| 03.24.2018

Learning differently – Indigenous research key in academia for holistic view


In the wake of the death of my friend and colleague Arthur Taylor, I feel compelled to share with the university community a little bit about the work he and a small cohort of university doctoral students have done in the area of Indigenous research. 

The cohort to which Art and I belonged, came to be affectionately referred to by its members as the “Co-Heart,” that notion of community is integral to understanding Indigenous research and the ways it differs from the usual research in the western academy.

The community’s needs rather than the researcher’s interests drive indigenous research. The methods used for data collecting center around building relationships within the community, and recognizing that knowledge belongs to the community and its people, not to the person collecting data.

The outcomes belong to the community, as well.  Indigenous research is not about publishing articles, meeting performance requirements or achieving tenure– it is about meeting the needs of the population being studied.

It is about making the people a part of the process. In the Indigenous paradigm, the research must reach back to the people who have helped to create and share knowledge.

I once thought it was my role to help build an integrated system of research that incorporated both the Indigenous way and the western way of pursuing knowledge.  After spending some time conversing with and learning from the Nez Perce members of the Co-Heart — including Art — and a lot of time reading from the work of Indigenous authors, I came to understand that the two ways are mutually exclusive.

In western academia, we break everything down into its tiny components and study each piece individually.  The Indigenous way looks at the whole, the relationships between all of the components and the meaning of the big picture.

These two different epistemologies cannot be integrated.  However, there should be room within academia to make a place for different ways of knowing, understanding and researching.

Our “Co-Heart” has as its motto, the 3 Rs. These are respect, relationality and reciprocity, as outlined by Shawn Wilson, an Indigenous scholar.

Collectively, we took a long time to understand the deepest meanings of these words, and I cannot convey them in this short space. But they are the foundation of the work each of us in the Co-Heart pursues.

This motto also expresses the relationship that Art and all of the remaining Co-Heart members had with each other.  We work together, we laugh together, we respect each other and we have built supportive relationships among ourselves and our research participants.

This is the legacy that Art leaves us with and the work that the remaining Co-Heart members will pursue. It is my hope, and I trust the hope of the other members of the Co-Heart, that we can continue our work in a way that would make him proud.

Jane Baillargeon can be reached at jane@uidaho.edu


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