National Dialogue - Summary of Discussions
National Dialogue Ottawa, March 12–13, 2019
The National Dialogue was a gathering of 300 Indigenous Research Capcity and Reconciliation Connection Grant holders, Indigenous community members and tri-agency representatives. The aim of the Dialogue was to further explore emerging themes in Indigenous research identified through engagement sessions with Indigenous communities and organizations across Canada and position papers submitted by Connection Grant holders.
The following is a summary of key messages from National Dialogue participants.
Research Ethics, Governance and Protocols
Indigenous communities need capacity building, infrastructure investments and financial support to address data governance and intellectual property rights issues. Data sovereignty is an important principle and Indigenous Peoples call for the direct control of the research data that is gathered on Indigenous Peoples, their cultures, their histories, their languages, their knowledge systems and their traditional and sacred lands.
Data ownership must be included in copyright and intellectual property laws. Indigenous communities are concerned about the accessibility of existing data in the academic sphere and question how this data is collected, stored and shared by researchers.
Indigenous research ethics are different than the ethics guidelines set out by the tri-agency and postsecondary institutions. They are informed by the traditional knowledge and cultural foundations of each Indigenous nation. Indigenous Peoples see research ethics as intimately tied to the institutions that control the research funds, which helps to foster a problematic relationship with Indigenous communities. Community consent is an inherent part of the process for conducting respectful and mutually beneficial research with Indigenous Peoples.
Elders are highly respected experts in Indigenous knowledge, including Indigenous ethics. Indigenous Peoples believe that researchers must be mentored by Elders to ensure that their research remains respectful of Indigenous protocols and continues to enjoy community collaboration. Elders must also be included in merit review of research proposals and funding agencies need to engage with and support elders in this role.
Indigenous Peoples are concerned that international researchers are not bound by the same standard of ethical conduct as Canadian researchers. International researchers working in Canada are impacting Indigenous communities and they should be expected to respect Indigenous ethics and protocols.
Indigenous Peoples call for the creation of official mechanisms to monitor and enforce ethical guidelines as well as a reporting structure for breaches in ethical conduct. Indigenous Peoples also call on the establishment of rules and guidelines for international students and researchers as well as a support system for students who conduct research for the first time with Indigenous Peoples.
OCAP® is a useful model that can be adapted to individual community needs. OCAP® cannot be a single standard for all Indigenous Peoples, but the principles can be adapted and used by Indigenous communities. Indigenous Peoples want to see mandatory training on OCAP® in postsecondary institutions for researchers and students who intend to conduct research with Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous communities need financial investment to create and implement their own OCAP-like systems.
Building Effective Community Relations and Research Partnerships
Communities and community organizations need access to core funding for operations, as well as equal opportunity for on-going research funding. By controlling research funding, communities can engage in a mutually beneficial relationship with researchers. They can set the research agenda and identify the appropriate experts. Addressing this issue will require examining existing funding structures. Researchers, research institutions, and funding agencies need to recognize that a researcher’s relationship with the community is deep and embedded. It goes beyond a transactional relation. It is a deep engagement with the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual life of the community. How the researcher engages with and contributes to improving the community is fundamental to the success of the research project and the openness of the community for the researcher to return in the future. Therefore, researchers need to be sensitive to the on-going effects of colonialism, intergenerational trauma and historical violence against Indigenous communities in order not to perpetuate these legacies.
Supporting community-led research begins with recognizing that Indigenous communities have knowledge, they have their own methodologies and epistemologies, and they have their own scholars. However, there is also a need to provide funding and capacity building for Indigenous communities to advance their own community-led research. This includes revising eligibility criteria to include non- academic Indigenous organizations as grant holders, and recognizing Indigenous knowledge keepers as Principal Investigators.
Building respectful research partnerships means being responsive to community needs. This includes reorienting the objectives of conventional academic research towards community benefit as the primary goal. How research is evaluated must also be re-examined. Definitions of research success are too rigid. They should include more recognition of process, such as relationship building, training, and capacity building. Doing research in a good way, building respectful partnerships and supporting community-led research all require more flexibility in funding timelines and requirements.
Supporting Indigenous Research Talent, Opportunities and Infrastructure
Indigenous community organizations should be directly eligible for research funding. Many Indigenous organizations have solid research capacity and should be eligible for tri-agency research funding. Indigenous research priorities are often multi-disciplinary in nature and do not always fit well within the discipline-specific funding agencies to allow for more holistic Indigenous approaches to research. A new Indigenous research model will need to take this into consideration.
Application for funding also needs to be made more accessible to Indigenous applicants. Funding agencies need to streamline the language of application and improve their online application platforms. Indigenous communities, organizations and graduate students also need support in grant proposal writing. Indigenous Peoples would like to see funding agencies offer workshops and on-line learning modules on proposal writing, as well as provide financial support for the process of grant writing. Research funding agencies also need to recognize that relationship-building is a crucial step in Indigenous research, one that takes time and that can seriously impact the success of the research project. As such, Indigenous Peoples call on the dedication of funds for relationship-building either as part of the main research grant or as a separate grant. They also call on multi-year funding for community-based research that is not tied to a mandatory partnership with a post-secondary institution. Finally, relationship-building also includes Indigenous representation in the review and adjudication of research proposals. Adjudicating research proposals would allow Indigenous communities more control over research.
Supporting Indigenous students starts with increasing the number of scholarships available to them. There is a need for supplemental funding for students with family responsibilities and/or students who live in remote and isolated communities. Indigenous Peoples want to see graduate funding extended to include part-time students since these students often receive no other form of financial support from their band councils and education authorities.
Supporting Indigenous talent also involves mentorship for Indigenous students in order to help them navigate academia. It includes giving more recognition to alternative forms of research dissemination beyond the standard written thesis. There is a need to decolonize the educational environment to make it more culturally friendly to Indigenous students.
Reconciliation in research involves the re-evaluation of research infrastructure as university affiliated institutes and laboratories. It needs to take into consideration that Indigenous infrastructure includes knowledge systems, cultures, languages and land. There is also a need to invest in core funding to operate research infrastructure.
Recognizing and Respecting Indigenous Knowledges and Traditions
Elders guide and mentor research. They help make sure that everything is done in a respectful and sensitive way. Elders are the keepers of the process. They maintain the integrity of research projects, beyond and above research ethics. It is therefore important to involve Elders right from the beginning of any research project or community engagement.
It is important for researchers to demonstrate respect for Elders, in accordance with the protocols of each community. This means researchers need to be informed and culturally competent before starting a research project. The first task of researchers must be to seek out the community’s Elders. Researchers must also beware of false Elders. They need to ensure that the Elder is legitimate and supported by the community.
Elders need to be adequately remunerated for their knowledge and levels of expertise. Recognizing the important role of Elders also reinforces the importance of Indigenous languages as the vehicles of Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous language revitalization needs to be financially supported. Research involving Elders and other vulnerable members of the community must also be subject to community scrutiny to ensure that boundaries concerning sacred knowledge are respected and that Elders who are frail are not overburdened.
Decolonizing research is a complex issue. It involves institutional awareness and desire for change as well as the recognition of the need for Indigenous empowerment. Decolonizing research also includes the need to recognize that Indigenous Peoples need safe spaces to find and reclaim their own Indigenous knowledge systems. The transmission of Indigenous knowledge to younger generations is a pressing issue that requires financial support and should be viewed as a research activity.
Decolonizing research also involves serious reflection on the topic of Indigenous identity. Funding agencies and postsecondary institutions rely on self-identification as sufficient proof of indigeneity. Yet, many self-identified Indigenous researchers and students do not have lived experience or a connection with an Indigenous community. Indigenous People are concerned that these researchers are put in positions of influence within their institutions that can bring further harm to Indigenous Peoples. This situation further highlights the need to engage with Indigenous Peoples directly in research.
Keynote Address by Senator Murray Sinclair
Senator Murray Sinclair delivered the keynote address for the National Dialogue, which was also webcast and is available online.
In his address, Senator Sinclair emphasized that research is important to reconciliation because it contributes to the creation of a national memory. He noted how the challenges of reconciliation are deeply embedded in the history of Canada, reflecting the damages done to relations with Indigenous People. He spoke about the need to understand that history and find ways forward from it, and highlighted the many roles of research in this process:
- Helping to reveal, recognize and better understand that history;
- Providing concepts and methods to understand, measure and solve the problems that persist from that history;
- Helping to understand how institutions, policies and practices perpetuate those problems; and
- Ultimately, helping us to answer fundamental questions about where we came from, where we are going, and how do we get there.
Senator Sinclair also noted that several of the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)’s report called for more data collection. In these ways, research can also help to fulfill Senator Sinclair’s own wish, which is that society today will pick up the work that he and many others helped to carry forward in the TRC and meet the on-going challenge of reconciliation. His remarks were met with a standing ovation.
Research is important to reconciliation in the creation of a national memory."
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