Decolonization in Evaluation Week: Becoming an Evaluation Accomplice by Using Critical Indigenous Theories By Christopher Hall

Christopher Hall

Greetings! I am Christopher Hall, MSW, PhD, Assistant Professor of Human Services Administration and Delivery at the University of North Georgia. In 1999, I was introduced to intersectionality and critical theory when I attended my first statewide conference and a workshop on the topic. Since then, I have developed my work around various methods of engaging individuals and communities through positional analysis to broaden access and healthy and respectful practices.

While often detached from direct evaluation practice, the understanding of theories of science can be a handy tool to conduct better evaluation work. One category of scientific paradigm that is often maligned, yet little understood, is the category of Critical Theory, and more specifically the application of Critical Indigenous Theory to how we understand our work and design evaluation to amplify voices that may often be underrepresented.

Critical Indigenous Theory (and critical theories in general) tends to be considered through an academic lens (which can have its own colonizing issues), but when doing so it becomes easy to miss the important work being done within communities to directly serve and become engaged with indigenous peoples. The group Indigenous Action coordinates and supports projects both online and within local communities, and an article written in 2014, “Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex” outlines several reasons why allying instead of accompanying marginalized groups often leads to colonizing practices. “Allies” often take a “savior” mentality to their work, exploit and co-op causes for self-interest, focus on “supporting” others rather than joining their work or cause, “parachute in” to gain attention over current “hot topics”, patronize and infantilize marginalized groups and individuals, gatekeep power and resources, use words to navigate discussions on a superficial basis, and feel shame for having privilege and power rather than leveraging and using it directly.

Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang write about the challenges conducting research, including evaluation research. Often the focus is on inviting people to speak about their pain and not considering the impacts such interrogation and dialogue may have upon those who share their stories, so in decolonizing evaluation it is important to be mindful and reflective on how and for what purposes questions of marginalization are asked and when it makes sense to amplify voices in a humanistic and constructive manner. There are also forms of information that evaluators do not deserve to know, such as the previous point where telling stories of pain may not be mindful of the impact of  the sharing and dissemination of information on communities themselves. The authors also directly note that those who collect and bring forward information on problems and injustices, yet do not make explicit commitments to ending these injustices, are in fact perpetrating those injustices in a new way.

Lessons Learned

Critical Indigenous Theory is an important lens to consider land acknowledgments made by white speakers who note previous indigenous owners of land resources without making or conducting any real work with indigenous tribal communities from whom the land was stolen. Tuck & Yang bring forward a point where evaluation is uniquely positioned – that is researching WITH communities rather than ON communities can offer resources, amplification of voice, and humanization to people that often are overlooked within traditional research approaches. Many evaluation approaches support this strategy of engagement, but linked to the previous points of need, how and in what ways does evaluation work make these connections and impacts real to communities that become the source of change needed? Is there a way, instead, to focus on the privileged groups that cause marginalization in the first place and make changes through that lens?

Rad Resources

Reflections on Critical Indigenous Evaluation

Culturally Responsive Indigenous Evaluation

Indigenous Evaluation Guidebook

Urban Indian Health Institute Indigenous Evaluation


The American Evaluation Association is hosting Decolonization in Evaluation Week with some of our colleagues. 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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