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Research is Ceremony

Whether in the context of Canada or Australia, Indigenous researchers are working to improve Indigenous ways of being, doing, and knowing. These researchers use a variety of methodologies to advance Indigenous understandings and practices. This article provides an overview of the research paradigm and highlights the contributions of Indigenous scholars to the field.

Indigenous research paradigm

Getting the right data and doing the right analysis to get the right answer is the biggest challenge for many researchers. Those who do it correctly are rewarded with valuable insights into the complexities of community health.

Many of these researchers have the misfortune of trying to apply a Western scientific model to a complex cultural environment. There is a growing body of evidence that shows that many of the same scientific methods used by Western scientists may actually be of limited usefulness in the context of indigenous peoples. Some have even been criticized for exploiting indigenous peoples.

While many researchers have attempted to harness the wisdom of the locals, the corresponding best practice for those interested in doing right by their fellow tribe members is to learn the nuances of their cultures before attempting to apply their knowledge to the world at large. The resulting research may be more accurate and scalable, and ultimately, more effective at mitigating health disparities.

While it’s no secret that the world of the indigenous is a complex and evolving ecosystem, there are a number of keystones that require the attention of researchers and policy makers alike. These include data ownership, data dissemination, and legal regulation. For example, while many tribal nations have a vested interest in research on their lands, they have very little legal and political authority over how that research is conducted.

Indigenous scholars in Canada and Australia

Several Indigenous scholars from Canada and Australia participated in a research ceremony at the National Museum of Indigenous Australians in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia in 2010. They explored how Indigenous leaders are navigating the worlds to better society. They offer perspectives on the balance between professional and community responsibilities and how to move beyond the traditional Western bureaucracy. They share their personal stories and link their research to current discussions.

Indigenous public servants are not often studied in the literature on bureaucratic representation. They bring innovative thinking and policy nous to the table while simultaneously representing Indigenous communities. They also bridge Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and are mentors to new Indigenous applicants for public service.

Indigenous public servants bring a highly relational approach to bureaucratic service. This relationship is best cultivated through lived experience, history, and place. They draw on Indigenous worldviews and principles to manage the tension between their accountability to their communities and their accountability to elected decision makers. They also exploit administrative knowledge to pursue Indigenous interests.

Indigenous public servants represent Indigenous peoples, and they are often asked to represent all Indigenous peoples in their jurisdiction. They are often misinterpreted by their communities. This can result in a heavy price for their public service. They may leave if they are not offered a favorable opportunity, or if their communities disagree with their actions.


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