An Indigenous Guide to Respectful Research

The following is a draft introduction to a book that I am currently working on. Comments appreciated.


Respectful research involves more than a good methodology and a pleasant demeanour. I think of respect in that sense where by one refrains from violating, harassing, or obstructing. Put in an affirmative light it is to treat with consideration. Ultimately respect, as an active process, means to value. In terms of research respect leads us to place value in the integrity of our process, to honour and not cause harm to those with whom are research involves, and to be honest with our intentions.

This book is an Indigenous guide to respectful research. My examples are drawn from my own research within, and in collaboration with members of, my home community of Gitxaała. That this book is based upon an Indigenous experience with research in no way should be understood to restrict the utility of respectful research only to Indigenous settings. In fact, I am certain that I am not alone in advocating respectful research across the domains of social science research. As an Indigenous anthropologist my emphasis may well place more attention on ensuring community engagement than might normally be anticipated. That being said, this is also the way in which my ongoing research in western Europe is also conducted (Menzies 2011).

Social science researchers have long been concerned with research methodology. This concern originally was restricted to ensure appropriate and robust methodologies (Boas 1920; Malinowski 1922). Only late in the history of social science research did matters of the ethnical treatment of research participants become part of the discourse. The implications of Nazi experiments on unwilling prisoners during World War II and the horror felt once the full enormity of their actions where revealed created the conditions for more humane and ethical treatment of human research subjects. Sadly, the atrocities committed by the Nazis were not unique examples of political authorities conducting medical and psychological experiments upon unwilling subjects.

Canada’s own history of residential schooling includes the same type of cruel and inhumane medical experiments being carried out on young children. While the oral history of residential schools has consistently documented wide ranging and systemic physical and sexual abuse recent historical research indicates that government sanctioned medical experiments were also being conducted on aboriginal children who had been forcibly removed from their homes and placed into residential schools run by Christian church authorities (Mosby 2013). Medical research into nutritional supplements was conducted in the 1940s and 1950s by researchers who appear to have had little regard for the individuals they were experimenting upon. Even with awareness of the Nazi medical experiments this type of research increased, rather than decreased, following World War II (Mosby 2013:166).

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