Ethics workshop calls for transforming research with Indigenous knowledge

Deborah McGregor, Naomi Adelson, Amy Desjarlais, Christianne Stephens, Julie Bull
Deborah McGregor, Naomi Adelson, Amy Desjarlais, Christianne Stephens, Julie Bull

York University anthropology professors organized a workshop recently to examine how Indigenous knowledge transforms research.

The Ethics in Indigenous Research Workshop, run by Professors Christianne Stephens and Naomi Adelson, was hosted at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. It brought together Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars, faculty, and undergraduate and graduate students to discuss ethics and responsibilities when conducting research in and with Indigenous communities.

Deborah McGregor, Naomi Adelson, Amy Desjarlais, Christianne Stephens, Julie Bull
Deborah McGregor, Naomi Adelson, Amy Desjarlais, Christianne Stephens, Julie Bull

The goal of the workshop was to create a safe space where researchers at various levels of experience could come together to think about and actively engage with thought-provoking ethical issues in diverse areas of Indigenous research.

It was developed on the premise that incorporating Indigenous knowledge and values at every stage of the research process transforms the ways in which ethical research is defined, articulated, regulated and operationalized.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada’s call for ‘reconciliation research’ requires us to educate ourselves about the dark legacy of our colonial history and work toward forging more ethical and equitable relationships with Indigenous communities,” said Stephens. “Given that we are in a transformative moment in research engagement, we felt that a workshop of this nature was both timely and necessary.”

Organizers were thrilled with the response to the event, which surpassed its original goal of 40 participants.

“The positive response reflects a desire on the part of faculty and student researchers alike to reflect deeply and critically on these issues,” said Adelson. “We were eager to engage them in the investigation of a number of interrelated questions.”

Some of these questions address how to effectively decolonize ethics protocols and Indigenize research paradigms and toolkits; how to develop productive research spaces where Indigenous and non-Indigenous colleagues collaborate and engage in respectful, meaningful and equitable relationships; how to balance community priorities with Indigenous research principles; what it means to be a good ally; what are the ethical challenges facing advocate and activist scholars who pursue social justice research; and how to move forward together to develop strategies and best practices for navigating the real-world research contexts.

The event, which took place March 16, opened with a prayer and welcome from Amy Desjarlais, guest knowledge keeper, author, research scholar and member of the Elders on Campus program that is available through York University’s Centre for Aboriginal Student Services.

“Allies need to take on more leadership roles, where established best practices and successful working partnerships with Indigenous communities is concerned, so Indigenous communities are not always the ones educating the public and creating awareness of issues,” said Desjarlais.

The morning and afternoon keynote speakers were scholars of Indigenous research ethics, Osgoode law Professor Deborah MacGregor, with “Research, Truth and Reconciliation”; and Dr. Julie Bull from CAMH, with “From Policies to Actions: Emerging Solutions in Promoting and Practicing Ethical Research with Indigenous Peoples.”

“This workshop so fundamentally changed the way I understand research,” said Larissa Crawford, York University student in International Development Studies and Communications. “As an Indigenous person, much of my research in my undergraduate degree has been done through an Indigenous lens. This workshop provided the practical training I needed to complement my more theoretical education, and because of it my opportunities to pursue research through employment and with funding have increased exponentially.”

Crawford encapsulates the workshop’s main themes in her post “Ethics in Indigenous Research Workshop: Key Take-Away Points.”

The workshop provided a forum for participants to broach their own questions, such as how to address inequities or silences in the research setting and what qualifies as valuable research, among other topics.

“The issues surrounding the evolving nature of research ethics in a post-TRC environment are central to the promotion of and engagement with the highest standard of research practices and this event and its associated media – website, resources document, networking opportunities – will positively strengthen and continue to build on our profile in critically engaged research with Indigenous peoples and communities,” said Stephens.

Organizers believe they were able to meet their workshop goals.

“We realize, however, that the real success of this workshop will only be through the research practices of the participants,” said Adelson. “We recognize that the challenge will be to create and foster this kind of productive and constructive engagement with the broader issues of research ethics on an ongoing basis.”

The Ethics in Indigenous Research Workshop was funded by the provost’s Indigenizing the Academy Initiative, the Office of the Vice-President Research and Innovation (Events Fund), the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (Research Events Fund) and the Department of Anthropology, York University.