APC TIG Week: APC Evaluators can stand in Greater Solidarity with Indigenous People by Sarah Stachowiak

Sarah Stachowiak
Sarah Stachowiak

This is Sarah Stachowiak, writing to you from the unceded lands of the Duwamish People, in present-day Seattle, Washington, in the United States.  As of this writing, the United States government federally recognizes 574 tribes; the Duwamish tribe is not one of them.  In the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty, the Duwamish ceded territory—but not sovereignty—to settlers, in exchange for reservation land and other rights. More than 150 years later, the U.S. government has not honored this agreement.

As an evaluator of advocacy and policy change efforts, I, for too long, also did not account for the sovereign tribal nations that also are part of the spaces I have evaluated.  For too long, my experience of the field has been that indigenous issues have been sidelined as part of an “affinity group” focus area and not made central to the day-to-day work of APC evaluators.

But APC evaluators can change that and do better.  We have opportunities to lift up/amplify/highlight the values, priorities, and existence of the sovereign nations and indigenous peoples who are always relevant to policymaking work in any city, region, state, or country and recognize the rightful nation-to-nation orientation this entails.

Lessons Learned:

As evaluators, we help define what is in or out of bounds for inquiry and evaluation.  In a recent project, we made the point to ask our client how they were engaging with and considering the indigenous people in the places they worked.  They hadn’t, which was disappointing, if unsurprising.  By asking the question, however, we are helping to expand the boundaries of who and what can and should be considered in their place-based work.  While a very small step, it is starting a conversation that we can keep pushing on over time.

Additionally, taking time to learn more about the indigenous people on whose land I live, recreate, or work has helped me better know and appreciate their resilience, strength, and dignity, in ways that I can carry through all of my work. 

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is hosting APC TIG Week with our colleagues in the Advocacy and Policy ChangeTopical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our AP TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

10 thoughts on “APC TIG Week: APC Evaluators can stand in Greater Solidarity with Indigenous People by Sarah Stachowiak”

  1. Hi Sarah,

    Thank you for your engaging article. While there has been a slight tremor of a movement in North America to begin to recognize and reconcile with Indigenous communities and the true history of Canada and the United States, more recent events in the news have caused the intensity of the tremor to increase. Locating the graves of 215 children on the grounds of a residential school in British Columbia, Canada, has awakened people to a reality that has always been there.

    As you so rightfully stated, there are many ways in which we can collectively work towards reconciliation and this needs to be viewed through both a personal and professional lens.

    Education is the key to change – informing ourselves, learning, asking questions. You reflect on this in your post and simply recognizing the need to learn is an amazing step in the right direction; a model for others wanting to be a part of reconciliation, but who aren’t sure where to begin.

    Bringing Indigenous issues and learning into the world of evaluation is a necessary step and one that has the potential to change the evaluation process. Social justice issues are making their way into every vein of our lives and it is necessary that we find a way to honour these issues through the work we do. More equitable and informed evaluations will only create better and more effective evaluation results. These results can have far-reaching impacts on organizations and communities.

    Evaluators, just like everyone else in our countries, have a lot to learn and this requires hard work and commitment. The payoff, however, is priceless.

  2. Hello Sarah,
    I enjoyed reading your post. It was informative and showed how much inclusivity is a necessary thing to think about and show others how it can affect the lives of many.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights, Sarah, and for bringing attention to such an important issue.

    Reading your post, I’m reminded of a recent interview by Andre Picard, a Canadian journalist and author specializing in health care issues. He mentioned that Canada can be regarded as champions of writing reports and recommendations, but is in fact terrible at implementing them (see The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada). While I am not an expert in evaluation or APC, I am a teacher on a First Nations reserve in Canada, and I can certainly see where Picard is coming from. When compared to nearby schools, our school could not be any more different, in terms of cultural values, historical challenges, and educational experiences and priorities, and policymaking needs to reflect this.

    Thank you for sharing the resources. I especially liked reading about why Indigenous land acknowledgement is important. While we know that the residential school system in Canada has created intergenerational trauma, it can be assumed that change does not happen overnight, but the efforts you’ve highlighted are certainly a step in the right direction. Thank you again for sharing.

    1. Sarah Stachowiak

      Thanks, Chris. The issue around implementation is a huge one generally for APC evaluation, but still not addressed as frequently as it should be, even when not around this issue! I really appreciate your comment and feedback–thank you!

  4. Danielle Loyst

    Hi Sarah,

    I am writing to you from the unceded territory of the Okanagan/Syilx peoples in BC, Canada. I am currently a Master’s student in Indigenous Education working through a program evaluation course. Although I have minimal experience in evaluation I have found myself wondering how representation of Indigenous peoples and beliefs can be embedded within the evaluative process. In reading posts such as yours I feel hopeful that awareness is being brought to evaluators for change. As you have stated it is a small step but asking the questions around considerations in the evaluative process will lead to conversations started, which itself can turn into many small steps leading to progress. In my brief understanding of program evaluative standards I wonder if Indigenous representation falls under propriety standards in regarding for the welfare of those involved: the beliefs, views and welfare of the peoples whose land we evaluate and implement on.
    Again, I am very new to this subject matter but thank you in sharing your knowledge and continuing the important conversations.

    Danielle

    1. Sarah Stachowiak

      Thanks, Danielle. I think you are right–representation fits squarely in the values and standards of evaluation, and it’s a shame we as a field haven’t done a better job recognizing that and doing more. Hopefully the more people who bring this into their work and into the field can continue to amplify the asks of our Indigenous colleagues!

  5. Thank you for this post, Sarah. I am non-Indigenous and have done some work in and with Indigenous communities — usually by force/demand of the funder — and I confess it took me a long time to understand the work deeper than just context or culture or history. Then an Indigenous professor said there is only one outcome worth measuring: sovereignty.

  6. Thank you for your thoughtful and enlightened perspective and this important culturally responsive lens to evaluation. You state that “APC evaluators can change that and do better” in regards to sidelining Indigenous peoples and interests and I think that’s such an important way to frame these sometimes contentious conversations. In every field and profession there has been mistakes made and stakeholders left out and it is all of our shared responsibility to acknowledge this and do better moving forwards. And sometimes this involves a lot of small steps and “starting conversations” like you mention but progress is progress! I was recently chatting with a colleague who lives and works in the States who was lamenting on how land acknowledgements and the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives is unfortunately lacking in her work there in contrast to when she delivers workshops, etc. in Canada. Based on your writing it sounds like that is changing in different spheres which is great to hear! Thanks for your words and perspective.

    1. Sarah Stachowiak

      Thanks, Rebecca. Definitely lots of ways to recognize past harms and do better. And small steps could start adding up. And we should keep looking to our Indigenous colleagues for how we can operate in the best ways and in solidarity! Change can happen!

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