Definitions and Core Concepts

This section contains reference material for students working on the module activity work. Please refer here for definitions and core concepts that are mentioned through this project site.


Relationality refers to the relationships that we all have with everything: people, animals, places, spaces, objects, and even thoughts and ideas. In some way, shape, or form, we have a relationship to anything and everything. These relationships form the basis for understanding knowledge. While some relationships vary in intensity, the ones we form to gain knowledge need to be personal and have meaning. Otherwise, we ultimately fail to truly understand that knowledge. So an Indigenous research paradigm, of which an Indigenous methodology constitutes, places the emphasis of understanding on the actual relationship between two things.

An example of the difference between Western and Indigenous methodologies: ethical standards of many Western researchers, both in the past and the present, dictate that a researcher should have a fairly strict observational role when conducting certain research methods. They stay distant, watch from afar, and have as little contact as possible to what/who they’re observing. The idea is that this maintains objectivity by avoiding a bias. However, Indigenous methodologies would have the researcher engaged in a participatory manner with what/who is being observed. They would strive to have contact, form close relationships, and even become part of the research being conduct. The idea behind is that with established relationships, the researcher can better understand the context and nuances that exist within the subject and have more authentic results.

Relational Accountability*

This refers to the accountability of the researcher to act respectfully, responsibly, and accurately regarding both the relationships they participate in and the knowledge they gain through those relationships.

Assuming we’re using an Indigenous research paradigm, the idea is that because you have formed relationships with whatever is being studied, you now have a personal stake in the research. This stake is more than just the fact you’re putting your name on the final paper. Those you interviewed are now your friends, you’ve been accepted by the community that you have connected with, and the journey you went on took years and involved a lot personal effort. Because of all these things, you now have a greater stake in the research you have conducted and are now about to present to others. If you care about these things, then you will be bound to treat not just your research, but them with dignity because your relationships are dependent on you being responsible.

This type of mentality is what exists within many Indigenous cultures today. Because many of these communities operate on a more collective ideology, there is personal investment in these relationships and your life and the lives of all those you care about depends on maintaining those relationships. And this is the case with knowledge as well.


Positionality refers to the makeup of your identity as the researcher and its proximity to what you’re studying. It includes aspects such as your ideology, beliefs, biases, influences, perspectives, and background (race/culture/class/gender/sexual orientation) intersect and the relation of this position to the sociopolitical context of the subject of your study.


The term “Indigenous” is used both a noun and adjective. It refers to the original inhabitants and cultures of a specific geographic location and their descendants (including those who might be removed from ancestral lands). In this project, it is used as a collective term for all Indigenous Peoples and their cultural products (i.e. “methodologies”), but is not meant to be an implication that this project represents all Indigenous ways of knowing.

* These items were adapted from a previous work of mine, which can be found here.