Learning #1: Indigenous Quantitative Methods
A few months ago I set out to create a research brief of Indigenous Quantitative Methodologies. I wanted to start a survey of just some of the existing ways that Indigenous cultures around the world create knowledge and solve problems with data.
I had a few eye-opening experiences working with Indigenous researchers and felt that many of the techniques, systems, and approaches that were being used would have a revolutionary equity impacts on some of the “western” (for want of a much better term) or “what-you-get-taught-at-university” approaches that I am an expert in.
As soon as I started talking to Indigenous colleagues I saw my first mistake: calling it an “Indigenous Quantitative Methods Survey”. Quantitative vs Qualitative already accepts a structure of knowing inextricably rooted in white, western, academic systems. Even ‘methods’ can allude to a type of science purposely isolated from feelings, history, context, and a holistic view of society and nature that simply does not apply to many Indigenous ways of knowing. So, I’m ditching the “Quantitative Methods Survey” title.
Learning #2: Is this extractive?
Ok, so this one I saw coming. It was my feeling that one of the reasons that Indigenous communities have so much to offer in terms of data equity is that they have safeguarded very equitable ways of knowing. Ways that are much more oriented towards the effect of the data process on all of the people involved. Ways that exist outside the paradigm of separating humans from their data, setting up dichotomies of researcher and subject. In Canada, where I live, this safeguarding was done in the face of immense pressure to abandon or destroy these ways, from residential schools to genocide.
I’m white. How on earth can I justify my discipline turning around and saying, “oh hey thanks for surviving our culture’s brutal 400-year war on your people, we’d love to borrow some of those ideas you’ve got…”.
Though Indigenous methodologies might contain a lot of ways to improve the kind of data science I’ve been trained in, what right do I (or anyone from outside of these cultures) have to use them? One of the people I spoke to hit the nail on the head when they said “most data these days is used to take stories not to tell stories”.
My concerns about the extractive nature of this work have been somewhat allayed with a consensus among the Indigenous people I consulted (note that all consultations on this work, even my with my friends were paid consultations) before publishing this: that A) the goal for which these ideas were being shared was one of stopping the harm being caused by thoughtless and inequitable systems; and B) that everything in the research brief was created/published/shared by or directly with Indigenous people. We are not the ones choosing to share it in the first place, rather simply sharing it more widely.
So we’ve decided that sharing these ideas and projects and papers is ok. If you feel like it isn’t we really want to hear from you. At We All Count we never consider matters of equity ‘closed’.
Learning #3: Not everyone agrees about whether or not these methods can or should be combined with contemporary “Data Science”.
Some of the people with whom I connected are building approaches that braid or blend different ways of knowing together – sometimes combining their traditional processes with techniques from western academic methods. Others do not believe it’s possible or acceptable to do this. One woman spoke about her skepticism towards something promoted in her circles called “Two-Eyed Seeing”, (some of you may be familiar with this concept, if not it’s worth a web search!).
“Although I have seen Indigenous scholars adopt this approach (and rightly so if it meets their needs), my hesitation stems from funding agencies touting Two-Eyed Seeing as the only answer to research with/by Indigenous peoples. Why should Indigenous scholars have to conform to this approach if they don’t subscribe to a Western methodology? There is a plurality in knowledge systems and methodologies that needs to be respected by funding agencies. So although the concept of Two-Eyed Seeing stems from an Indigenous Elder, I think my point is Indigenous scholars shouldn’t be pigeonholed into one ‘validated’ Indigenous methodology to receive funding, especially if it’s contingent on being 50% Western science.”
I am an expert in one type of knowledge creation: data science. The scope of the We All Count Project is to try to improve that discipline, not to compare and evaluate various ways of knowing. That being said, I think that my work and the work of everyone in the project could greatly benefit from ideas I’ve encountered across many Indigenous systems.
Take for example the differences in these approaches’ relationships to time. I’ve had Council Elders tell me if we don’t have at least 20 years of data, we don’t know anything and don’t even show it to them. This is a devastating, and often bang-on correct, critique of my industry where if you have funding for 2-year study, you are extremely lucky and considered a “longitudinal” research project.
Another idea that’s so useful when focusing on equity is that how you arrive at an answer – the impact that the way you go about gathering, processing and reporting data on the people involved in your work – matters as much or more than why you’re doing your project or what answer you arrive at. If you end up with a “good” report but your methods were destructive, extractive, or blatantly biased towards yourself or your organization no one involved in the process will care about or trust your information. Data scientists who only care about the quality of a result but not about how it will be used are like carpenters building beautiful pieces of furniture that can’t fit out the door of their workshops. If it can’t be trusted, it won’t be useful.
Another concept that We All Count is already teaching to our trainees is how to equitably share their results in truthful and useful narratives. Relating information to other humans in the most natural and effective way – storytelling – is something that many Indigenous processes excel at.
There are many, many ways that myself and everyone else involved in our Project for Equity in Data Science could benefit from the perspectives and processes in this research brief, especially those that are fundamentally different, that don’t accept the premise of the data science structure we’re often taught.
But, should these diverse and sometimes opposing ways of knowing be combined? Will one set of ideas be twisted and altered to serve a process it fundamentally opposes? Will these ways be used as a thin and inauthentic glaze of “equity” over inequitable data projects? Can these ideas be applied to very different kinds of questions than they were intended for? I’m not sure.
I challenge all of us to read through the research brief (which by the way is not at all comprehensive, it’s just a start) but also consider these concerns if we want to change our work in relation to the ideas held there, and whether we should. Please express your concerns, opinions, and other resources we should add to the list in the comments!
Here’s some of the work we’ve found so far. It’s important to note that there are a wide variety of perspectives here and some of them are conflicting. The criteria for being included here are as broad as possible with the goal of sparking conversations, not directing them. The summaries and abstracts below are interpretations by our researchers that may or may not reflect the intentions of the authors. We’ve also used “western” nation-state groupings for the geographical origin or focus of the works because they are the most familiar to us. We would like to acknowledge that there are other ways of drawing maps and other names for these places.
Aikenhead and Ogawa (2007)¹, in a study on research methodologies of Japanese tribal populations, reported that the resourcefulness of these peoples with quantitative concepts is expanding the empiricism of IWLN (Indigenous Ways of Living in Nature). According to them, the Eurocentric quantitative concepts must be reconfigured, however, to align themselves with an indigenous worldview. Quantitative indigenous research methodologies are described as holistic, as in:
“Over time, the natives observed that the dynamics of the climate is no different from the mathematical characteristics of fractals, where the patterns are reproduced within themselves and the parts of one part are part of another part that is part of another part, and so onwards. For indigenous peoples, there is a recognition that many invisible forces are at play in the elements of the universe and that very little is naturally linear, or occurs in a two-dimensional grid or a three-dimensional cubic shape. “
Jereny Spoon (2014)² discusses the use of indigenous and collaborative quantitative methods to document and operationalize ecological knowledge, using a Himalayan case study. This study applied results to the management and interpretation of natural and cultural resources for the public. These approaches attempt to reposition the interview subjects to serve as active contributors to the research and its results.
The author argues that the study of any body of indigenous knowledge requires a methodology specific to the context and mutually agreed with processes and results. In the Nepalese Himalayas, she integrated Sherpas into the construction of the quantitative methodology she used in her work, culminating in an indigenous research methodology that considers spiritual concepts, species, and knowledge of the landscape within the Sagarmatha National Park (Mount Everest) and the Buffer Zone. The collaboration led to the development of the questions, in the research design, and the review of the results.
Specific sets of methods were selected depending on the context, and the author created forums for translating this information into applied results. The methods have also been refined and innovated through praxis.
New Zealand and Australia
Researchers from three New Zealand universities³ are undertaking the Child Nutrition Study. It involves 3000 children aged 5–14 years and contains 1000 Maori children. Although making up only 20% of the age group, over-sampling of Maori was justified to ensure that a statistically valid sample of Maori children could be included. Twenty-four-hour diet recall, a qualitative food frequency questionnaire, questions on physical activity, dental health, and food security form the basis for interviews with children and/or parents. In addition, body measurements are taken and blood and urine samples are collected for estimates of iron, zinc, lipids, and iodine.
Maori participation in the study was initially threatened partly because the food frequency questionnaire did not recognize indigenous foods but mainly because there was opposition to the collection of blood and urine samples. Two concerns were expressed by Maori communities. One was related to a Maori world-view that people are vulnerable if their body parts, including fluids, fall into the malicious hands. Underlying that fear is a widespread conviction that the mistreatment of body parts including even a human shadow, can result in mental or physical harm to an individual. The other concern was linked to the growing anxiety among many indigenous peoples that the promotion of genetic modification might lead to DNA experiments on blood samples collected for other purposes. There was a lack of trust in the ability of the researchers to safeguard human property.
The research team included a group of Maori researchers who had an understanding of quantitative methods and who had wide experience in health research with Maori people. On their advice, a Maori advisory group made up of eight elders, the kaitiaki group, was established. The elders recommended changes to the research protocols by extending the food frequency questionnaire to include foods that had some special cultural value to Maori.
In addition, two elders were designated as spiritual guardians for the blood and urine. Along with the senior Maori researcher they travelled with the specimens to the laboratories and having satisfied themselves that the handling of samples was consistent with the principles of respect and dignity, conducted a ceremony to render the laboratory ‘safe’. Once analyses were completed, the blood and urine remnants were then buried in the earth, again with the approval of the elders. Some samples were sent to an Australian laboratory for analysis. Again, an elder acted as guardian and followed the same routine. In this way, the beliefs of participants were endorsed and anxieties about future misuse of bodily fluids were minimized.
Although non-Maori members of the research team were divided about the necessity for making special arrangements for Maori blood and urine samples, after explanations about Maori world views and systems of knowledge, there was unanimous support and even interest in participating in the ceremonies. Moreover, once the protocols had been formally amended, Maori participation in the study was enthusiastic and recruitment opportunities were expanded. The changed attitudes of both the scientific and Maori communities owed much to the key roles played by Maori researchers as they worked to synchronize the interface between science and indigenous knowledge.
Maori intellectuals began to question and reevaluate the principles of their disciplines, from a distinctly Maori perspective. This 2001 article presents the Maori Kaupapa literature4, commenting on ontological assumptions, epistemological perspectives, and methodological frameworks for conducting research with, for, and to Maori people. According to the authors, the Maori research methodology goes beyond the notion of quantitative research:
“It is in this broader intellectual and political context that kaupapa Maori research can be situated. Kaupapa Maori emphasizes interdependence and spirituality as a fundamental component of intellectual endeavor and knowledge construction. It is implicitly founded on the collective consciousness, and historical and cultural concepts that are not necessarily reflected in qualitative-quantitative, or positivist interpretive-critical categorizations. This does not negate the applicability of quantitative or qualitative methods as research techniques, but speaks to the underlying assumptions, processes, and application of research, for both the researcher and the researched. ”
Quantitative research5, by, with, and for Indigenous peoples is a contested domain (Chillisa, 2011; Smith, 1999). Walter and Anderson provide the definitive discussion on Indigenous quantitative research. They state that, “For Indigenous peoples, especially in first world countries where population statistics powerfully influence government and social services, these numbers have become a foundational lens through which we, as Indigenous peoples, become known to our respective nation-states and how we engage in many of our relationships with government actors” (2013, p. 7). As stated by Coburn, in her review of their text on Indigenous statistics, “from an outsider, non-Indigenous perspective, Walter and Andersen “awaken” both Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and policymakers. They raise critical concerns around quantitative methodologies, arguing for new approaches to producing statistical data “by and for” diverse Indigenous peoples” (2015, 123).
This view is mirrored by Māori scholar Linda Smith, whose work on decolonizing methodologies, is “concerned not so much with the actual technique of selecting a method but much more with the context in which research problems are conceptualized and designed” (2013, i). More recent research highlights the importance of collecting aspirational rather than disparity data from Indigenous peoples (Henry and Crothers, 2019). Other issues of concern related to data sovereignty, which informs the work of Te Mana Raraunga, the Māori Data Sovereignty Network in New Zealand.”
Gawaian Bodkin-Andrews (2019)6 defined that indigenous quantitative research methods can avoid the prioritization of non-indigenous points of view, participate in breaking the systemic colonial domain in the production of knowledge and be continually aware of the risk of perpetuating many (but not all) ) the colonization norms that statistics have often reinforced. In this chapter, he published a study based on an indigenous quantitative research methodology, based on a measure of multidimensional racism written by an indigenous scholar and constructed from aboriginal points of view.
This article describes the experiment in its entirety. The final analysis of the study consisted of an inferential statistical technique known as partial correlation, which was used to verify whether the variable measures of racism were associated with the student’s well-being and the results of school involvement after controlling for the effects of the level of the student. student, gender, and socioeconomic status of the school.
The study “Recognition and indigenizing official statistics: Reflections from Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia”7 (2015) criticizes the way that federal Census and data collection projects make aboriginal populations invisible in countries. Based on this, the authors propose that the Western model is close to indigenous quantitative methodologies.
“(…) a failure to fully recognize Indigenous population diversity and, most crucially, a failure to recognize Indigenous culture, values, and practices in the measures used to quantitatively gather Indigenous data.”
The book “Indigenous Data Sovereignty”8 (2017) chapter 7 deals with governance data and data for governance in Australia. The text shows that, although the cultural base of the different groups of aborigines does not agree with the Western statistical methodology, they do not deny the importance that quantitative data play in governance. In this way, the groups fight for a government that has the practical capacity to produce results that contemplate them. From this perspective, then, given the system’s priorities and standards, they should be guided by the strategy and priorities of indigenous communities and nations, rather than imposed from outside through nation-state policies and agendas.
A practical example of an Aboriginal methodology for quantitative research is described:
“The program aims to run a residential-based short course in quantitative methods among staff working within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services. Given the number of these services across the country, the pool of participants is potentially large. The aim is to provide the administrative and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health staff with statistical skills that will enable them to collect, prepare, analyze and report their own service data in ways that are meaningful to their service and the community. This capacity-building program was written into the research proposal as a result of the research team seeing community-based organizations, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services, struggle with their electronic databases. The opportunity to assist in the building of statistical capacity so that data can be used for advocacy and resourcing enables the research team to meet a need that will have tangible and sustained benefits for individuals and organizations, as required by National Health and Medical Research Council ethical guidelines. ”
Maori anthropologist Linda Tuhiwai Smith is known for her book “Decolonizing methodologies: research and indigenous peoples (1999)”9. After developing a strong criticism of the coloniality of knowledge, as well as showing the distrust and cynicism that indigenous peoples may have in relation to research, directly responsible for centuries of its dehumanization, Linda Tuhiwai Smith indicates possible paths for indigenous research that can go on a sense of self-determination. According to her, the indigenous research agenda must be put at the service of the communities:
“The agenda is strategically focused on the objective of self-determination for indigenous peoples. Self-determination in a research agenda becomes more than a political objective. It becomes a goal of social justice that is expressed across a wide range of psychological, social, cultural, and economic fields. It necessarily involves the processes of transformation, decolonization, healing, and mobilization, as peoples. ”
Linda Tuhiwai Smith provides an example of a code of ethics designed specifically for Maori researchers, which goes through the application of quantitative and qualitative methodologies:
“1. Aroha ki te tangata (a respect for people).
- Kanohi kitea (a face seen, that is, presenting face to face).
- Titiro, whakarongo… korero (look, listen … speak).
- Manaaki ki te tangata (share and host, be generous).
- Kia tupato (be careful).
- Kaua and takahia te mana o te tangata (don’t step on people’s mana)
- Kia mahaki (don’t flaunt your knowledge)”
Shawn Wilson is an Opaskwayak Cree researcher from Canada who has 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”10 (2008), is based on his doctoral research and describes a paradigm shared by Indigenous researchers in Canada and Australia.
This link aggregates the main views of the book. The author agrees that the indigenous research methodologies do not fit in the well-known Western methodologies, because there is a deep detachment about what reality is. Like11:
“(…) A separation of those areas called science from those called art and religion. The indigenous knowledge so that science is both religious and aesthetic. We find then, an emphasis in the western tradition of approaching knowledge through the use of the intellect. For indigenous people, knowledge is also approached through the senses and intuition. ”
“Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples”12 is divided into two sections. Tuhiwai Smith begins with a discussion of imperialism, looks at the formation of Western research within imperialism, and gives examples of how research colonized the Maori people of New Zealand. In the second section, Tuhiwai Smith discusses contemporary indigenous movements to protect their communities, and how research has become a part of that agenda. She ends with suggestions for how indigenous researchers could do research within their own communities.
The author quotes about quantitative indigenous research methodology. However, it was not possible to locate these pages in the open domain.
The study “Placing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mortality in an international context”13, published in 2007, was conducted by two Aboriginal researchers. The methodology used in conducting the project is purely quantitative.
“Using routinely available administrative data on age-specific mortality and estimated life expectancy at birth, we compared data for Indigenous Australians (from the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and South Australia combined) with corresponding data for 200 countries world-wide, as well as for several population groups of interest, including African Americans, Native Americans, Canadian Natives, and New Zealand Maori. ”
Cindy Blackstock (2010)14 writes about how to “Indigenize” quantitative research, as a way to reduce the gap between indigenous populations and Western academic patterns. In this article, the author argues that more researchers dedicate themselves to the practice of “Quantitative Translation Research” and explains:
“Although western universities and democratic societies say they welcome alternative ways of knowing the world, the reality is that the dominant power structures still heavily privilege western paradigms. What this means, in practical terms for Indigenous peoples, is that they often have to “confirm” their knowledge and reality using western methods before non-Aboriginal policymakers and funding bodies will listen. This reality is what drives the translation research goal in Indigenous research. Translation does not imply a manipulation of the data. It simply means employing western research tools to explore and document what, quite frankly, most Indigenous people believe is an obvious reality.
For example, First Nations have been reporting for decades that the child welfare system was removing a disproportionate number of First Nations children (Assembly of First Nations, 1993; RCAP, 1996) but without western research “evidence” these claims were often minimized (Blackstock , 2003). Once the Canadian Incidence Study on Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (Trocme et. Al, 2001) produced quantitative evidence supporting First Nations claims, the over representation of First Nations children in child welfare care was more seriously considered by non-Aboriginal child welfare authorities. “
This study reveals research in the indigenous molds based on a holistic position. Applied in the context of quantitative methodologies, “clarity of thought is achieved when the research reaches spiritual, emotional, cognitive and physical balance. The holistic worldview acknowledges that periods of imbalance are inevitable during the research process. The goal, therefore, is to identify these periods of imbalance and act in a way that achieves cumulative balance over the course of the research project. ”
“Indigenous languages are used in many quantitative research reports respecting Indigenous peoples such as the Our children: Nos enfants report authored by the Nunavik Regional Health Board of Health and Social Services (2003.) The cover features an Inuksuk embedded with pictures of children from Nunavik and the Inuktitut language is used for the title and throughout the body of the report.
The statistical reports that typify quantitative research appear in this report, but they are interpreted in Inuktitut. For indigenous peoples, the written word is frozen when knowledge was meant to be alive. To infuse life into the written word, the physical elements of an Indigenous quantitative report must be in balance with the emotional, spiritual, and cognitive elements. ”
Elaine Coburn wrote a review of the book “A review of Indigenous Statistics: A Quantitative Research Methodology”15 (2013) – one of the most important on indigenous/aboriginal research methodologies. The article states:
“Given this context, an important task of Indigenous quantitative methodologies is to restore visibility to colonial and Indigenous social realities that are denied by colonial statistics. As I will explore briefly below, Walter and Andersen (pp. 78-79; p. 96) suggest that this means reversing the gauze, so that the Indigenous scholar becomes the expert knower, while colonizers and non-Indigenous peoples become the “known” Subjects of the Indigenous gaze. Such research helps to uncover hidden aspects of the colonial relationship, not least the institutional and everyday ways that racialized colonial power is exercised.
In addition, such an approach may help make clear variations in the extent to which different non-Indigenous institutions and persons (p. 97) engage supportively with diverse Indigenous political struggles. Rather than “deficit” Indigenous peoples, the explanatory emphasis is on the violence of colonial states and of the settlers than enact it. At the same time, such research challenges defeatist teleologies by highlighting practices of solidarity, where they exist, so affirming the possibility of nonindigenous decolonization initiatives and prefiguring more just relationships across the colonial divide. In addition, Indigenous quantitative methodologies must challenge colonial statistical erasures of Indigenous peoples. Such erasures may be a consequence of the colonial state’s self-interested “failure” to recognize the contemporary existence of some Indigenous peoples, as with the Australian state’s refusal to acknowledge the survival of Aboriginal Tasmanians until political action by Indigenous movements forced a reversal in the 1970s ( p. 89).
But such erasures may likewise reflect “sloppy” statistical questions, for instance, as with the Canadian colonial state’s failure to ask Indigenous respondents explicitly if they identify as part of the Métis nation, historically centered on the Red River region on lands now claimed by Canada – or if they are simply indicating that they are “métis”, often understood to refer to any individual with “mixed” Indigenous and non-Indigenous heritage (pp. 123-127). Indigenous methodologies are not only socially and political productive, they likewise challenge colonial methodologies that erase colonial power and violence and that deny the ongoing existence of distinct Indigenous peoples, whether through (more or less deliberate) omission or through failures to appreciate distinct Indigenous national histories and peoplehood. ”
Another text’s quote:
“Indeed, given that Indigenous scholars are typically subject to more scrutiny and skepticism with respect to their“ expert ”academic credentials than non-Indigenous, white scholars (p. 79) and given the“ reverence ”that colonial states, publics and mainstream academics have for numbers as representing truth (p. 78), (…) the strategic use of quantitative methodologies by Indigenous scholars may enable them to be “heard” before otherwise skeptical, even hostile publics, both academic and policy-makers. ”
In 2019, Margareth Kovach published the book “Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts”16. It includes topics such as Indigenous epistemologies, decolonizing theory, story as method, situating self and culture, Indigenous methods, protocol, meaning-making, and ethics. In exploring these elements, the book interweaves perspectives from six Indigenous researchers who share their stories, and also includes excerpts from the author’s own journey into Indigenous methodologies. Indigenous Methodologies is an innovative and important contribution to the emergent discourse on Indigenous research approaches and will be of use to graduate students, professors, and community-based researchers of all backgrounds – both within the academy and beyond.
Archaeologist Tara Million17 sought a way to live experimentation with Aboriginal research methodologies.
“Practicing archeology within an aboriginal philosophy transforms the persona of archaeologists. The archaeological site becomes a ceremonial area and archaeologists are a ceremonial practitioner. In addition to being the holder of a sacred site, the archaeologist is also the holder of artifacts and ecofacts – all sacred objects, given by a conscious archaeological record. White Buffalo Baby Woman gives these archaeological gifts the same way she gave our ancestors sacred objects and teachings and they carry the same spiritual and cultural meanings. ”
When considering archaeological practice in the context of a relationship with the sacred, Tara Million’s methodology includes ritual bans, such as refraining from drinking alcohol during the research process, or stopping excavation altogether during your menstrual periods. In addition, the use of circular orientations for the site of the excavation units, as well as the ritual re-burial of the excavated artifacts (with tobacco leaves) or even the fact of cataloging without writing over the surfaces of the objects compose this rethought methodology.
In 2013, Maggie Walter, a Trawlwoolway researcher from Tasmania, and Chris Andersen, a Métis researcher from Canada, brought out Indigenous Statistics: A Quantitative Research Methodology18. 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 center.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to examine the contents of the book in full, due to lack of availability on the internet. However, he is one of the main references in most of the works published here. He not only mentions several case studies, but participates in the construction of the theoretical bases for this quantitative indigenous/aboriginal methodology.
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 Methodologies19 in the Behavioral Sciences, was published in 2014. This is the first book to position Indigenous methods within a Euro-Western disciplinary category. Lambert includes the voices of people she has worked with alongside her own in her narrative.
United States of America
A study published in 2017 deals, among other things, with “The Indigenous Data Sovereignty Movement”20. According to the article, the data revolution is afoot in Indigenous nations and communities worldwide. Positioned within an Indigenous rights framework and deriving from tribes ’inherent rights to govern their peoples, lands, and resources, Indigenous nations are asserting their rights to the information about their nations, communities, and citizens. In mainstream data discussions, data sovereignty is the right of a nation to collect and manage its own data, while data governance refers to the ownership, collection, control, analysis, and use of data. Indigenous nations have begun asserting Indigenous data sovereignty and instituting governance over their data.
This work, despite not using the expression “indigenous quantitative methodology”, demonstrates two case studies about it. As part of a larger research project on indigenous health and tribal data sovereignty, the study examined in detail two relatively recent strategic indigenous data initiatives: demographic and socioeconomic data. Residents were partners during everything from the research design to the data analysis, demonstrating that indigenous research is a matter of sovereignty and self-sufficiency.
New Mexico (United States America)
Gregory Cajete is indigenous to the village of Santa Clara, located in New Mexico State. He is a professor at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque. Also, director of the Native American Studies department and author of several books on indigenous research methodologies and indigenous science. According to him21:
“Unlike the Western scientific method, indigenous thought does not isolate the object or phenomenon to understand and interact with it, but perceives it in terms of relationships that link it to natural forces and all forms of life. Such a method has been fundamental for indigenous peoples to live in spiritual and in physical harmony with the land for millennia. ”
The author states that the obstinacy to determine quantitative methods, for example, for indigenous scientific practice, comes from the fact that “some Western scientists insist that science must be objective to be qualified as a science, which is culturally neutral and in some way it exists outside of culture and therefore is not affected by culture. ”
“In the literal terms of biology, indigenous science can be seen as an example of “biophilia”, or the innate instinct that all forms of life share among themselves by affiliation. In anthropological terms, indigenous science has been seen as “animism”, “totemism”, or worship of nature. Within the conceptual framework of philosophy, we could say that indigenous science is based on perceptual phenomenology. In essence, indigenous science is based on the acquired perception of using all the senses of our bodies in direct participation with the natural world. ”
In 1998 Louise Grenier wrote the book “Working with Indigenous Knowledge: A Guide for Researchers”22. This guidebook zeros in on what indigenous knowledge can contribute to a sustainable development strategy that accounts for the potential of the local environment and the experience and wisdom of the indigenous population. Through an extensive review of field examples as well as current theory and practice, it provides a succinct yet comprehensive review of indigenous knowledge research and assessment.
“Sources and Methods in Indigenous Studies” (2016)23 is a synthesis of changes and innovations in methodologies in Indigenous Studies, focusing on sources over a broad chronological and geographical range. Written by a group of highly respected Indigenous Studies scholars from across an array of disciplines, this collection offers insight into the methodological approaches contributors take to research, and how these methods have developed in recent years.
The book has a two-part structure that looks, firstly, at the theoretical and disciplinary movement of Indigenous Studies within history, literature, anthropology, and the social sciences. Chapters in this section reveal that, while engaging with other disciplines, Indigenous Studies has forged its own intellectual path by borrowing and innovating from other fields. In part two, the book examines the many different areas with which sources for indigenous history have been engaged, including the importance of family, gender, feminism, and sexuality, as well as various elements of expressive culture such as material culture, literature, and museums.
The book brings a very complete bibliographic review on how Western quantitative research methodologies have been used, over the years, as an instrument of invisibility and control of indigenous populations around the world. The author places the construction of indigenous quantitative methodologies as a tool for emancipation, as well as making it clear the importance of allied researchers being aware of and revolutionizing their own methods.
Chilisa and Tcsheko (2014)24 published a study on indigenous research methodology. A postcolonial indigenous paradigm provides a theoretical framework that informed a mixed-method research approach to design and tests the effectiveness of a school-based risk reduction intervention for adolescents aged 14 to 17 in Botswana. Mixed methods in the article include the sum of recognized scientific methodologies (qualitative) with the “indigenous method”. As they explain, this mixture can lead to the process of indigenization, where researchers invoke indigenous knowledge to inform how concepts and new theoretical frameworks for research studies are defined, new data collection tools are developed and the basis of the expanded literature.
“Mixed indigenous methods, from this point of view, try to invite different voices to participate in a dialogue that covers all cultures and promotes the social validity of research studies. (…) In this perspective, there can be no indigenous research without mixed methods. (…) An approach of mixed indigenous methods requires that the data collected reach and derive from the past, occupy and inform the moment, and also project the future.
(…) Throughout the research process, indigenous methods, such as naming, telling stories, speaking and speaking in circles, bring the spiritual, historical, social and ideological aspects of the research phenomena to the center of the entire research process. . Given the distinct philosophical assumptions of an indigenous lens, therefore, we recognize as mixed indigenous methods, a quantitative study that is informed by relational sets of practices designed to build relationships to promote collective action and social change and is driven by indigenous research protocols and uses a combination of indigenous data collection tools and other qualitative and quantitative methods. ”
Bagele Chilisa is a Professor at the University of Botswana. Her book “Indigenous Research Methodologies”25 (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.
Chilisa presents an elaboration of postcolonial Indigenous research that ties together theory and examples from practice — her own hers as well as that of other engaged researchers. She points out in the preface that throughout her research journey she has always noticed two paradigms in operation: that of the researched and that of the academic community. She explains that this book is premised on understanding how the researched and nonacademic knowledge systems are experienced.
Chilisa carefully describes some of the complex and multiple ways that Indigenous research can be linked to, among other things, ethics, methods, cultural responsiveness, participatory research, and postcolonial research paradigms, including Indigenous feminist research. She critiques how Western knowledge disconnects relationships between research(ers) and communities, and she supports the notion that Indigenous research is about finding connections. The relational aspects of Indigenous research, for example, are frequently highlighted.
This master’s thesis26 was prepared with the intention of inaugurating an “afrodecolonial griótica archeology”. Ethnographic methods were incorporated into archaeological work, aiming to create space for stories about times, things, and places that are not told by the hegemonic discourse of modern Western science, as well as provoking a reflection on the ways in which this science, in this case, archeology has treated these stories (of the Grio population of Guyana and other tribal peoples of the African continent).
The decolonial approach, and particularly afrodecolonial, is manifested by the multiple paradigm inversions proposed throughout the project. The quantitative methodologies of the project were structured based on a strong differential: based on the understanding of the Afro-Guyanese language, and based on a culture in which knowledge is disseminated through orality.
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)27. They have contributions from Indigenous researchers from all around the world: Vanuatu, Mexico, Cameroon, Hawaii, 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.
There is an important excerpt on the notion of indigenous methodology, through the eyes of a Latin American indigenous:
“As Indigenous researchers, we do not have the clear-cut lines that are assumed in so many books on qualitative and quantitative research methods. We are often not only researchers, we are also relations member of communities, advocates, and sometimes therapists, guidance, counselors, and facilitators of change. After studying all the rules and disciplines of the objective researcher, we know as Indigenous researchers that this will not benefit our people. Being objective is impossible. That does not mean to say that we do not have rigor in our research. Rigor comes from the voices and feedback of our own people; it comes from testing the results with our communities. It comes from multiple cross-checks with our communities; it comes from multiple cross-checks with our colleagues; and it comes from a methodology that requires compulsory self-disclosure of where you are from, whose family you belong to, and what interest you have in the research. Our judgments of appropriate researchers to research a topic are the opposite of objective research; we consider that those who have walked on the path being spoken about are the best people to talk about the issue at hand. ”
Latin American researchers list Ecuador’s indigenous quantitative research methodologies as part of the technologies that make up participatory methodologies, with an integrative focus. This set of methodologies “comes from the consideration of the various social worker actors who are interested in the investigation or intervention processes. Because before considering quantitative techniques, it is understood that methodology is a question of power, in addition to ethics or ideology. The so-called “scientific community” is not an objective whole, but rather a type of contested trends, so whoever promotes research may be supporting one or other trends of “power” and “knowledge”.
According to the article28, participatory methodologies recover several research techniques. An example may be the quantitative methodologies with “indigenado” aspects, which add task forces, participatory assemblies, in addition to the distinct look of ethnicity.
According to Colombian researchers, the first necessary step to talk about indigenous knowledge is to reveal that the categories “Indian” and “native” are installed in situations of political, economic, and cultural domination, where the ethnic-racial classification of the modern world drives them away. Native Americans for more than 500 years were subjected to a profound process of socio-political-economic-cultural persecution, in which the academy acted as another vehicle as their oppressors, strengthening the idea that the knowledge of subordination is inferior.
The study indicates29 that decoloniality and indigenous knowledge are linked in the political philosophy of dialectical materialism, as it considers that the role of knowledge in these societies does not socially divide intellectual and manual work, that is, the role of what you think does not exist, therefore, the thoughts, concepts, and ideas of indigenous peoples are loaded with the matter. Indigenous people do not think abstractly like Westerners because they analyze the concrete and specific material situation. This does not mean that its epistemology is dialectical materialism, but that, precisely because of its ontological foundation, its science develops in terms of the concrete, without separating the thing from its meaning.
For the authors, the need to define methodologies (such as quantitative) for South American indigenous scientific practice denotes the Eurocentric view on this theme. From the point of view of the various existing indigenous cultural frameworks, based on the indigenous cosmo-vision, the integrated way of thinking about things does not open space for structuring technical and sub-divided methodologies.
Achicue (2014)30 writes about indigenous thought and the internal tensions faced by indigenous Colombians who enter the academy. He describes two types of tension, with himself and with the indigenous culture itself, since the contrast with the academic-Eurocentric way of thinking makes him question the way of thinking about his own knowledge. This article does not explicitly address indigenous quantitative research methodologies or others, but argues that indigenous science does not fit into these segmentations that we know.
On anthropology, “the indigenous as an anthropologist investigates from his own knowledge, taking some conceptual references from anthropology, establishing a dialogue between exogenous and endogenous knowledge, where the purpose of this dialogue is to share wisdom.”
Another Colombian study from 201831 argues that traditional scientific approaches and Eurocentric research methods do not account for indigenous-South American science, being they “quantitative or qualitative, empirical-analytical, historical-hermeneutical or socio-critical.” According to the authors, “the methodologies mistakenly called qualitative, quantitative and mixed, are also colonizing, North American-Eurocentric and Westernized.”
Márcia Oliveira works with indigenous peoples and the production of science in the Brazilian Amazon, from the perspective of ethnoscience. For her, ethnicity is related to what comes “from within” the people, their intimacy, their collective secrets. In other words, the truth of a people is what the group says about itself and not what they say about it. What matters is what they know about themselves.
On this point of view, Márcia writes about indigenous quantitative research methodologies (and other methodologies)32:
“From the concept of ethnicity come the concepts related to ethno-knowledge and ethnoscience that represents the process of re-elaboration, logical and methodological, of the sciences in an empirical perspective, that is, from another sphere of knowledge, which are the ethno-practices.”
Indigenous quantitative methodologies would be edited based on “ethno-practices”.
Doctoral thesis defended in 2020, in Brazil, I recap the trajectory of the construction of an indigenous research paradigm. According to the author33:
“(…) Reciprocity, relationality and respect are the three fundamental principles of indigenous methodologies. These research principles aim to ensure that the processes conducted by indigenous scholars allow it to “be honored and respected by the people themselves” (WILSON, 2008, p.59). They are so fundamental to indigenous communities that “they will not allow entry of researchers, indigenous and non-indigenous, until they have fulfilled the conditions of the community “. In this perspective, the researchers must engage in” deep listening and hearing with more than ears “and develop a” reflective consideration and without judgment of what is being seen and heard “. Therefore, it must establish connections between “the logic and the feelings of the heart”. The researchers carry the relational accountability to act faithfully in relation to what was heard, observed and learned in the indigenous communities. From an indigenous point of view, it suggests that research is a ceremony, because it is about making connections and strengthening them. A process that requires “a lot of work, dedication and time”. ”
The author shows how the proposal for an indigenous research paradigm seeks to relate scientific research processes to a wide range of dimensions, such as emotional and affective, undervalued, when not discarded, by hegemonic academic research protocols. It is a question of questioning the metaphysics of rationality as an ordering principle of scientific activity in order to dilute the rigid borders that separate the multiplicity of forms of knowledge production.
Regarding the difficulty of indigenous thinkers in being able to glimpse their research using quantitative methods:
“By not recognizing themselves in the research methodologies in force in the academies, indigenous intellectuals point to other ways of thinking and practicing research. Relationality and collectivity are the parameters that must guide it so that it can detach itself, even if not completely, from the bonds of colonial power. As we persist with the idea that methodologies consist of the prior adoption of ready-made techniques and procedures that should be applied in the research process, I refer to indigenous peoples in particular, we disregard the entire relational plot that characterizes the lives of people of flesh and blood and spirit and we reaffirm our inability to deal with the unpredictable and the contingent in us, in others and in the world. What indigenous intellectuals propose is that we do the exact opposite of that. ”
The author reviewed dozens of research published by indigenous / aboriginal populations around the world and in only one he found the use of a methodology described as quantitative. The study was developed in Australia.
In the view of some Brazilian Indians who have joined the academy, looking for ways to do scientific research in the well-known Western methodologies (such as quantitative methodologies) is a way of reducing the indigenous voice.
In Brazil, traditional peoples have entered universities in contingent and conditional ways. Compliance with the scientific notions of rigor and method remains implicit requirements in most circumstances. For this reason, traditional and indigenous knowledge was treated separately from academic institutions. “Historically, scientific knowledge came to overlap and cancel indigenous knowledge”34, says Edson Kaiapó, doctor of education history and one of the few indigenous teachers at the Federal Institute of Bahia. According to him, Integrating scientific and non-scientific knowledge systems requires giving up ingrained precepts and prejudices.
Carla Silva’s master’s dissertation (2019)35 works on scientific practice while building its own identity. On indigenous research methodologies, the study understands “that it is possible to work on the methodology in a decolonization proposal that is not concerned with the technique of selecting a method, but with the context in which the problems are grounded and projected and what the implications for its participants and their communities.”
“I agree with Bernardino-Costa et al. (2019) when they affirm that research brings this poetic tone of rodeos that test the imaginary, as it is from this place of representations, of the imaginary, that deviations are built and legitimized. It is a colonial epistemological heritage, which according to Walsh (2009) works as a device to strengthen the processes of domination in social and racial relations. ”
The author demonstrates that methodologies in indigenous research contexts are justified by the understanding that the concern is not focused on aspects of reality that cannot be quantified, but on the social relationships that are established during the investigation process. Absent any conventional method designation, it works with the universe of meanings, motives, aspirations, beliefs, values , and attitudes, which corresponds to a deeper space of relationships, processes, and phenomena that cannot be reduced to the operationalization of complex variables.
A 2017 article36 brings an approach to the indigenous research paradigm, centered on indigenous populations in the Andean region, in Bolivia. The study brings notions that the emancipatory interculturality translates into the decolonizing horizon. The paradigm is emphasizing indigenous research practices since its emergence, its presence in response to the colonialist process as a practice of resistance and recovery of the so-called “Ecology of knowledge”.
The author, as well as the aforementioned sources, opposes the notion of indigenous methodologies that fit into the scientific work of the conventional academy, such as “quantitative methodologies”. Treating scientific thought and practice in this way is the same as giving up what indigenous science has in essence, which is decolonial practice.
And a study shows that the context of indigenous research is broader than in the Western view. The indigenous reality contains the western reality (the material-rational version), but it goes beyond including what the western view cannot understand by the senses or what rational thought cannot explain. Its epistemology is based on the indigenous knowledge system, which must be incorporated into the research. This knowledge refers to cultures, worldviews, times, languages, histories, spiritualities, and cosmos. Likewise, it is built from social relationships and has six striking characteristics:
1) Its deep relationship with the context and the general connection of worldviews;
2) The importance of relationships;
3) A (non) need for language;
4) The survival of ancestral knowledge;
5) The collectivity of knowledge;
6) The relational role of the researcher.
This study37 reviewed all published Chilean research on local indigenous intellectuals and indigenous research. This article corroborates with other Latin references compiled here, which do not assume the existence of “indigenous qualitative methodology” because they understand that this would be incompatible with the indigenous way of thinking.
- Delivering Indigenous Data Sovereignty’ – Professor Maggie Walter38
- Indigenous Data Sovereignty39
- Decolonizing Knowledge’ 201340
- A short video of Maggie Walter talking about Indigenous quantitative research41