Module B: Overview of Indigenous Methodologies

What is Methodology and How Can it Be Indigenous?

“…an Indigenous methodology must be a process that adheres to relational accountability. Respect, reciprocity, and responsibility are key features of any healthy relationship and must be included in an Indigenous methodology.”

Shawn Wilson, Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods (Winnipeg, Canada: Fernwood Publishing, 2008), 77.

When conducting research, we use a variety of tools to explore, investigate, test, and confirm our findings. The means by which we “do” this research are typically referred to as the methods–the “what” and “how” of studying. But when talking about methodology, we primarily focus on the “why” of these methods. A methodology consists of the underlying principles we use to guide and structure our research procedures, including which methods we choose to use. If the methods are the practice, then the methodology is our theory. Whether we intentionally implement a particular methodology or are at a stage where we do not necessarily articulate a methodology, any kind of research we do is guided by these key underpinnings that are embedded in our very cultural framework. In other words, we are always utilizing a methodology when conducting research–even if we are not actively thinking about it!

The fact that there is a governing methodology influencing our conduct when we make inquiries should be pondered. Our cultural framework is influenced by our background and the overarching narratives we grow up with and have access to. This means that the very research we do can be swayed to observe, interpret, and produce information in particular ways that are reflective of our internalized beliefs and surrounding environment. Articulating our methodology helps to explain why we chose the methods we did, what we hope to accomplish with these methods, and how we plan to interpret our findings based on the usage of these methods. It becomes vital that researchers understand the lenses they put on when doing research because it can drastically alter the outcome. By adopting an Indigenous methodological perspective, we can learn to identify these cultural frameworks and how they are altering our perception of our research. Through this process of self-evaluation, we actually foster the elements of historical thinking. Indigenous Peoples have developed our own ways of understanding the world and the relationships we have to knowledge. An Indigenous methodology, therefore, is birthed from the application of our values and worldviews to the research process.

Why Learn Indigenous Methodologies?

“The implications for indigenous research … seem to be clear and straightforward: the survival of peoples, cultures and languages; the struggle to become self-determining, the need to take back control of our destinies.”

Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, 2nd edition (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2012), 143.

The existence of Indigenous methodologies is an expression of culture for Indigenous scholars. More importantly, it is an affirmation of ways of knowing that have been met with opposition and marginalization. Recognizing this, it is clear why Indigenous scholars benefit when choosing to use these avenues of research. But what is the value for non-Indigenous researchers to use Indigenous methodologies?

A vital component of conducting research is the acknowledgement of the background of the researcher: the identities, influences, perspectives, and biases that we all hold and interject into our work. The combination of where these items intersect and the proximity of the researcher to the research is known as “positionality.” Indigenous methodologies help researchers to observe their own positionality in their work, giving them an opportunity to evaluate how their background is influencing the production and interpretation of knowledge. Utilizing Indigenous methodologies encourages an ethical approach to conducting research and makes room for sources of knowledge that have been marginalized, oppressed, and ignored. The elements of Indigenous methodologies directly correspond to the elements of historical thinking in a holistic manner, enhancing a researcher’s ability to not only deliver novel interpretation from the historical record, but also their ability to dispel harmful narratives while allowing for personal reflection. Indigenous methodologies are the original ways of doing research, leaving us all to benefit from their implementation.

Scholars discuss how they reexamine their methodologies from an Indigenous perspective.

Outlining an Indigenous Methodology

To implement an Indigenous methodology, we must first understand the concepts that define such an approach (the “underpinnings” spoken about earlier). According to Shawn Wilson (Cree), there are two foundational concepts that form the basis for developing an Indigenous methodology: relationality and relational accountability. While each culture will define these underpinnings according to their own framework, these two concepts are prevalent throughout many Indigenous Cultures. Wilson provides a list of questions that can help researchers to begin to understand these concepts within the construction of methodological approach:

  • How do my methods help to build respectful relationships between the topic that I am studying and myself as researcher (on multiple levels)?
  • How do my methods help to build respectful relationships between myself and the other research participants?
  • How can I relate respectfully to the other participants involved in this research so that together we can form a stronger relationship with the idea that we will share?
  • What is my role as researcher in this relationship, and what are my responsibilities?
  • Am I being responsible in fulfilling my role and obligations to the other participants, to the topic and to all of my relations?
  • What am I contributing or giving back to the relationships? Is the sharing growth and learning that is taking place reciprocal?

Shawn Wilson, Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods (Winnipeg, Canada: Fernwood Publishing, 2008), 77.

These questions can be used to inform our foundation for implementing Indigenous methodologies. Under the concept of relationality, we recognize that reality is comprised of our relationships and that in order to facilitate the transfer of knowledge (what happens when we do research), we must maintain these relationships in a healthy way. Relational accountability, the second part of the foundational concepts, is the understanding that we must be accountable to these relationships if we are to gain this knowledge in an ethical way. These questions can help us to grasp these concepts as they are directly related to the ways in which Indigenous researchers apply Indigenous methodologies when performing any research activities.

Sample of Implementation

The following presentation, compliments of the Seven Generations Center of Excellence, provides a great example of how Indigenous methodologies are used in an Indigenous Research Paradigm.