice that contributes to the dismantling of an old order of research practice. The old order of research – positivist, empirical, and driven by the agenda of the academy, has not served Indigenous populations whose interests are currently geared towards surviving and thriving through self-determination and control over resources including cultural and knowledge resources. The shift to new paradigms of research is the result of the decolonization agenda that has as a principle goal, the amelioration of disease and the recovery of health and wellness for Indigenous populations. The emerging paradigms utilize Indigenous knowledge and worldview for the development of the ethical foundations of research. The Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre (IPHRC), one among several newly developed Aboriginal Capacity and Developmental Research Environments (ACADRE) centres across Canada, strives to adhere to an Indigenous ethical foundation in its work. This review, therefore, draws heavily upon the practical experiences of the work of the Centre to articulate the Indigenous perspective of research ethics. We anticipate that this dialogue from the research margins will help usher in a new research relationship that is modeled on emancipation and a human vision of transformation.

The format of the literature review will include a discussion of methodology and theoretical orientation, an overview of the relevant literature, an assessment of trends in research ethics, an examination of the current coverage and gaps in the three granting agencies policy statement, and recommendations for the development of Section 6 of that statement dealing with research involving Aboriginal peoples. Thematic and annotated bibliographies are attached as appendices to this review.

  1. Methodology

The initial search process for this literature review involved compiling sources from the research team and using these bibliographies as springboards to further literature. Sources were compiled from grey literature, academic literature, and Internet literature. The Alberta ACADRE was particularly helpful, supplying the team with an extensive bibliography that they had already compiled. We encountered several challenges in accessing grey literature and this is elaborated upon in this report.

The research assistants conducted searches at the University of Regina, the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Calgary, and the First Nations University of Canada using various university database search engines including the expanded Academic ASAP database, Academic Search Premier, Webspirs, and Proquest dissertation search engine. Search strings included: Research methods, Participatory research, Action research, Community-based research, Social Science research, Anthropology research, Health research, Ethnography, Epidemiology, Biomedical research, Archaeology research, Museum, Scientific research, Responsible research, Genetic research, Research ethics, Ethical research, Ethical guidelines, Ethic guidelines, Ethical space, Recommendations, Case study, bioethics, informed consent, Confidentiality, Decolonization, Role + researcher, Role + community, Benefits, TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge), Land Use and Occupancy Studies; Intellectual property rights, Cultural Property, Human rights, Non-governmental agencies + role, Collective ownership, Ownership, Circumpolar, Postcolonial theory, Eurocentrism, Race, Western paradigm, Western model, Western thought, Orientalism, Colonialism, Colonization, Imperialism, Critical theory, Indigenous studies, Native Studies, Indian Studies, Native education, History, Indigenous paradigms, Indigenous methodologies, Indigenous knowledge, Local knowledge, Traditional knowledge, Sacred Knowledge, Indigenous researchers, Indigenous perspectives, Native perspectives, Aboriginal perspectives; Indigenous, Aboriginal, First Nations, Native Inuit, Maori, Indian.

The compiled literature was then reviewed and appraised for its value to this review. The research assistants annotated articles deemed relevant for the review and within the time constraints allowed. Thematic bibliographies were prepared based on these criteria as a way to meaningfully compare and contrast different sources and perspectives. These are attached as Appendix I. A comprehensive annotated bibliography is attached as Appendix II.

Bogdan & Biklen (1998) state, “people do not reason or conceptualize outside of the self’s location in a specific historical time and body; hence, this [postmodern] perspective emphasizes interpretation and writing as central features of research” (p. 21). This point is particularly relevant with respect to the theoretical approach of the team given their cultural backgrounds and experiences; the location of the reviewers being a primarily Indigenous context or an Indigenous academic working environment. We chose to emphasize literature resources written by Indigenous writers and other critics from different countries to demonstrate the degree of concern about ethics in research that involves Indigenous Peoples.

Aspects of primary research, such as individual researcher perspectives, areareare used to present community views and aspects of knowledge stemming from the Indigenous experience and the oral tradition, inasmuch as the authors can speak about these issues, acknowledging that the words represent their own experiences and perspectives. These serve to highlight not only the differences of perspectives, but also to make the statement that not all knowledge and viewpoints have been recorded, particularly as they are embedded in the oral tradition of the Indigenous community.

  1. Theoretical Framework

    1. Historical context

There is an existing body of scholarship by Indigenous Peoples and various other social critics that questions the ethics of research involving Indigenous Peoples brought on by misguided interests, motivations, and assumptions of an old order of scholarship. Various disciplines within the Western academy are implicated in embodying various types of research practices and knowledge claims that contribute to these concerns about ethics. Some of the disciplines that are implicated in concerns include anthropology (Cove, 1995; Barsh, 1996), archaeology (Yellowhorn, 1996; Lewis & Bird Rose, 1985), psychology (Darou, Hum, & Kurtness, 1993), American Indian history (Fixico, 1998), and the social sciences more generally (Deloria, 1980, 1991). Similarly, problems in different contexts and levels of research involving Indigenous Peoples have been discussed: including northern Canadian research (Usher, 1994; Gamble 1986), Cree People (Darou, Hum & Kurtness), Maori (Bishop, 1994; L. Smith, 1999a, 1999), Greenlandic Inuit (Peterson, 1982), Ecuador (Kothari, 1997), Saami-Norwegian (Larson, 1988), and Indigenous Peoples generally (Smith, 1999b). Furthermore, Indigenous communities in many parts of the globe are reminding and openly challenging the research community (Smith, 1999a, 1999b) to be wary of research practices based on exploitation, racism, ethnocentricity, and harmfulness. These practices, where and whenever they have surfaced in the Indigenous community have undermined Indigenous Peoples’ empowerment and self-dependence.

Historically, the means to finding answers to questions about Native people involved the application of qualitative and quantitative projects on willing or unwilling Native people. With the voicing of resistance beginning in the early 1970s, Native scholars and writers have criticized the imposition of Western research on Native populations (Peacock, 1996; Gilchrist, 1997; Barden & Boyer, 1993; Mihesuah, 1993; St. Denis, 1992; Deloria, 1991; Red Horse, Johnson, & Weiner, 1989) and mainstream institutions have recognized and acknowledged that research needed to become more ethically sound, especially for ‘vulnerable subjects’ such as racial minorities (DHEW – Belmont Report, 1976). For the most part, Native people have viewed research with suspicion and hostility as something intrusive, exploitative, and unethical. Researchers have been viewed as intruders and predators (Trimble, 1977; Maynard, 1974) inaccurately representing Indigenous ways of life. Peacock (1996) points out that a large portion of Indigenous culture and history consists of information recounted by researchers and anthropologists that is comprised of non-Native perceptions of Native people and culture. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Indigenous people, tired of being studied, passively resisted researchers with untruths and deliberately fictitious information (Sinclair, 2003; Peacock, 1996; Swisher, 1993; Stoller & Olkes, 1987; Trimble, 1977).

Among the most repugnant aspects of Western research for Native people in the historical context, has been the emphasis of research on negative social issues; described as the application of a pathologizing lens. The problematics of this issue are elaborated on in Section 5.2 below; however, briefly, Indigenous people argue that research, which has primarily focused on social disarray and pathos, is evidence of a perspective of “deficiency” whereby Native people and their lives are pathologized (Bishop, 1997; Sue & Sue, 1990; Peacock, 1996; Poupart, Martinez, Red Horse, & Scharnberg, 2000; Sinclair, 2003). These skewed representations are taken for truth and disseminated as the true history and social conditions of Native people. The consequence is that “…a combination of inaccurate research, inadequate education, slanted media coverage, and dehumanizing stereotypes make even the most ‘educated’ professional grossly uninformed about American Indian life and culture” (Poupart, Martinez, Red Horse, & Scharnberg, 2000, p.15). The backlash by Native people to research, has extended to all research projects and all researchers, Native or non-Native, and manifests in contemporary resistance to even insider research. Bands and organizations are immediately suspicious of research inquiries and more researchers are experiencing the knee-jerk negative response to their requests. One Indigenous researcher never uses the word “research”, favouring benign terms such as “project” (Sinclair, 2003). This is discussed more fully in Section 6.4 below.

Resistance to the history of outsider research has resulted in a body of literature by Native and non-Native scholars who are making recommendations and suggestions as to how research can be made more relevant and applicable to Native people. One research milieu that incorporates the means to address social inequity is found in participatory action research (PAR). The participatory action research approach to community issues is a culturally relevant and empowering method for Indigenous people in Canada and worldwide as it critiques the ongoing impact of colonization, neocolonialism and the force of marginalization (Brant Castellano, 1993; Davis & Reid, 1999; Dickson, 2000; Haig-Brown & Dennenmann, 2000; Hudson, 1982; Lockhard & McCaskill, 1986; Macaulay, Delormier, McComber, Cross, Potvin, et al., 1999; Ryan & Robinson, 1990; Severtson, Bauman, & Will, 2002). Government and institutional research and intervention have failed because Western methods have historically exploited Native people and results have often been used to perpetuate the status quo (Davis & Reid, 1999; Wax, 1977). Participatory action research gives a voice to the oppressed and marginalized, and the methods and processes promote empowerment, inclusivity, and respect (Dickson & Green, 2001; Green, George, Daniel, Frankish, Herbert, et al., 1995; Webster & Nabigon, 1993; Jackson, 1993; Castleden, 1992; Castellano, 1986; Hudson, 1982). Most importantly, this approach serves to deconstruct the Western positivist research paradigm that is, and has always been, antithetical to Indigenous ways of coming to knowledge on many levels; theoretically, cognitively, practically, and spiritually (Haig-Brown & Dannenmann, 2000; Lockhart & McCaskill, 1986). PAR can, therefore, be quite significant to the inclusion of Indigenous epistemology in the discourse of research.

Concurrent with the PAR movement has been the movement towards “insider” research which is research conducted by a member of the target population (Swisher, 1993). In the Indigenous context, this means Indigenous researchers conducting research. By contrast, ‘outsider’ research would characterize much of the history of research on Aboriginal populations; non-Aboriginal researchers engaging in primarily bench science research on Aboriginal people. Contemporarily, research is tending towards insider research or research that takes place in collaboration with Aboriginal people. Research with Indigenous populations can be currently characterized as primarily qualitative, participatory, collaborative, and community-based. It tends towards certain criteria; the research team includes one or more members of the target population in a meaningful role, and there is Native involvement in the design and delivery of research (Macaulay, Delormier, McComber, Cross, Potvin et al., 1999; Macaulay, Delormier, McComber, Cross, Potvin, et al., 1998; Day, Blue, & Peake Raymond, 1998; Anderson, 1996; Bishop, 1996a; Barden & Boyer, 1993; Swisher, 1993), usefulness and benefit of the research to the community is explicit (Benjamin, 2000; Kothari, 1997; Peacock, 1996; Michell, 1999), research is culturally relevant (Steinhauer, 2002; Weber-Pillwax, 2001; Hudson & Taylor-Henley, 2001; Weaver, 1997; Red Horse, 1993; Trimble & Medicine, 1976), and research is characterized by collaboration and partnership (Gibbs, 2001; Haig-Brown, 2000; Barnes, 2000; Moewaka Barnes, 2000a; Chrisman, 1999; Gibson & Gibson, 1999; Israel, Schulz, Parker, & Becker, 1998; McQueen, 1998; Macaulay, 1993; Mohatt, 1989).

Most recently, we see the emergence of Indigenous research paradigms founded upon Indigenous worldview, knowledge and protocols (Smylie, Kaplan-Myrth, Tait, C, Martin, C. M., Chartrand, et al, 2004; Brant Castellano, 2004; Sinclair, 2003; Steinhauer, 2002; Pidgeon & Hardy Cox, 2002; Pihama, Cram, & Walker, 2002; Martin, 2001; Wilson, 2001a, 2001b; Moewaka Barnes, 2000b; VicHealth, 2000; Graveline, 2000; Smith, 1999a, 1999b; Nabigon, Hagey, Webster, & MacKay, 1999; McCormick, 1998; Bishop, 1998; Meyer, 1998; Hermes, 1997; Collins & Poulson, 1991). There is little distinction to be made between Canada, the United States, and Australia/New Zealand in regard to research founded on Indigenous knowledge. It is clear from the literature that Maori scholars are in the forefront of the discourse, but a critical mass, with respect to research issues and Indigenous peoples, has been reached worldwide. Native people are no longer willing to act as passive recipients of research activities while non-Native researchers reap the benefits of the research and bear little to no responsibility for how the findings are used or the consequences (Deloria, 1991; Swisher, 1993). As Peacock (1996) stated, “One of the canons of good research is that it should never hurt the people studied” (p.6).

A current manifestation of Indigenous resistance to outsider research is found in the post-1996 trend toward guidelines and research agreements in any research pertaining to Indigenous Peoples (Global Coalition, 2002; Hurtado, Hill, Kaplan, & Lancaster, 2001; Meijer-Drees, 2001; AIATSIS, 2000; Council of Yukon First Nations, 2000; Eades, Read & Bibbulung Gnarneep Team, 1999; Aurora Research Institute, 1998; Donovan & Spark, 1997; RCAP, 1997; Kowalsky, Verhoef, Thurston, & Rutherford, 1996). Guidelines such as the Akwesasne: Protocol for Review of Environmental and Scientific Research Proposals (1996), and the Mi’kmaq Research Principles and Guidelines (2000) assert jurisdiction over community cultural resources and the rules of ethical research conduct within their territories. Other guidelines developed by Western researchers in consultation with Indigenous communities are designed to ensure respect of Indigenous cultural philosophies and adherence to Indigenous cultural protocols in research practice (Akwesasne, 1996; Kowalski, Thurston, Verhoef, & Rutherford, 1996; University of Victoria, 2001; Henderson, Simmons, Bourke, & Muir, 2002). The Ethical Principles for the Conduct of Research in the North (2003) significantly advances the notion of a renewed research relationship between researchers and communities. The guidelines are intended “to encourage partnerships between northern peoples and researchers that, in turn, will promote and enhance northern scholarship” (ACUNS, p. 4). The development of guidelines and the move towards research agreements are often embodied in Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) or research agreements developed by research teams. These are explored more fully in a later section.

Research with Indigenous peoples is predominantly within the qualitative genre because qualitative research frameworks, according to Denzin & Lincoln (2000) provide “congruence and cultural safety” for the tenets of Indigenous worldview. Secondly, Indigenous populations have yet to achieve a critical mass within the bench science disciplines in post-secondary education. For these reasons, in this report the term ‘research’ is treated as a generic concept because it is perceived as “…an encounter between the West and the Other” (Smith, 1999b; p. 8). The ethical issues of research with Indigenous peoples are the same regardless of the research genre although the emphasis on issues of jurisdiction and protection may be heightened in quantitative research. For Indigenous Peoples, the term ‘research’ implicates and encompasses qualitative as well as quantitative genres of research as practiced in the hard sciences. Research has encroached upon Indigenous cultural property and natural resources manifested as knowledge of plants, herbs and other natural substances. Although attention has been directed towards the problems of quantitative research with Indigenous populations (Weijer & Emanuel, 2000; McDermott, 1998; Greely, 1996; DEHW, 1976) natural sciences and environmental research are specialized concerns that need to be explored further in terms of how they impact the ethics of Indigenous Peoples and the systems for living within their environments. Currently, Indigenous students are populating the disciplines of social sciences and humanities. No doubt, a critical mass of students in the hard sciences will be achieved through access programs and the growing emphasis on natural sciences in Indigenous community schools. Indeed, if the burgeoning statistics of Aboriginal students at MA and PhD levels are an indicator, the numbers of students in all disciplines will grow exponentially within a few short years. Indigenous researchers and communities will then have the opportunity to apply the ethics lessons currently being learned in the qualitative and community based research genres to the realm of quantitative research.

Denzin & Lincoln (2000) outline the various movements of qualitative research through the last several decades and list them as follows: “traditional (1900-1950); modernist (1950-1970); blurred genres (1970-1986); crisis of representation (1986-1990); post-modern, a period of experimental and new ethnographies (1990-1995); postexperimental (1995-2000); and the future, which is now (2000- )” (p.1063). The seventh moment, the authors describe, is defined by responsive research geared to the “moral imperatives” of the human community (p.1062). Contemporary research has, since the fifth movement of the mid-1980s been moving towards inclusivity of voice, worldview, and culture; issues of representation, the location of the “other” and other “ways of knowing” are central to this evolving qualitative discourse (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000). The more inclusive and respectful research becomes of other ways of knowing, the more applicable Western qualitative research is to Indigenous people, and Indigenous issues. The seventh movement, the “unknown terrain” of research, consists of space within the qualitative paradigm, in particular, where Indigenous theory and method are acknowledged as valuable. Denzin (2003) hints that the new era is influenced by feminist and postmodern theories, taking wisdom and guidance from the sacred epistemologies of Indigenous peoples; a pedagogy that will take into account humanity and other ways of knowing.

What was marked formerly by the firm and rigid shapes of a Eurocentric geometry is now the fluid, shape-shifting image of chemical flux and transformation, as margins move to the center, the center moves to the margins, and the whole is reconstituted again in some new form. (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p.1063).

Research has historically drawn “upon frameworks, processes and practices of colonial, Western worldviews and the inherent knowledge, methods, morals and beliefs” (Martin, 2001, p.2). Indigenous theories on the other hand, “challenge the hegemony of Western theoretical production” (Pillai, 1996, p. 218). Challenging research hegemony involves understanding colonial history, and ensuring that research has practical applications that empower and liberate the people through practical and ameliorative results; which, in contemporary Indigenous contexts, means engaging in the decolonization agenda. The important point to be made is that, given the context of colonization and colonialism, the research agenda for Aboriginal people is very specifically directed towards the amelioration of the impact of those dynamics. In the contemporary context, the research agenda comprises political, emancipatory, and ameliorative objectives (Sinclair, 2003).

In research where Indigenous people control their own agenda, the spiritual and philosophical foundations provide the platform from which research activities unfold. The research agenda is based upon a specific philosophical foundation, is motivated by specific political origins in colonization, and is focused on tangible, practical outcomes that will serve the Indigenous community.

Indigenous research is postcolonial research, described by Chatterji (2001) as “liberatory practice within postcolonial contexts…[that] seeks to create knowledge relevant to the communities is purports to serve” (p.1). In the postcolonial context, research engages forces to address colonial problematics and confront existing relations of power. The concept of the ethical space provides a venue within which to articulate the possibilities and challenges of bringing together different ways of coming to knowledge and applying this theory to the practice of research.

    1. The Foundation of the Ethics Problem

Despite the intellectual efforts of many people to create an ethical order in research involving Indigenous Peoples, for example by developing ethical guidelines, many of the same critiques remain. Issues such as the appropriation of knowledge, and collective versus individual ownership of knowledge remain unclear. Understanding Western social and systems, and the role of education in the process of knowledge and cultural transmission and how they impact cross-cultural relations, is a necessity in coming to terms with Indigenous research. A desire to understand the intellectual undercurrents of unequal power relations and the issues of knowledge contexts brings clarity to the foundation of the ethics problem.

a. Unequal Power Relations

Indigenous Peoples’ considerations regarding the Western research enterprise include the identification of the various pitfalls and snares that exist in the dominant forms of knowledge production and dissemination. The point of contention is that an archaic order of thought can continue to influence university research in a manner that can be recognized by some as the operation of a “time lagged colonial moment” (Bhabha, 1994). This Western body of knowledge unleashed to the world as the singular world consciousness and evolutionary history that presents itself as all encompassing and impartial has grown into an intellectual knowledge system that is now known as Eurocentrism. There is increasing recognition that Western values, motivations and interests, in an alliance with the conditioned diffusion of Eurocentricity, still define formulations to better collect, classify, and represent Indigenous Peoples in amassing its knowledge of human society through the research enterprise. In the pursuit of this objective, subtle claims of a centralized authority and a single narrative of history positioned in the Western world are postulated as the basic guiding principles of conducting valid and recognized research. In this sense, Shiva (1993) theorizes in Monocultures of the Mind that:

The first level of violence unleashed on local systems of knowledge is not to see them as knowledge. This invisibility is the first reason why local systems collapse without trial and test when confronted with the knowledge of the dominant west. The distance itself removes local systems from perception. When local knowledge does appear in the field of the globalising vision, it is made to disappear by denying it the status of a systemic knowledge, and assigning it the adjectives ‘primitive’ and ‘unscientific’” (p. 10).

As Blaut (1993) also challenges, Europeans collected and used information taken from Indigenous Peoples to meet their own needs, “explaining and justifying the individual’s act of conquest, of repression, of exploitation. All of it was right, rational, and natural” (p. 26). This unilateral assumption of a universal model of research with a central authority in knowledge production largely went unchallenged until Indigenous Peoples started to create a discourse around such practices. For Indigenous Peoples, these practices of research were reminiscent of all other experiences with colonialism and imperialism in the West’s drive for dominance and where Eurocentrism was imposed as the appropriate and only vision of the universal. Central to the issue of a singular world consciousness postulated by Eurocentric discourses is the particular discursive strategies and socially determined practices that engender a universal model of human society.

Herein lies one of the faulty generalizations of Eurocentric discourses in identifying and establishing humans of a particular kind as the most significant of all peoples and ones who can set standards for all the rest of humanity (Minnich, 1990). This form of cultural narcissism in the West is postulated as universalism. The principles or objectives of this Enlightenment dream of universalism are such that “one category/kind comes to function almost as if it were the only kind, because it occupies the defining center of power...casting all others outside the circle of the ‘real’” (Minnich, 1990:53). The same society also has discourses that have embedded paradigms and content that puts forward the Western world as a model of progressive humanity that is evolving into higher states of truth where its knowledge can encompass all there is to understand and know in the world. Battiste and Henderson (1998) remind us, “Eurocentrism resists change while it continues to retain a persuasive intellectual power in academic and political realms” (p. 23). In this praxis, Indigenous and other minority peoples, along with their knowledge, are relegated to the periphery as some form of lesser existence. Accordingly, Noël (1994), in his work Intolerance suggests:

Whatever the field of thought or the activity considered, the established discourse puts the dominator forward as the ideal model of humanity and thereby justifies the subordinate relationship that the dominated is called upon to maintain with him. These dynamics are at work in learning, art, and language and derive from the official interpretation of the constraints imposed by History, Nature, and even God (p. 45).

These European systems, rules, and values that make up the Western worldview and are espoused as the only reality in the world lack concepts by which the experiences and reality of other cultures can be justly named, described, and understood. People with other intellectual traditions and knowledge are welcome in this milieu, of course, but their knowledge can only occupy a secondary or marginal position in relation to the West. This is due to the social-systemic structuring of institutions and what is conceived as appropriate knowledge within a colonialistic framework. Therefore, adherence to the structures of knowledge production that are complicit in intolerance are not relevant for the pursuit of emancipation. These systems of education will, in effect, prescribe the recreation of the very social conditions that marginalize Indigenous Peoples.

Modes of research prescribed from this ‘archive’ of established Eurocentric thought are a continuing concern for Indigenous Peoples because informational resources derive from “Europeans with very definite points of view, cultural, political, and religious lenses that forced them to see ‘Natives’ in ways that were highly distorted” (Blaut, 1993:24). An old-world order with a narcissistic set of values and principles really does not correspond well with Indigenous Peoples’ worlds because of the different interpretations of reality.

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