Decolonising research methodologies

“Research” is probably one of the dirtiest words in the Indigenous world’s vocabulary. When mentioned in many Indigenous contexts it stirs up silences, conjures up bad memories…It is so powerful that Indigenous people even write poetry about research. The ways in which scientific research is implicated in the worst excesses of colonialism remains a powerful remembered history for many of the world’s colonised peoples. It is a word that offends the deepest sense of our humanity,

It galls us that Western intellectuals and researchers can assume to know all that is possible to know of us, on the basis of their brief encounters with some of us. It appals us that the West can desire, extract and claim ownership of our ways of knowing, our imagery, the things we create and produce and then simultaneously reject the people who created and developed those ideas and seek to deny them further opportunities to be creators of their own culture and their own nations.”

Tuhiwai Smith L (1999)  Decolonising Methodologies University of Otago Press, New Zealand p1

During GPET Research Week, 2014, I was introduced to this text, by Linda Tuhiwai Smith, a Maori academic. The book made me think more broadly about what research is, what a researcher is, what relationship a researcher has to their participants and how we build knowledge to bring tangible benefits to our communities. And of course, how appallingly earnest we were as researchers when we used the lives and worlds of Indigenous people for our own scientific ends, in the name of “benefitting humanity”

During Research Week, we were fortunate to have a number of discussions about research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Geoff Spurling, a wonderful academic (and ex academic registrar) gave me a fabulous interview about the complexity of collaboration before, during and after the research process in a podcast (which you can find on the timetable page under Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research). Together with the discussion with Prof Marlene Drysdale, we got a snapshot of the complexities of research in this context.

At Research Week, during the GPET convention and in our academic registrar program, I hope we support the rights of marginalised communities to own their voices, and their research programs. We use the NH&MRC “Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research” as a touchstone, but more importantly, I hope we continue to have the conversations and build the networks that encourage honest reflection on the conduct of ethical research, and its dissemination


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