Indigenous Perspectives on Research

“We, as tribal people, want research and scholarship that preserves, maintains, and restores our traditions and cultural practices. We want to restore our homelands; revitalize our traditional religious practices; regain our health; and cultivate our economic, social, and governing systems. Our research can help us maintain our sovereignty and preserve our nationhood” (Crazy Bull, 1997, p.17)
This quote by Crazy Bull (1997) has relevance beyond Native American people and extends to indigenous communities globally.  Though written more than two decades ago, it still provides an excellent summation of what indigenous people want from research and scholarship.
An indigenous perspective of research goes beyond the idea of community-based, participatory research (CBPR), which seeks mutual benefit an community empowerment in the research process.  Rather it involves infusing traditional values and practices into our work that supports efforts toward revitalization and maintenance of indigenous cultures.  Through this process, we regain our health, socio-economic well being, rights, and land.
A project I am currently developing looks at the added value of traditional Native Hawaiian healers within a health clinic setting.  Through interviews with patients, providers, administrators, and healers, we examine the impact  of healers and their level of integration into clinical practice. Outcomes include perceptions of cultural appropriateness, satisfaction with services, rates of missed appointments, adherence to medical regimens, patient activation and autonomy, and empowerment. Following this demonstration of indigenous healers at these clinics, we will develop research that examines their impact on chronic disease.
My colleagues, Dr. Jane Chung-Do and ‘Ilima Ho-Lastimosa, MSW, use the term “pono” research to relate to what Crazy Bull describes above.  Simply stated, pono research is research that seeks to do research righteously , justly, and equitably for the benefit of the Hawaiian community (LaFrance, 2004).  In this example, the very naming of the research methodology denotes self-determination and empowerment.  “Such naming accords indigenous values, attitudes and practices a privileged, central position rather than obscuring them under Westernized labels such as ‘collaborative research” (Smith, 1999, p. 125).  Part of decolonizing research is defining research from indigenous perspectives, which can include renaming the process in a way that is pono.
Crazy Bull, C. “A Native Conversation About Research and Scholarship.” Tribal College
Journal, 1997, 9, 17 – 23.
LeFrance, J. Culturally competent research in Indian Country.  New Directions for Evaluation, 102, pp. 39-50, 2004.
Smith, L. T. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed
Books, 1999.


Posted by my loving and incredible partner, Shelly

Redemption Song…We forward in this generation

the aloha lounge

My husband Mike likes to talk to cab drivers and Uber drivers and airport shuttle drivers… if your driving us, he wants to talk with you. His father was a driver here on Oahu, as well as a gifted story-teller, and I think Mike realizes the depth of both information and history that these amazing people hold. I actually like that he likes to talk to our drivers. It makes the trip much more interesting and you never know what you might learn.

Last week we were in Florida  attending a conference for our Young Living business. We decided to stay in the convention center where the conference was going on and we decided not to rent a car since we would be busy much of every day. When you stay at a conference center without a car you are pretty much held hostage. They charge you crazy prices for mediocre (at best) food and…

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Decolonizing Research

Last week, I had my students write about research methods based on readings from the book, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples by Linda Luhiwai Smith.  As a community-based, participatory researcher, her words make sense and I would like to recommend her book to any course on research methods.  Specifically, she examines the interconnection between research and imperialism in the creation of knowledge and “truth.”

Those who hold power also controls “truth.”  We see this in the creation of national, state, and local policies and even our social service programs.  When those in power hold perspectives that are incongruent with the reality of those without power, this can be truly dangerous.  The same can be said with research.  When we as researchers, individuals who hold power to a degree, develop our research questions, collect data, and interpret those responses without critically analyzing the biases and assumptions that underlie our work, we have the potential to reinforce imperialistic thoughts and practices among the populations we hope to serve.

Here is a simple example.  A few months ago, I was involved in a conversation with people from a State agency who were interested in research on Native Hawaiians in the foster care  system.  Native Hawaiian children comprise about 49% of all children in the foster care system in Hawaii and these investigators were interested in conducting research on how we can help them identify how we could recruit more Native Hawaiian foster parents.

One question came to mind…Of the percentage of foster parents in the system, what percentage are currently Native Hawaiian?  A simple question I thought given the subject.  They did not know.  Well, I responded, if Native Hawaiians make up about 20% of the State’s population and there are 49% of Native Hawaiian children in foster care, you would need Native Hawaiians, who are also among the State’s poorest and most disenfranchised, to participate at more than twice the rate of any other ethnic group.  Perhaps Native Hawaiians are already participating within the range of their proportion to the population?  If that is the case, then the question should not be why more Native Hawaiians do not foster children, but why the heck are there so many Native Hawaiian children in foster care!

There was a brief silence and then the meeting resumed.  My point was not fully acknowledged and I never heard back from these individuals.  What were the biases of these individuals toward Native Hawaiians?  How does it relate to imperialism and research?  Questions to ponder.  I’d love to hear your examples.


The Stolen Generations

From a student in my Decolonizing Social Work course based on the movie Rabbit Proof Fence. Check it out!

I am a White Man

I watched “The Rabbit Proof Fence” about the stolen generations for an assignment this week.  I had known about the intentional destruction of the aboriginal peoples of Australia and Tasmania, but watching the story unfold in film drives home the point so vividly.  I think we as a culture we can more easily write off cultural oppression when we see it as accidental, versus organized annihilation as found in this story, jewish persecution, or Native American massacres at the hands of Europeans.  Stories like this one, however, leave little room for interpretation.  What is also saddening for me is to think of the moral causalities caused by bad science and misplaced faith.  In the earlier parts of the 20th century, eugenics was thought by many to be scientific fact.  Hitler credited part of the Nazi “final solution” to the American eugenics movement.  The children taken against their will, the families…

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