Two ways of thinking explored at conference
Indigenous research differs from the western approach
By Lailani Upham
John Herrington, a retired U.S. Naval aviator and former NASA astronaut is the first Native to fly into space. Herrington is a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. Herrington shared his career experience with research in highly scientific arena while daring to keep traditional methods intact. (Lailani Upham photo)
PABLO — The first of it’s kind – a gathering of researchers, educators, and students met at Salish Kootenai College earlier this month to compare notes and knowledge on Indigenous research methodologies, birthed from the research by Dr. Lori Lambert, SKC Medical Ecology/Anthropology Coordinator.
SKC Press recently published Dr. Lambert’s book titled, “Looking Forward, Reaching Back,” a read based on her own research of the differences between an indigenous method to western approach.
Lambert says the two differs in that in the Western approach, the researcher is separated from the data and the project, and is merely an onlooker. An Indigenous approach is a flow from tribal knowledge, and is gained or received through relationship with people in specific place.
“With the culture of place as understood through our own cultures, with the source of the research data, and the person who knows or tells the story that provides information. The researcher acknowledges a personal relationship with the story itself and how it is interpreted by both the teller and researcher,” Lambert stated.
The American Indigenous Research Association was packed to the limit, holding over 200 participants. Lambert said some had to be turned away due to space.
A grant from the Humanities Montana and the Montana State University INBRE Foundation is collaboration with SKC Social Work Department.
Participants and speakers came from around the U.S., and other countries as far Australia and New Zealand.
SKC Social Work Department Chair, Co Carew gets the participants up and moving before her presentation talk. (Lailani Upham photo)
Speakers were: Shawn Wilson, Ph.D. of Australia; Margaret Kovach, Ph.D. of the University of Saskatchewan; Ila Bussidor, Councillor for the Sayisi Dene First Nation in Manitoba, Canada (via a powerful documentary film); and Bonnie Duran, Dr.P.H., University of Washington in Seattle.
The Indigenous Research model used a conceptual web framework that is centered with a heart in the middle where tribal and culture remains with voice and passion. Extended from the heart are nine concepts: community empowerment and self-determination; community collaboration and permission; survival and recovery/moving the community past historical trauma; dissemination of data in a way the community understands; ownership and sharing knowledge; tribal protocols through elders and tribal council; ethics and respect; community indigenous epistemology and ontology; and community interest and need.
Wesley Thomas, Ph.D., Director of the Navajo Tech University Graduate School for Dine Culture, Language and Leadership said his reason for attending was to find out how the organization defined Indigenous research and what it means to them.
A slide on indigenous research methods by Dr. Lori Lambert, SKC Medical Ecology/Anthropology faculty and Indigenous Research Conference Coordinator shares information with a slide presentation on research methods that should be used in Indigenous communities. (Lailani Upham photo)
Thomas said he was very pleased and plans on bringing a group of graduate students next year to present their papers.
Thomas said the students and NTU in the Dine Culture program are required to write papers in the Navajo language and learn leadership qualities that had been handed down over the generations in their tribe.
However, Thomas says it is fascinating how indigenous research is presented in English and that many non-Natives are interested in gaining the information.
When asked what leadership qualities from an indigenous style are, Thomas said to communicate, have humor, be on the same platform as the ones you lead, and to delegate. He also added that community leaders tell their stories to the students.
Velda Racehorse from the Shoshone Bannock Tribes in Fort Hall, Idaho, said it was good see indigenous people and the research in the communities need to change and how the conference is benefit to all tribes. “Once we get together it brings out a whole lot of things,” Racehorse added.
Jen Prasek, Cheyenne River Sioux tribal member and researcher at Sanford, said she had attended conferences promising community initiatives, but don’t deliver. “I was impressed that a lot of things here were brought out where others have not covered.”
Veronica Hirsch, Chiricahua Apache member and Professor from the University of Idaho, said it was the title of the conference that hooked her interest and motivation to attend. “The model captured what I felt.”
A slide displays bullet points on how “research” portrays Indigenous communities when researchers use a western approach. (Lailani Upham photo)
Hirsch said she experienced Dr. Dawn Marshall’s description of indigenous research as “crazy making.”
She said as a Native woman in scientific research she felt isolated. She was told she was‘talking off the topic,’ when it came to research processes. Hirsch would explain processes and knowledge as told from her grandmother, but “western” researchers gave it no validity, as it didn't meet their objective requirements. “But I’d still try and find my way, and figure out who to trust and not to trust and form my own way of healing,” she said.
Hirsch said the experience inspired her reexamine the delivery method.
She found that is was beginning with relationship and expressing creativity and telling the story. She said she was taught, “Anytime we have knowledge to share it.”
Before leaving for the conference Hirsch said her mother told her something to focus on, which Hirsch believes is the heart of indigenous research: “Success is for service, not for status.”
The American Indigenous Research Association’s mission is to educate researchers and the public about the importance of Indigenous Research Methodologies and to promote incorporation of these methodologies into all research that engages Indigenous peoples and communities. Membership in the Association is free and available to professionals, students, and community members alike. To become member visit americanindigenousresearch