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An Essay About Indigenous Methodology

4797 words - 20 pages

Indigenous peoples’ interests, knowledge and experiences must be at the centre of research methodologies and construction of knowledge about indigenous peoples. Lester-Irabinna Rigney (1999, 119) (Narungga Nation, Australia)

This short essay was originally written for a doctoral seminar presentation, held at the University of Tromsø on 25 March 2004, and was afterwards adapted by the author for this publication. The following general considerations about indigenous methodologies are inspired by the author’s experiences as a Saami scholar, as a university teacher in the Department of Saami, and as a visiting scholar at different ...view middle of the document...

Some of the most important issues are as follows: critiques of previous research, conducted by outside researchers (Smith 1999; Rigney 1999; Gegeo 2001); indigenous approaches, the decolonization of methodology and the human mind (Crazy Bull 1997a; Smith 1999); indigenous epistemologies and epistemological racism (Bishop 1996, 1999; Scheurich & Young 1997; Gegeo & Watson-Gegeo 2001); culturally safe research, protection from misinterpretation (Archibald 1992; Moody 1993; Warrior 1999; Stover 2002); mystification and fragmentation of indigenous knowledge (Kawagley 1995; Deloria [1995] 1997; Grenier 1998; Nakata 1998; Struthers 2001); the invention of tradition (Deloria [1995] 1997; 1999; Mihesuah 1998); the notion of objectivity (Heshusius 1994; Rigney 1999); legitimation, power and control over research on indigenous issues (Cook-Lynn 1997; Bishop & Glynn 1999; Harrison 2001; Harvey 2003); intellectual property and ownership of indigenous knowledge (Everitt 1994; Mead 1995; Abdullah & Stringer 1997); mutual benefit between the researcher and the studied indigenous community (Irwin 1994; Crazy Bull 1997a,b; Bishop 1996); interdisciplinarity and the accountability of indigenous research (Champagne 1998; HernandezAvila & Varese 1999), etc. In the Western understanding, research in general may be defined as an investigation or experiment aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts. Research includes collecting information about a particular subject, revising accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, and the practical application of such new or revised theories or laws (as defined, for example, in the Merriam Webster Dictionary). This definition implies discovery, observation, collection, investigation, description, systematization, analysis, synthesis, theorizing and codifying by means of the language of theory, comparison, verification, checking hypotheses, etc. Any research project usually starts with the setting of a research problem or a research question. In relation to indigenous peoples, their entire existence seems to be a problem or a question for researchers, often formulated as “The ... (insert name of indigenous group) problem” or “The ... (insert name of indigenous group) question” (Smith 1999, 90). The Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith, author of the excellent Decolonizing Methodologies (1999), a must-read for researchers in any discipline dealing with indigenous


Jelena Porsanger

issues, argues that “problematizing the indigenous is a Western obsession” (ibid., 91). Research has been used as a tool of the colonization of indigenous peoples and their territories. Looked at from the indigenous peoples’ perspective, the term 'research' has been linked with colonialism. The way in which scientific research has been implicated in the excesses of imperialism remains a powerful remembered history for many of the world’s indigenous peoples. The quest for the decolonization of research and, indeed, of the human...

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