Culturally Specific Knowledges and Approaches to Social Programming

Culturally Specific Knowledges and Approaches to Social Programming



AUTHOR:Sheila Grantham

TOPIC:Indigenous Knowledge and Aboriginal Methodologies

DATE:August, 2006

AIM:To identify the key themes in the literature in 3–5 pages and provide personal comments/thoughts. All members of the research team will have an opportunity to provide their comments/thoughts as well.

Indigenous Knowledge (IK)

Grenier (1998) defines indigenous knowledge as "…traditional, local knowledge existing within and developed around the specific conditions of women and men indigenous to a particular geographic area". Smylie (2004) believes Indigenous knowledge is cyclical. First, an indigenous knowledge system begins through 'stories', then proceeds as 'knowledge' incorporating values within the stories and from there the knowledge transfers into 'wisdom'. It is those who are considered the keepers of this wisdom who then create new 'stories'. Indigenous knowledge can be used alongside Western based knowledge systems; however there has been much disagreement in respect to the convergence between the two. Furthermore, by defining what is and what isn't traditional knowledge through western standards, we are leaving Indigenous knowledge open for Western control (Simpson 1999 cited within NAHO, 2001).

As western knowledge was considered as the dominant knowledge system, it took priority and Indigenous knowledge was seen as inferior. Agrawal (1996) has said that the major difference between Indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge lies within the power imbalance and it is the holders of the scientific knowledge which holds the power to marginalize. Tuhiwai (1999) talks of how the Maori peoples were considered 'primitive' by Europeans, yet while looked upon as 'primitive', the Maori's provided them with an abundance source of research. Yet there was never a question of who the research belonged to and major distortions of what it was to be Maori were seen as accurate within the scientific community. This did not benefit the Maoris and did very little to utilize Indigenous knowledge.

One reason Indigenous knowledge systems were hard to adopt within mainstream society was due to the difficulties mainstream society had in assessing it. However, Smylie (2003) believes that the emerging indigenous scholars have assisted researchers in creating conceptual tools and have begun dialogue on how to conduct quantitative and qualitative research methodologies that are more inclusive towards Indigenous knowledge. Moore (1997) explains that when one has experience and respect for the local Indigenous knowledge, it protects against cultural misappropriation and shows that researchers can only understand a small portion of what they are studying.

Healing and spirituality, although distinctive from traditional knowledge was included as a sub-theme of IK. Many of the researchers I read up on were looking at healing and spirituality through the voices of Elders. Within this area I have looked at some literature surrounding Aboriginal women healers (primarily Cree and Ojibway), and ceremonies (primarily Anishnabe and Navajo). Struthers (2000) defines healing as "the return toward the natural state of integrity and wholeness of an individual". Within this article, Struthers interviews Aboriginal women healers and highlights their thoughts on healing and spirituality. The article talks a lot about the interconnectedness that Aboriginal peoples have to the earth and everything on it. The women believe that the Creator provided everyone with everything needed to survive on this earth and it is up to us to utilize it. Healing is a life-long process and not a quick fix. Brown (2000) has stated that healing and mainstream treatments differ because healing is meant to facilitate self-healing, whereas treatment is meant to eliminate symptoms. Brown also states that individuals reconnecting and/or learning about their culture is essential to the healing process.

Aboriginal Methodology

The next major theme I found was on Aboriginal methodology. The following are some of the main concerns reflected in the readings. Researchers must use methodologies that are culturally sensitive to the communities that are being studied. Osedowski (2001:180) believes this can be accomplished by seeking community approval and working in cooperation with the community throughout the research process- even in the final stages. Using participatory research methods and informal methods of research can assist in having inclusive methodologies and improving relationships (Osedowski, 2001:180). Building upon this idea Haig-Brown and Archibald (1996:247) emphasize the need for the researcher to look upon themselves as the learner and the study participant as the expert.

Another important point that Haig-Brown and Archibald (1996) make is that the researcher must be aware of power dynamics, appropriation and colonization. Smylie, et al.,(2003:213) believe health researchers should have a general idea of the past 500 years of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations and be very careful not to perpetuate colonial ideals. Smylie goes on to discuss the 'helicopter' style of research. She describes this style as researchers arriving into a community, collecting the information with very little community communication and then departing from the community only to return to the University to publish the information into academic journals where the community will have little access. Gilchrist (1997) believes that research should take on issues involving colonization and racism. The author states, "The fact that much research does not confront ideologies of oppression prevents the application to research results of critical knowledge regarding traditional culture, colonial history and racist structure. This results in research which does not use appropriate concepts as variables and defines one culture using the cultural beliefs of another" (Gilchrist 1997:76). Not only was there literature that suggested research did not examine certain ideologies, research tended to be a slower process then many Aboriginal communities had hoped for. On a discussion about time restraints, Beauvais (1999:179) illustrates how communities do not have the time to wait for research results because they face life threatening issues.

Below I will highlight key points I found within the literature regarding ethical guidelines when conducting research with Aboriginal communities:

  • Consultation with Aboriginal ethics committee (Maddocks 1992:553)
  • Ownership, Control, Access, Possession (NAHO 2004)
  • Ethical guidelines should reflect the equal sharing of power and decision-making. (Macaulay, et al., 1998:105)
  • Research must be culturally sensitive and useful to communities. (Henderson, et al., 2002:485)
  • Full participation amongst the community and/or those involved within the study (Maddocks 1992:554)
  • Guidelines should be developed to highlight the rights and obligations for both the individual and community. (Kaufert et al., 1999:142)
  • Confidentiality should be offered and, if accepted, must be guaranteed (Grenier 1998:69)
  • Resources should be provided in the appropriate language(s) (Grenier 1998:69)
  • The research should involve little risk to the people involved and the subjects should be informed of any potential risks. (Beauvais 1999:169)
  • Three main areas of concern that Aboriginal communities have when looking at the research process is- adequate consultation, community participation and control of data. (Letendre and Caine 2004:12-13)

My thoughts

Indigenous knowledge and Aboriginal methodology are both very important in understanding how one should conduct meaningful research with Aboriginal communities. Indigenous knowledge has been, and continues to be essential to the survival of Aboriginal cultures- as well as mainstream society. We continue to benefit from traditional knowledge through the use of medicinal plants, we survive in this land off of traditional foods, and for leisure we read, listen and watch traditional stories. Whether it is recognized or not, it is very much a part of everyone's lives. Also, historically, Indigenous peoples have been misappropriated by the research community. Research has asked Aboriginal peoples to provide their knowledge and expertise or DNA only to be exploited, with little to no compensation. Resources taken, never to be replenished, words stolen, and never given due credit. These are some of the problems that communities have been facing.

Community-based research strategies and other participatory research methods have been in large part the solution. The recognition that there are other methods of research outside of western thought that would be of great benefit to the research process is being realized. There has been much literature surrounding the protection of Aboriginal research through ethical guidelines. Communities and organizations have gathered together to come up with a set of guidelines to ensure participation, consultation and reduce the risk of exploitation. The guidelines mentioned above are just a small glimpse into the vast literature surrounding ethical guidelines. These guidelines are very significant for the protection and promotion of Indigenous knowledge and Aboriginal methodology, as well as to further advance research amongst Aboriginal communities.

References Cited

Agrawal, A. 1995. Indigenous and scientific knowledge: some critical comments.

Indigenous Knowledge and Development Monitor 3 (3):3-6

Brown, C. K. 2000. "Methodological problems of clinical research into spiritual healing:

The healer's perspective."

Gilchrist, L. 1997. "Aboriginal Communities and Social Science Research: Voyeurism in

Transition." Native Social Work Journal 1(1):69-85.

Grenier, L. 1998. Working With Indigenous Knowledge. International

Development Research Centre.

Moore, Linda W. (. and Margaret (. Miller. 1999. "Initiating research with doubly

vulnerable populations." Journal of Advanced Nursing 30(5):1034-1040.

National Aboriginal Health Organization. 2001. “Establishing a Leading Knowledge-

Based Organization”. Ottawa: NAHO.

Smylie, J. et al. 2004. "Health Sciences Research and Aboriginal

Communities: Pathway or Pitfall?" JOGC.

Struthers, Roxanne. 2000. “The Lived Experiences of Ojibwa and Cree Women Healers.”

Journal of Holistic Nursing. Sage CA: Thousand Oaks, CA

Tuhiwai, L. 2001. "Responding to the Imperatives of an Indigenous Agenda: A Case

Study of Maori." Pp. 163 in Decolonizing Methodologies"Responding to the Imperatives of an Indigenous Agenda: A Case Study of Maori."University of Otago Press.

CIHR Research Project- Aboriginal Women in Conflict with the Law: A Study of the Role of Self-Identity in the Healing Journey