Indigenous Research Methods: A Reading List

Indigenous methods booksLast week I wrote about challenging the dominance of English in writing for research and academia. That theme is also relevant to this post, though here it’s more about challenging Euro-Western epistemologies and methods than the English language itself. Over the last year I have built a personal library of books about, or relevant to, my investigation of Indigenous research methods and ethics. The point of this, for me, is to bring these methods into my scholarship, alongside creative and conventional methods, as appropriate. The point is not to become an ‘expert’ on Indigenous research; for a white British person, that is not, should not be, an option. At the start of this work, I worried about being extractive, but I found comfort in the words of Margaret Kovach, an Indigenous researcher from Saskatchewan in Canada, who encourages non-Indigenous scholars to help make space for Indigenous methodologies and assess their value on their own terms. This is what I am trying to do.

For those who are new to this topic, ‘Indigenous’ denotes the native peoples of colonised lands, such as Aboriginal Australians or Inuit Alaskans, while ‘indigenous’ denotes the native peoples of non-colonised lands. So I am an indigenous Brit who will never be an Indigenous researcher. Some people described as Indigenous are unhappy with the term because they feel that it makes them seem like one homogeneous group, whereas in fact there is tremendous diversity. For example, there are hundreds of tribal and language groupings in Australia alone. However, as it is the term most commonly used in the literature, I’m sticking with it for now.

The first book is the foundational Decolonizing Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith, a Maori researcher from New Zealand. In fact I bought the first edition of this soon after it came out in 1999, the year I began my MSc in Social Research Methods. The second edition came out in 2012. This book shows how research was used as a tool of imperialism to help subjugate colonised peoples through, among other things, complete disregard for Indigenous knowledges and Indigenous peoples’ own research methods. It highlights the value of these knowledges and methods, and calls for research to be linked explicitly with social justice.

Shawn Wilson is an Opaskwayak Cree researcher from Canada who has also lived and worked with Indigenous peoples in Alaska and Australia, as well as spending time with Indigenous peoples in New Zealand, Morocco, and elsewhere. His book, Research Is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods (2008), is based on his doctoral research and describes a paradigm shared by Indigenous researchers in Canada and Australia. It’s not easy to get hold of; I tracked down a Canadian bookseller who seems to have bought up the last available copies, and I fear it may be going out of print, which would be a great shame as it is readable and insightful.

Margaret Kovach is a Plains Cree and Salteaux researcher from Canada whose Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts came out in 2009. Her book covers epistemologies, methods, and ethics. It is a work of considerable scholarship that is also accessible and full of wisdom.

Bagele Chilisa is a Professor at the University of Botswana. Her book Indigenous Research Methodologies (2012) gives an uncompromising and international account of some of the theories, epistemologies, ontologies and methods used by Indigenous researchers. While no book on this subject could be completely comprehensive, Chilisa makes a good job of showing the diversity, as well as some of the commonalities, of Indigenous methodology.

Donna Mertens from the US, Fiona Cram from New Zealand, and Bagele Chilisa have edited a collection called Indigenous Pathways into Social Research: Voices of a New Generation (2013). They have contributions from Indigenous researchers from all around the world: Vanuatu, Mexico, Cameroon, Hawai’i, Alaska, Papua New Guinea, and many other countries. These are fascinating accounts, highlighting personal, political, and ethical challenges, and how they have been overcome. They also say a lot about Indigenous methodologies around the world.

Also in 2013, Maggie Walter, a trawlwoolway researcher from Tasmania, and Chris Andersen, a Métis researcher from Canada, brought out Indigenous Statistics: A Quantitative Research Methodology. This book demonstrates the pervasiveness of Euro-Western thought in the construction of statistical research, using national censuses for ilustration. It offers a framework for Indigenous quantitative research, nayri kati or ‘good numbers’, which places an Indigenous standpoint at the centre. There is a short video online of Maggie Walter talking about Indigenous quantitative research.

Lori Lambert is a Mi’kmaq researcher from north-eastern Canada who has also worked with Indigenous peoples from Montana, US; northern Manitoba, Canada; and Queensland, Australia. Her book, Research for Indigenous Survival: Indigenous Research Methodologies in the Behavioral Sciences, was published in 2014. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first book to position Indigenous methods within a Euro-Western disciplinary category. Like other Canadian writers, such as Wilson and Kovach (above), Lambert includes the voices of people she has worked with alongside her own in her narrative.

Another essential text, though not specifically about research methods, is Southern Theory by Australian academic Raewyn Connell (2009). This book is subtitled ‘The global dynamics of knowledge in social science’ and in my view is essential reading for anyone engaging with social theory. During my MSc, I was taught social theory as the preserve of dead white men, and I am sure this is still being taught in many Euro-Western universities today. Connell’s book gives the lie to this approach.

This list is not exhaustive; it is just my personal library. One limitation is that I can’t afford expensive books. While I was writing this blog post, I had a message from my friend and colleague Roxanne Persaud, alerting me to Susan Strega and Leslie Brown’s edited collection Research as Resistance: Revisiting Critical, Indigenous, and Anti-Oppressive Practices (2nd edn 2015). I would love to read this book, but even the paperback is over £60 which puts it out of my reach.

These books are not comfortable reads for Euro-Western scholars, but they are hugely important. We need to know how research has been, and is, misused by Euro-Western cultures in order to learn how to use it better. Indigenous scholars are extraordinarily generous in their assessment of the potential value of Euro-Western methodologies, even those methodologies that have been instrumental in stealing their lands and their cultures and traumatising generations of their peoples. Yet most Euro-Western researchers either ignore Indigenous research entirely, or conclude that Indigenous peoples must have picked up a few tricks from the colonisers. I’m not sure which is worse. Indigenous research methods pre-date Euro-Western research methods by tens of thousands of years, and there is a great deal that Euro-Western researchers can learn from these approaches.

42 thoughts on “Indigenous Research Methods: A Reading List

  1. Hi, I’m a researcher in the field of Translation Studies from India. Though I have read some portions of Decolonizing Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith for my research, Indigenous Studies has been a new area of research for me. This list is pretty useful. Thanks for this.

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  2. Interesting, and not what I predicted! I wanted his book because so many people cited it, but I couldn’t get it from any of the mainstream booksellers. I tracked down some copies held by an independent bookseller in Canada. I hope it’s still in print; it’s a good one (though they all are). Let me know if you get stuck and I’ll find the Canadian details.

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  3. I thought either Walter and Andersen, because quant (though Bagele Chilisa told me about it, so maybe she told you too), or Lambert, because behavioural sciences. So much for my powers of prediction! Great that Wilson is back in stock with Wordery 🙂 🙂 🙂

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  4. Tove, thank you. I should have clarified that my list is of books which are obtainable; I found several like the one you suggest that are no longer in print and very expensive second-hand (Amazon is currently quoting around $900 for a copy).

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  5. Nice list!
    Also, chapter 6 in ‘Research Justice’ (2015), called ‘More than Me’ by Nicole Blalock addresses these issues as well.
    You might be able to fetch ‘Research as resistance’ via Interlibrary borrowing, though Southampton or wherever you have a relationship.

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  6. Hi Helen, I’m intrigued about the distinction you’re making about capitalisation of Indigenous that you frame in relation to colonisation. I’ve never heard it described in that way, and I’m fairly well read about the subject (and an Aboriginal Australian Associate Professor). My understanding has always been that the difference is that one is not the short form for a proper noun (Indigenous Australian is just that), and that indigenous when used generically, and not to talk about a specific person is not capitalised. So Indigenous Brit, in your case, would be capitalised using the measure that is typically used in Australia (and in most international literature I’ve read).

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      • And thanks again! Most of my readers are students and early career researchers, and on the whole they’re who I’m writing for, so I’m glad you think this will be useful for them.

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    • Hi Sandy, thanks for your kind comments. I based this primarily on careful reading of the section headed ‘Who is Indigenous?’ in Cram, Chilisa and Merten’s introductory chapter to their edited collection (2013:13-16). I think if I called myself ‘Indigenous’ I would probably upset more people than I will doing it this way… ‘non-Indigenous’ is another option, but I don’t like defining myself as not-something (or other people, for that matter; for example, I would never describe a person of colour as ‘non-white’). However, my decision on the terminology is for now, rather than forever. I’m still thinking it through, so your input is useful. As is the comment on my subsequent blog post, from someone who I think may be a Maori woman, who seems to be suggesting that I shouldn’t use the word at all. I suspect there’s no perfect solution to this, but I’ll keep listening, and thinking, and explaining myself as well as I can, and then listening and thinking some more. I reckon that’s the best I can do.

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    • You’re welcome. And wow, the whole first edition online! Is it a legal copy, though? I’ve searched the Collective’s web pages and can’t find permissions anywhere, nor in the e-book itself. I’d love to download it but, as an author myself, I’m careful about downloading pdfs of books unless I’m sure they’re legit.

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      • There are of course numerous libraries that might have it, or get it on request. I found three copies in the Pacific NW Summit library system (academic but also available to the public).

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      • Bernadette (can’t reply directly to your comment for some strange reason) there are indeed, but I’m nowhere near any of them – I live 200 miles from Southampton where I’m affiliated. I’m heartened, though, that I’ve had responses to this post from academics saying they’re going to order all the books listed for their libraries.

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    • That’s the one, though I prefer to link to the book on Wordery (as I did in the post) rather than link to Amazon with its inhuman working practices. But each to their own.

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  9. Thanks for posting your list and for initiating this discussion. I am always interested, having taught graduate courses in Indigenous methodologies, how various scholars and groups of academics approach the differences between methods, methodologies, and research ethics.

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  10. My daughter posted your recent blog on her Facebook page. Very interesting topic and reading!. Did anyone offer to purchase the pricey Strega & Brown book you would like to own?if not let me know I’m happy to buy it for you. I live in Seattle,USA. My email is csoltero@healthpointchc.org.
    I’m a bilingual medical interpreter, working in a community healthcare setting. I work mainly with undocumented Latino patients. I love my job!!
    Christine Soltero

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The Kovach text is fire! I found it helpful in approaching African American and other marginalized population’s research methodologies also…thank you for the list.

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