Hello, my name is Nathanael O’Connor and I reside in Alaska and live and work on the traditional lands of the Dena’ina peoples.
From my experiences as a non-Indigenous person working in Indigenous spaces and contexts, I observe many non-Indigenous evaluators and researchers prematurely contacting Indigenous evaluators, researchers, and field experts requesting information on an evaluation/research topic. Many times the non-Indigenous evaluator or researcher requesting information is not informed on the appropriate context or background of the topic or information they are asking for (as they may have stumbled onto it or just been awarded a contract on the topic), nor have they done any preliminary research of their own or reached out to Indigenous communities in their own locality before reaching out more broadly to Indigenous experts who are tirelessly and diligently forwarding their work and priorities for their people and communities.
Indigenous persons I work with will be the first to tell others looking for information that they are knowledgeable about their own people and regions. They are also very clear as to what their backgrounds and experiences are, and will be the first to remind those that Indigenous people are not pan-Indigenous or a knower of all things Indigenous. The expectation of Indigenous evaluators and researchers to do the legwork for a non-Indigenous evaluator/researcher puts even more undue pressure on Indigenous evaluators and professionals and their time, energy, and capacity. Many times, these requests are not based on reciprocity or valuing the Indigenous scholar’s knowledge or expertise. It is important to respect those that provide you with feedback and resources, and this does not always mean through financial reimbursement, though that is one way, at minimum, in which to show respect and reciprocity.
From what I have been taught and learned through observation, when approaching Indigenous professionals and communities, it is important that you can tangibly explain how the project was and is intended to be designed by and for Indigenous people, and how Indigenous people and communities will benefit directly from the work that you are doing (likely requiring more than only a citation in a journal article).
A bit of initial research, being clear about intentions and the benefit of your project, and direct input from Indigenous peoples and communities go a long way in fulfilling the principles of respect, reciprocity, relevance, and responsibility that I see many Indigenous people, evaluators, researchers and professionals live by and work by. Another important “R” that I’ve found as key to working with and beside Indigenous people is attenuating to the “relationship,” and this means the relationship goes beyond paralleling the life of a project or grant cycle and approaching the relationship with that intentionality and recognition.
For further insight and guidance, I have compiled a list of readings and resources for those interested in learning more about Indigenous principles and values to assist in finding ways to intentionally and thoughtfully engage with Indigenous peoples and communities.
- IPE TIG’s Resource Page
- Best Practices for Indigenous Engagement by Gamble and McQueen
- Respectfully Engaging with Indigenous Communities: Practical principles for schools, churches or any group to engage with Indigenous communities by Australians Together
- Research methods in indigenous contexts by Arnold Groh
- Decolonization is not a metaphor by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang
- Reciprocity in Indigenous educational research: Beyond compensation, towards decolonizing by Heather McGregor and Michael Marker
- Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods by Shawn Wilson
- First nations and higher education: The four R’s—respect, relevance, reciprocity, responsibility by Verna J. Kirkness and Ray Barnhardt
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