Guests of Indigenous Knowledge: Researchers and Raiders

warclub2K’oy (Me)
Being Indigenous within a Western-academic context is a contest of contradictions. As students we are committed to developing skills required for success in the academy. As Indigenous students we are often confronted with a paradox of resistance and assimilation as we compromise much in order to navigate Indigenous pathways through a colonial landscape. The nature of our engagement with the academy becomes an expression of resistance and resurgence and of accommodation and compromise. The former denotes an active metaphysical self-defence from the omnipresent forces of colonization inherent in the institution. Part of this is taking the responsibility of resurging against the colonial confines inherent within the academy for those who follow. The latter is a compromise of axiological structures in order to obtain accreditation and approval from a colonial system which seeks to maintain it’s jurisdiction over thought and knowledge as an imperial force. Dakota scholar Waziyatawin Angela Wilson (2005, p. 1) reveals that in relation to Indigenous history, the academy and “…the profession and field… has successfully colonized our past, maintaining hegemony over Indigenous written sources.” This privileging of Western academic values over those of Indigenous values foments approaches to research that counter the dominion of imperialist research paradigms. As I continue to decolonize, clarity of research principles consistent with Indigenous cosmology present themselves and possibilities of having them lead have profound implications for the future trajectory of upcoming research and even the self-determination of my community. In the following discussion, I will contribute to Indigenous principles of active metaphysical self-defence and resurgence within colonialist paradigms, whether they be in institutions, “in the field” or community, or found in the consciousness of researchers and their subjects.

Following direction from such Indigenous scholars as Smith (1999), I have inserted an Indigenous perspective into an academic paper through the inclusion of, and recognition that, my biases will be innate in this context. This identity inclusion continues the process of decolonizing scholarship and promotes an ethical point of departure for treading in Indigenous research homelands. One foundational myth which has sustained the imperialism of academia is that of the “objective” researcher. Following this notion of objectivity, publications and literary projections formed within this mythological space produce hegemonic notions of knowledge which may seem to be impartial (at least from a Euro-Western perspective) but are fraught with personal and collective biases of the academy. Without addressing one’s own experiences, worldview, and position within research and publication, one has the misfortune of being anti-ethical in an Indigenous context. Indigenous communities are vastly inter-relational and this perspective should be regarded as a fundamental requirement for research and publication of Indigenous research. It is with this in mind that I make clear who I am and where I come from in terms of this paper, and throughout development of Indigenous research methods wherever I do research.
It is in this spirit that I have dispensed with the traditional introduction and thesis statement, opting for a reflection of who I am and the reason for writing this paper. In order to reclaim a Tsimshian identity, I have devoted much time to recovering who I am and where I come from through acquisition of knowledge and this is becoming more integrated and manifested in practice. Through this process, realities of my heritage have come to the forefront which help to explain the format and content of this discussion. For instance, in recounting a brief family history below I have chosen to relate the matrilineal progression of my family, paying homage to Tsimshian cultural protocols. Relating my family in this way is by no means complete, as a detailed explanation of my family ties would be cumbersome in the context and confines of a paper on Indigenous research methodologies. Ironically however, this exemplifies aforementioned paradox of being Indigenous in a colonial landscape, as a robust accounting of my family would be culturally respectful, but would detract from the discussion on Indigenous research methodologies.

I am the son, grandson, and great-grandson of expatriated Tsimshian lineage. My great-grandmother, Mary Dennis (Enockson), attended residential school at the Crosby School for Girls in Port Simpson, B.C.. As a result of being disassociated from her home for long periods of time and subjected to mental and physical abuse, she became alienated from our Tsimshian heritage which stretches back until time began. Despite this, there were many values she taught us which can best be described as Indigenous. Values such as hard work for the good of family and community, tending to the land with a vision of reciprocity, and ensuring that the family came together at regular times throughout the year to reconnect, and being accountable to family and community. My grandmother, Norma Enockson (Dennis), grew up not knowing our Sm’algyax language, she was schooled in the English language and Euro-Canadian ways of knowing. Being indoctrinated by the Euro-Canadian society by attending public school, severed from her traditional community role and life by growing up outside of our Indigenous community, she entered the wage economy of Prince Rupert during the post-World War II era. My mother, Marlane Caplette, began the physical dislocation from our lands. Her ties to it became tenuous and fraught with psychological and emotional pain due to intergenerational trauma and this propelled her away from our ancestral lands and into the urban cities of Southwest B.C.. Upon my birth, I was three generations removed from our Tsimshian identity, and I began life not recognizing my language, knowing our songs and traditions, or having much Indigenous knowledge of the lands and waters which sustained my people since time began. I lived most of my life ignorant about who I was, where I came from, and who my peoples are. My family, from my grandmother’s generation on, has for the most part left our traditional lands and waters and today, I find myself in the process of repatriating myself into a society I never knew.

Since then, I have learned that the Tsimshian nation is comprised of at least 14 groups located along the west coast islands, fjords, and rivers of what is now known as British Columbia and Southwest Alaska. I learned also that my people, the Gitendaa or “people of the weirs,” were relocated from their village on the Exstew River which is a tributary to the Skeena River located at an approximate mid point between Terrace, B.C. and the mouth of the Skeena. They were amalgamated with 8 other groups and legislated into an Indian Act band named Lax Kw’alaams, which is actually a place name meaning the “place where the roses grow.” Through personal communications with my family, I learned that we are from the Gisbutwaada Crest which translates to Blackfish, or Killerwhale, in English. I was also told that we are from the House of Gamiyaam which is a designation to a lineage of one of several brothers who left the sacred headwaters of the interior ages ago when there was a lack of game during a particularly long winter. These stories are some of the findings I have uncovered as a part of research conducted over the last 6 years with family, personal interviews, and through academic sources. Although it has helped me to locate myself to a further extent than when I began, there is much more to these words that I am still searching for.

Decolonization is a process of my repatriation. It is the rejection of Euro-centric notions of who I am and is an active rejection of the intellectual, psychological, cultural, spiritual, and physical representations of “Tsimshian” that Euro-Canadian society has imposed me. Succinctly put, it is the reclamation of Indigenous knowledge systems to Indigenous peoples, communities, their lands and waterways, and application of those knowledge systems in a daily continuum. The process began with a reclamation of aspects of my identity which had been hidden from me either purposely, or from neglect. Asking questions from family members produced information as to the words of my identity and I now know that I am Tsimshian, Gitendaa, Gisbutwaada, and from the House of Gamiyaam. These words locate me within the concepts of Indigeneity that have been chosen from my people to decide who I am among the members of my society and how I am represented to others. These queries produced more questions which my family were largely unable to answer so I turned outward and began searching academia through books, articles, and films. I also researched with fellow Tsimshian people accessing oral histories (Adaawx), individual peoples’ research including Clan lineages, hereditary names, and linkages between tribes, Houses, and other Nations and through those processes I began to understand more of what had been left behind. A welcome and hidden addition to this process of working with my people was that I was unaware that I was repatriating myself further. By reinvigorating relationships with my community, I have established a trajectory which will continue to be significant to successful Indigenous research and repatriation. My community, and my role in it, has become clearer as my Tsimshian identity unfolds and the responsibilities I have to my people fuel the need for continuing to explore and identify Indigenous research methods which are beneficial to the Tsimshian peoples.

It is with the above in mind that I identify concisely to whom I am accountable to in my research and why (how will be expanded on in a following section). Delineations of accountability are not privileged in any particular order but are organized thus: home community of Lax Kw’alaams, Tsimshian nation, and global community of Indigenous peoples. Accountability to these groups are specific to my community and are by no means meant to be applicable to anyone but researchers and only in relation to research conducted which affects Lax Kw’alaams or the Tsimshian nation. Accountability to family and to the global Indigenous community is transferable to other contexts outside of Lax Kw’alaams and Tsimshian territory, but combined with these levels of accountability could be other specific Indigenous communities’ needs as long as their needs do not contradict those already mentioned. If conflict does arise and cannot be resolved so as to ensure those groups are not adversely affected, or that my allegiance to those groups does not compromise the integrity of the research, then as a ethical researcher, I must cease work immediately. It should be noted here though that as my decolonization progresses and my understanding of my culture deepens, there may be additions to the groups I am accountable to in order to accommodate my burgeoning identity.

A point of note is that of headings. Requirements of this assignment include questions involving themes of accountability; definitions of research; ethics, protocols and methodologies; and possible risks of engaging in Indigenous research. I have repositioned these themes into a framework which is more reflexive to a Tsimshian context as that will be the direction of further inquiry I am likely to embark on and I wish to assist in developing principles for working with my people. This is done to provide relevance and utility and so I have altered the themes slightly to encompass Tsimshian concepts, while satisfying the requirements of this paper.
I have explained the importance of the current section entitled “K’oy” by including the biases of the researcher (me) into the acquisition and articulation of research and by locating myself in relation to the research process and accountability. The following section is titled “Māḡonsk,” which is an approximation of the equivalent Sm’algyax term for research and I will expand on what distinguishes Indigenous research from other forms. Following this is “’Nüüyu Eesk,” which translates as a promise to do. This section will be dealing with the ethics and protocols of conducting research in an Indigenous context. The final section is called “Gānɫaan Gitwaaltk.” This section will devote time to outlining how Indigenous research can be protected from risks inherent with research as well as providing some ideas on Indigenous research as Indigenous resurgence.

Māḡonsk (Research, find out, explain)

Māḡonsk is word for the action of finding out. It can also mean to make sure or to explain something. I define research as being a series of values, protocols, and ethics for the purpose of seeking out and explaining events, concepts, ideas, or actions. Research can be thought of as inquiry, of finding out ideas and new knowledge, or of a different way of looking at information already known, in order to explain it to ensure it is understood properly (interpretation). As can be surmised due to the continual misunderstanding, unintentional or otherwise, between the academy and state agencies (including the so-called “aboriginal” agencies – i.e AFN, NCFNG, CAP, etc.) and Indigenous peoples, this latter aspect of research is important and is the nexus of conflicting worldviews which transposes into axiological dissonance.

Inherent in all research is the values and biases of not only the researcher, but of the institution and/or funding agency backing the research. According to Smith (1999), Western research carries with it “a cultural orientation, a set of values, a different conceptualization of such things as time, space, and subjectivity, different and competing theories of knowledge, highly specialized forms of language, and structures of power” (p. 42). Alfred (2004) contextualizes this by revealing that universities, which are for the most part are little more than self-serving departmental fiefdoms, explains that universities “are adamantly and aggressively opposed to Indigenous ways” (p. 88) which proves to make research with Indigenous peoples inherently hostile under the current academic framework. Backed by the full weight of imperialism, researchers who have been trained in Western academic methodologies continue to engage in research which reinvigorates the notion of domination theodicy before the researcher even reaches the community.
Standard practices from a Western academic orientation in terms of research have developed from a positivist understanding. That is to say they derive from a system which historically has decided the relevance of information based on Eurocentric notions of logic and of observation which reject higher philosophical inquiry including a deep exploration of ethics and morality, which are closer to metaphysics and theology. These practices come into immediate conflict with what would be acceptable Indigenous research from a philosophical standpoint let alone a praxis developed therefrom. Indigenous research places value on morality and ethics so that it plays a central role in the development of research agendas, the process, and in the results but more on the ethical obligations of Western research will be explained in the following section.

Protocols designed with acknowledgement of the power relationship imbalances between researcher and community or individual have been developed and are useful to ready a researcher for learning how to employ Indigenous research methodologies. Participatory Action Research (PAR) begins with including the community in research participation however, it is anaemic in it’s cursory examination of roles of researcher and community/participant, and there is no foundation of ethics or guidelines which support Indigenous methodologies. The actions of the researcher are not accountable to Indigenous communities and only to the Tri-Council of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada, all of which are state-centric and exclusively informed from Euro-Canadian values or other “official” boards or councils.

Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) is another foray into developing research methods for communities. The basic concept behind CBPR is community inclusion in all facets of research and this sis a good starting point. This sees the community as a recognized stakeholder in the research being conducted and this imparts a measure of inclusion in the development, process, and dissemination of findings of research (Christopher & La Veaux, 2009, p. 4). In this way, these principles are meant to reduce the exclusively exploitative research paradigms preceding CBPR methodology. However, these principles fall short of satisfying Indigenous research methods as they do not address the historical and current manifestation of colonialism, are reliant on the good (or bad) intentions of the researcher, the level of accountability is superficial, and the control of the information gained by research remains squarely in the hands of the researcher. Again, CBPR research is accountable to state and/or institutional guidelines which privilege the power colonial power structures and inclusion of Indigenous peoples in all facets of research may only be at the state-imposed Indian Act band council level. Neither PAR or CBPR are specifically designed for research in an Indigenous context or in Indigenous communities.

Indigenous research methods compose a higher than called for commitment, at least from the academy and/or the state perspective of commitment. They comprise a set of values which are indivisible from absolute adherence to ethics and community and interpersonal relationships. This is meant to support and enhance the community based on what the community identifies their needs as. The direction of Indigenous research is meant to more than involve Indigenous people, it is meant to empower Indigenous people. Therefore control over development of a research program, information gathered during research process, and the findings must sit unequivocally with the Indigenous community.

The recognition and understanding of a colonial history and present are keys to guiding the researcher in identifying what respect should be paid to requests for research from Indigenous communities. A call for assistance in conducting research could be assisting further disempowerment of the community by a privileged few community members on behalf of colonial economic development corporations, band councils, and tribal councils, or individuals seeking personal gain. For this reason, being educated on colonialism, colonization, and imperialism should be a standard requirement for any researcher hoping to work with Indigenous communities or hoping to employ Indigenous research methods.

‘Nüüyu Eesk (I promise to)

This section will deal with the questions of ethics and protocols designed for research specifically for use in Indigenous communities or in an Indigenous context. Firstly a disclaimer, while ethics can be transferable, protocols vary from community to community and may not be contextually relevant in some cases and may not be transferable in others. A danger in codifying protocols for a community or for a project is the possibility of them becoming static and rigid in terms of applied community research. Formulating protocols should always be a balance between reflexive relationship principles based on respect and mutually beneficial processes and results intended to empower the community to conduct it’s own research for its own purposes. With this balance in mind, one can be prepared to work with a community in order to design protocols for research which are ethical to an Indigenous context.
The question of ethical principles and protocols for use in Indigenous communities and contexts has propelled communities and academics to develop or update procedures for conducting research. The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs (2007) adopted policy to “manage the collection and distribution of Mi’kmaq Ecological Knowledge throughout Nova Scotia” (p. 5). Going further that this and at the institutional level at the University of Victoria in the Indigenous Governance Programs, the development of a document to be used when conducting research in an Indigenous context has developed solid protocols in order to encourage ethical behaviour on part of researchers. These protocols include a section on ethics (p. 5) whereby the onus for ethical research is placed squarely in the lap of the researcher to ensure clarity, protection of Indigenous peoples, and transparency of the research program is explained and considered. The search for ethical research methods and practices which are adequate require a high degree of honesty and integrity.

Ethical research can be described as a continual reflection on part of the researcher in order to ascertain whether or not the needs of the community are a main part of the rationale for one’s conduct. It is not enough that it be only a small part and it must be weighed against personal or professional needs. The only way to ensure that it is given the chance to do so is to develop close relationships with the community participants. As the research relationship develops and trust begins to be established, it should become clearer to all parties about the biases each person carries. The trick is to have a commitment to honesty as revelations of dishonest intentions or conduct will virtually end your ability to participate further in Indigenous research as the integrity of your character diminishes and cna adversely affect your backer as a representative of an academy or agency.

I will identify four basic guiding protocols for conducting research in an Indigenous community or context and they are designed with flexibility and respectful engagement in mind. One level of engagement is that of committing to the research process as a relationship between the researcher and the community and/or participants. The next one is the co-development of a framework which addresses who is to take part, what information is sought and why, and what is an appropriate time line for conducting the research proposed. Another level is the creation of co-reflexive periods and meetings in order to permit adequate time to consider actions already taken and to decide next steps in the research process. The last basic guideline is to present updates on any drafts, information gathered, and any findings with the understanding that it is at all times the property of the community/participants, up to and including, the final outcome(s).

Committing to a relationship with an Indigenous community can take many forms and can be established in many ways. Prior to any undertaking of research, the community must be informed explicitly of the intent, scope, and nature of the research desired to be taken with the biases of the researcher (to the best of their knowledge and others’) being fully disclosed before an agreement to commit to a research relationship can be undertaken. A researcher must be open to answering any and all questions as fully and plainly as their abilities allow before a commitment can be established. One such way to establish commitment is for the researcher to be incorporated into a ceremony, such as we have in the Tsimshian culture, whereby the researcher may receive special instructions, or be housed in a bighouse for the duration of the research. Concomitant to this may be the inclusion of a written contract, the giving of a ceremonial name, or other mechanisms to reinforce the understanding that the researcher takes on considerable responsibility when undertaking research in an Indigenous context. The central theme to this commitment is to ensure that the understanding of accountability to the community is reinforced to not only the researcher, but to the participants in the research project. This is essential in guiding the researcher, who may or may not be accustomed to the realities of interpersonal relationships in an Indigenous community context. Close ties exist in Indigenous communities with many stretching back for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Committing to a process and a place in the community as an guest, or even as an insider, is one way there can be established a familiarity which will benefit the research, and build nuanced accountability mechanisms which escape being codified and defy quantification.

The next guiding protocol is that which concerns who is to take part, what information is being sought and why, and what time line is to be expected. These can be interrelated or they can be decided independently from each other, depending on the nature of the research being conducted. For instance, if there is information being sought from an Elder who is taking part in ceremonial preparations or is otherwise not available at the time research is needed, then creating a time line is impossible until it is determined when the Elder will be available. Likewise, if the information being sought is to be used in a way which is not deemed wanted by the community, then no person should be sought out who would deliver the information. Instances of this can occur but protection against this type of activity will be expanded on in the following section to deal with transgressions. Also, permissions for research from individuals must be taken in context with their role and standing in the community. If there is information gathered that is of a sensitive nature then the identity of the person and the data must be protected and discussions may be necessary about whether or not including the research will prove harmful or helpful to the community interests.

Decisions on who is to take part in research is of extreme importance due the effects of colonization on Indigenous peoples. Community divisions and social suffering has led to conflicts of values, families, and worldviews as colonialism has been forced into Indigenous communities. Colonial structures such as band councils, tribal councils, and are to be viewed with healthy scepticism in an Indigenous context as those structures are the physical representations of systemic oppression in Indigenous communities. A researcher must make sure to research a community in order to find out if there is already a community ethics board in place. If a researcher feels the need to resort to a band or tribal council in order to facilitate research, one must be vigilant in ensuring that other relationships outside of the band council are made before concluding that the community interests are indeed being served. Connections to persons to contact outside of the band council system remain difficult to ascertain, however, dedicated attempts to do so are a necessary component of an Indigenous methodology. It cannot be emphasized enough that a potential researcher in Indigenous communities be well read in works on colonialism, colonization processes, methods, and outcomes in order to appreciate the complexity of Indigenous politics and how they can influence a research agenda.

Another level is the creation of co-reflexive periods and meetings in order to permit adequate time to consider actions already taken and to decide next steps in the research process. This process is meant to be developed to mitigate the speed of research overcoming the nature of the relationship between researcher and community/participant. Communities may need time to reflect on the direction research has taken in order to discern that the original framework is going in a direction they wish to go. If may be that the research project as initiated has become irrelevant, has altered trajectory or needs to, or needs to be augmented or reduced in scope in order to fulfil needs which have arisen. Often the desire to engage in, conduct, and conclude research findings propel the researcher to fulfil obligations to funding institutions and funding agencies, rather than to the community. This leads to rushed research and there can be serious omissions and premature conclusions without allowing for the time to reflect on what steps have been taken. Other concerns may include seasonal activities which may require some research to be delayed and events which arise within communities which must take precedence such as funerals and other unforeseen events which may disrupt the research process.

The last basic protocol is to present updates on any drafts, information gathered, and any findings to the community. This protocol is augmented by the understanding that all data, information, and outcomes are the property of the community and/or participants depending on the nature of the research. Care must be taken during this protocol as information of a sensitive nature may have been disclosed and permissions must be secured in advance of presentation in a community or public forum. Presentation of findings should be done in such a way so that understanding is the goal. Jargon-laden drafts using language and style more suitable to a journal article is inappropriate and should be avoided. This would benefit researcher to a degree as it compliments a researcher’s abilities to explain complex ideas in simpler terms.

Although there is an element of progression in the protocols above, they are not meant to be used as a step-by-step process. They are intended to encourage continual engagement between researcher and community to facilitate guidance for the researcher so that the research continues on a decolonized trajectory. Aspects of these protocols are non-linear, interactive, interchangeable and can be combined to suit needs as they arise. For example, the reflexive process can be a component of the relationship building after the researcher discloses the intended research program. Or the development of an engagement process depicting the participation of suitable people can be part of the community ownership procedure in the form of divulging results in a ceremonial setting such as the bighouse. As was stated before, they are meant to guide the process of engagement, not control it.

Ethical principles are inherent throughout the protocols listed above but for clarity, they will be reiterated. Firstly, adhering to conduct which supports the empowerment of Indigenous communities and participants for the purpose of promoting self-determination and reinvigoration of Indigenous knowledge stems and its application in a daily continuum is the primary goal. Any researcher who does not have this as a guiding ethical principle has a conflict of interests in terms of doing research in an Indigenous context. This is non-negotiable and it may be incumbent on the researcher to promote such ethics when conducting research with Indigenous communities. Projects which privilege Indigenous knowledge systems for Indigenous ownership and uses can be difficult to delineate due to colonial systems in Indigenous communities, and colonial methodologies being taught in Western academies.
Ethics such as reciprocity are paramount in conducting research and should inform any decisions about research direction. Humility is necessary to cultivate in order to remain committed as the interests of the researcher come second in consideration of research orientation and the primacy must be placed firmly in the community interests; not that of the academy, funding agency or the personal aspirations of the researcher. Ethical research must come from application of moral guidelines and protocols, not with and idea of them, and this can only be done by committing to continual engagement in good faith with the Indigenous community with the understanding that the researcher is a guest of the knowledge these people carry, not an owner, explorer, or stakeholder in it.
As a guest to Indigenous knowledge, you may be asked to leave if there are instances of disrespect or if you have overstayed your welcome. Any good guest knows when it is time to leave and a researcher who is engaged in the community in a real way at an ethical relationship level will most likely know when it is time to go. A researcher must be willing to walk away from a project without having an outcome to show for it other than the valuable knowledge gained from learning how to (and how not to!) conduct research in an Indigenous context. As a researcher ventures into Indigenous research praxis, errors will be made but we must have the ethics in place so that we not only face them, but be accountable for them in a meaningful way.

Gānɫaan Gitwaaltk (Warrior’s Armour)

This section will outline how Indigenous communities and knowledge can be protected from risks inherent with research and will provide some ideas on Indigenous research as Indigenous resurgence. A continuing manifestation of imperialism in terms of research, as an extension of the academy, is that of lack of accountability. Namely, researchers have been historically accountable to the institutions of Western academia and not to the communities or participants they ply their trade. This privilege has been responsible for detestable transgressions of ethical behaviour in terms of research inflicted on Indigenous peoples. The academy has yet to be held accountable in any meaningful way and most have not developed sufficient policies which are applicable in terms of protecting Indigenous knowledge and communities from “refined” exploitative approaches. Since this is the current situation for Indigenous communities and paying attention to the continual interest in conducting research within Indigenous contexts, it is imperative that communities undertake the process of developing Indigenous research protocols specific to their communities interests and values. Notwithstanding the parachute ethnography which signalled the typical research scheme up to, and including the present, the benefits to a community which chooses to engage in research are many but the question of how to adequately protect against harmful or irrelevant research has been one which remains.

Rationalizations for conducting research which is harmful and/or exploitative can be in the guise of “good intentions” and in order to mitigate this risk, one must continually check in with oneself and also the community participants involved. A guide for assisting this can be accessed from Lynn Gehl (2010) in the form of her “Ally Bill of Responsibilities.” It is a non-academic paper which is meant to clarify what is helpful and what is not when it comes to people who seek to assist Indigenous peoples or communities and it outlines some common motivations which can commonly be misconstrued for an honest search for empowering Indigenous communities. Good intentions can often be fuelled from a sense of guilt or even worse, cultural superiority which compels the researcher to help lift Indigenous peoples from ignorance or suffering on to a level seen as “equal” to that of dominant society. While the goal may be similar, the motivations will inform the methods and ultimately, the divergent motivations will prove to be problematic in formulating respectful relationship between knowledge, researcher, and participant(s). Gehl’s work can also be used as a guide by Indigenous communities to discern between researchers who’s motivations are for the empowerment of a community or to serve the needs of the researcher.

For mitigation of discrepancies derived from divergent worldviews, the development of contracts for individual consent combined with community consent can be employed. Caution and care should be used when engaging in developing contracts as they are often viewed as static obligations and can only provide minimal requirements which cannot ensure that principles of respect and Indigenous research principles are adhered to. The deficiencies of a relationship solely based on contract are diffused by incorporating principles of Tsimshian values into the crafting of these contracts.

Corntassel & Gaudry ask, “how do we take our sacred relationships and responsibilities as Indigenous truth-tellers and translate those lived realities into respectful research and teaching relationships?” (p. 1). In a Tsimshian context, one of the most useful and culturally relevant mechanisms which can be employed by Indigenous communities to protect their knowledge and community is to require a surety from the researcher and/or the institution or funding agency backing the research. In terms of being culturally relevant, when Indigenous peoples travelled to or through other groups’ homelands, it was understood that they were guests in those lands and waterways. There were protocols which were agreed to in order to discern intent and reason for travelling abroad. There was a recognition that when you entered another peoples’ homelands, your life was in the hands of your host and you only landed and departed by permission of the hosting community leaders. Our Tsimshian Sm’oogyit would sometimes require assurances from a landing party of a neighbouring group in the form of goods and he would require a toll, depending on the context and groups, but it was common sense that the guests were the responsibility of, and responsible to, the Sm’oogyit who welcomed them ashore and hosted them. When the travelling party wished to leave they requested permission to do so from the hosting Sm’oogyit. If it was to the host’s liking and he felt that their business was finished, he would grant them permission to leave with whatever goods they received and wish them well on their return or continuing journey. Infractions against the common good or order of the community would mean forfeiture of the surety and, depending on the severity of the infraction, the perpetrator and his/her party could be subject to further action through application of our laws. Also, if the travelling party was known to be problematic, they may have been denied the privilege of landing at all and be forced to go elsewhere to find haven or do business.

With the above in mind, we can contextualize the values displayed by my ancestors and bring them forth by requiring that any person wishing to be guests of our knowledge, provide a surety in order to safeguard against conduct which is deemed harmful. Expanding on this, if conduct was deemed to be severe, invoking banishment from the community with all goods, equipment, notes, and possessions forfeited may be a way for conclusion of the arrangement if the researcher has not upheld the promises s/he made. The surety requirement could also be extended to the institution backing the researcher. This could take many forms depending on the nature of the research but it should be kept in mind the principle of reciprocity so if the nature of the research is sensitive and integral to the integrity of the community, then something of equal measure to the academy or funding agency should be secured by the community involved in the research.

As guests of Indigenous knowledge, researchers must ask for permission to leave with their findings and, much like the ownership protocols concerning songs, dances, and names, they must seek permission if they are to use it. Specific details of the intended outcomes of research must be articulated, adhered to, and the understanding must always be maintained that it belongs to the community and/or participants. It is not to be sold, traded, given, or altered without express consent of the owner(s) of the knowledge and coercive measures employed to seek this consent is a serious infraction against ethical obligations. Consequences for breaches in this arrangement can be created within a compensatory legal document with consideration given to provisions of public acknowledgement of transgressions. This would be consistent with Tsimshian public apology practices as were traditional. In the traditional way, the person who made the infraction is present but unable to directly apologize. They must stand in the centre of the House and have a speaker acknowledge the disrespect, make the apology for them, provide gifts in the form of goods, songs, pieces of copper shields, etc. and afterwards they would provide a feast for the Sm’oogyit and his house. This can be contextualized today but in order for it to be done in a meaningful way, a public apology through media and through acknowledgement to other indigenous communities in order to satisfy the acknowledgement and apology requirements. The compensation could be in the form of money, resources, scholarships, tuition waivers, or other meaningful recompense. The feasting is important because it re-establishes good relations. The feast should be held in the community where the research took place and all of the participants, their families, and the people affected by the breach in protocol should all be invited to attend in order to restore good relations.

Problematic researchers and/or institutions and/or funding agencies could be dealt with by the same values we have had for millennia. They would be denied entry into the community. Given that this is the final solution for community protection other than war, it is possible that this is not enough in order to secure the community and it’s knowledge. It may be required to go further, this may manifest in keeping a detailed history of the nature of the problematic actions of the researcher, institution, or agency and disseminating it to other communities. This is also consistent with our culture as our Adaawx is the oral history and true-telling of our people. This is the mechanism we use to define ourselves. It is our history and it is filled with our origins, defining events, wars, floods, and ways we know we are related to others and to our surroundings. There can be no mistake that portions of our Adaawx are shared with our neighbours for it is the way they know who we are as much as it is the way we know who we are. In this light, recounting the activities of our enemies (unethical researchers, institutions, and agencies) to our allies (other Indigenous groups and ethical researchers/institutions/agencies) would be ethical for us in terms of adhering to Tsimshian protocols so that others do not fall prey to the lack of ethical conduct on the part of exploitative or disingenuous parties.

These protection concepts are not mine because they come from our Tsimshian traditions but they are the property of the Tsimshian. Risks abound when a community comes into contact with eager researchers who have been trained in Western academic institutions be they Indigenous or non-Indigenous. The strategies above are meant to discourage unethical research but research still carries risks even without unethical researchers, institutions, and agencies. I believe that the most perilous risk in terms of Indigenous research is the cooptation of research, and subsequent misuse, by our own people. Given that our communities have many members struggling against and actively searching out ways to liberate ourselves from colonialism and the overarching philosophy of dominance which is imperialism, there are many committed to fighting off the overt and covert incursions onto our communities, however, engaging in battles with one’s own people carries with it social risks which can have profound effects on community members. There are many individuals of my community which are participating in our colonization and are deceived by the colonial myths of inclusion, economic expansion as an indicator for and enhancement of community health, and that amassing wealth is appropriate conduct. These individuals are coopted by the colonial system and have the capacity to invite and encourage research which is unethical in an Indigenous context. These individuals may or may not have the power of the Indian Act band council behind them but what remains clear to me is that they represent a significant danger to Indigenous research methodologies and our community.

Mitigation of this risk is highly problematic as the power structures in place in my community, already slanted toward Western concepts, privileges these individuals and perspectives. One way of mitigation is to actively participate in the development of a community ethics board independent from the band council system and comprised of selected members of the community who are known for their integrity and commitment to Tsimshian values. This is necessary for the acceptance from a community standpoint in order to be seen as legitimate in protecting Tsimshian knowledge. Enlisting the help and guidance from community Elders, historians, and keepers of protocol, can ensure that the requirements for ethical standards are met and can also function as a mechanism for Indigenous resurgence.

Indigenous resurgence can be facilitated through the inclusion of the accountability measures detailed above. In this way, the values which have been either left behind in stasis, can be reinvigorated into a contemporary context. Indigenous research can contribute even further to Indigenous resurgence by bringing forth traditional knowledge to be evaluated in a contemporary context such as has been articulated in this section. Many values which are becoming watered down by pan-Indigenism, cultural alienation, and Western education, can be reintegrated to contribute to the resurgence of community values. Research in terms of traditional food systems can contribute to physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social improvements which can have lasting and widespread benefits. Other forms of research including trade routes can contribute to the reintegration into an nationhood network as knowledge gained is shared with other communities which are struggling with the same issues of health, colonialism, and research.

The possibilities of resurgence are varied and significant considering the untapped and growing demographic but let me be frank in my conclusion. We are at a time of immediate needs and my community has been colonized for a long time. This poses significant challenges as time is short and getting shorter as our Elders and knowledge-keepers are becoming older and every day we are all subjected to colonialism and attempts at acculturation from the state and all of its institutions. The time for establishing these protocols and accountability measures is now. The time for researching our history in order to bring forth the wisdom of our ancestors is now. Hesitation breeds complacency and that can find an easy home in a colonized mentality that is used to the desires of Settlers taking precedence over the needs of the Indigenous. Our needs must come now and we must commit to seeing them met. Research is one such path to a reclamation and reassertion of Tsimshian knowledge as being more than relevant and translational in a contemporary context, but as of paramount importance to survival and continuance. It is our decisions over the next few years which will shape our future as Indigenous peoples and research conducted in an Indigenous way, will contribute greatly to our ability to withstand the colonial assault and gain more tools to employ in the construction of a stronger society.

Alfred, T. (2004). Warrior scholarship. In D. A. Mehesuah & A. C. Wilson (Eds.), Indigenizing the academy: Transforming scholarship and empowering communities (pp. 88-99). Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.
Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs. (2007). Mi’kmaq ecological knowledge study protocol. Halifax, NS: Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs.
Christopher, S., & LaVeaux, D. (2009). Contextualizing CBPR: Key principles of CBPR meet the Indigenous research context. Pimatisiwin: A Journal pf Aboriginal and indigenous Community Health, 7(1), 1-25.
Corntassel, J. & Gaudry, A. (2011). Insurgent education and Indigenous-centred research: Opening new pathways to community resurgence. Manuscript in preparation.
Gehl, L. (2011). The ally bill of responsibilities [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.lynngehl. com/my-ally-bill-of-responsibilities.html
Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples. Dunedin, New Zealand: University of Otago Press.
University of Victoria (2000). Protocols and Principles for Conducting Research in an Indigenous Context. Victoria, BC: University of Victoria Indigenous Governance Programs.
Wilson, W. A. (2005). Remember this!: Dakota decolonization and the Eli Taylor narratives. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.


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  1. Pingback: Guests of Indigenous Knowledge: Researchers and Raiders | HaifischGeweint

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