IPE TIG Week: Respect, reciprocity, and relationship: Lessons I have learned as a non-Indigenous person working primarily with Indigenous people and communities by Nathanael O’Connor

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.

Rad Resources

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.


The American Evaluation Association is hosting Indigenous Peoples in Evaluation (IPE) TIG week. All posts this week are contributed by members of the IPE Topical Interest Group. 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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