University of Toronto
Collaborative, not extractive, approaches to Indigenous research
Defining robust ethics for working with Indigenous communities
As researchers seek to work more frequently with Indigenous Peoples, more meaningful and authentic approaches to community engagement and relationship-building are required to address the ongoing legacies of colonialism and to advance Indigenous communities’ research goals. Eve Tuck, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Methodologies with Youth and Communities at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, at the University of Toronto, is looking at this issue by promoting a distinct field she describes as collaborative Indigenous research: research that is mutually beneficial and conducted with (and not at the expense of) Indigenous Peoples.
Tuck (who is Unangax̂) and her colleagues at the Tkaronto CIRCLE Lab are identifying and evaluating various approaches to collaborative Indigenous research from around the world, examining the decisions, approaches, ethics and training practices of both researchers and communities. They aim to build a better understanding of how participatory, community-based Indigenous research should be carried out, so they can provide practical guidance to Indigenous communities across Canada—on how to engage with researchers on their own terms and in ways that advance their own values and self-determination.
A digital garden takes root
In late 2022, the Tkaronto CIRCLE Lab will launch the Collaborative Indigenous Research Digital Garden, an interactive website that will include nearly 200 examples demonstrating that this type of research is possible. Intended to guide those who are looking for inspirational examples of research partnerships they can emulate, the site will feature profiles of studies conducted with Indigenous communities from around the globe, on topics ranging from health and climate justice to economics and social work. It will provide information on each study’s methods, purpose, participants, ethics, evidence and theories of change.
“We ended up calling it a ‘digital garden’ because we hope the examples identified will help this field grow and proliferate,” says Tuck. “The website will show that this approach is not only possible, but people around the world are already engaging in it.”
Reconciliation through Inuit art
Mentoring a new generation of Inuit arts leaders
While Inuit art is held in numerous museums and other institutions across Canada, Inuit themselves have historically had little say in how their cultural heritage is collected and exhibited. Heather Igloliorte, University Research Chair in Circumpolar Indigenous Arts at Concordia University, is working to decolonize art curation practices by providing pathways for more Inuit to take on leadership positions in the arts.
Through the Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership program, a seven-year project funded by a SSHRC Partnership Grant, Igloliorte and her colleagues provide Inuit postsecondary students with opportunities to gain practical experience and mentorship in galleries, theatres, film sets, publishing houses and other institutions. Three years in, the program has placed more than 80 Inuit students in 15 partner organizations across Canada and in the North, including the National Arts Centre, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and several Inuit-led film and theatre companies. Many other Inuit students have been hired in supporting roles within the program as well.
Institutions recruit students
Igloliorte says this program is one of a kind in that rather than having students submit their résumés to arts institutions, the institutions make pitches to recruit the students—essentially upending the hiring system. The institutions are keen to compete because they know the Ilinniaqtuit (Inuktitut for “learners”) will bring unique perspectives and talents. It’s a win-win: Inuit students build careers in the arts (one graduate is now co-CEO of Uvagut TV, Canada’s first national Inuktut television channel, while others found jobs with magazine publishers, theatre companies and festivals) and the institutions are guided by a more diverse set of voices. It also ensures those institutions don’t profit at the expense of any one group.
“Museums have played a big role in shaping the way Indigenous Peoples have been ‘othered’ in Canada,” says Igloliorte. “This program is teaching us how we can reconcile with institutions founded in the colonial era—and introduce exciting new ways of curating Inuit art that will contribute to the resurgence of our culture and sovereignty.”
Visit Inuit Futures to learn more about Heather Igloliorte’s work.
University of Manitoba
Helping schools revitalize Indigenous languages and enhance cultural identity
Indigenous languages are integral to cultural identity, but many of them are at a crossroads: some are rarely spoken and others are in danger of disappearing completely. That makes teaching them in the classroom critical. Frank Deer, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Education at the University of Manitoba, is looking at how public schools across Manitoba deliver language programming, the challenges they face and how they can improve their curricula.
He has found that while many school districts are increasingly interested in supporting Indigenous languages, they often struggle to get programs up and running. Because there’s a lack of qualified teachers who are fluent in these languages, several schools are obliged to share one teacher. There’s also a lack of educational material to support students.
A spiritual dimension
While the administrative challenges were not surprising, Deer has found something unexpected: the importance of spirituality to Indigenous language programming. Consider that in the Cree language, the name “Winnipeg” loosely translates to “muddy waters”—expressing a strong connection to the ecology of the land and, in turn, to the spiritual world. Students can engage with a language better when they understand its traditional meanings as opposed to learning to recite a compilation of words and phrases.
If language programming is to grow further, Deer says it must become more accessible at the high school level and community groups should provide spaces for youth to speak Indigenous languages outside the classroom. He stresses that students need a reason to speak a language if they are to learn and retain it.
“Different schools are at different stages of this journey,” Deer says. “But we are coming to understand that Indigenous Peoples are an important part of Canada—and our languages are a part of that.”
Visit Frank Deer’s website to learn more about his research..
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