First Nations & Research

Miyoskapowis (Good Helper)

Historically, Indigenous peoples have often experienced research as an exploitative project, treated as objects whose main purpose is to promote and advance non-indigenous research agendas.

In many instances, indigenous peoples have been recruited to participate in projects under the assumption that the findings would be of immediate collective benefit and shared only to find that the project’s researchers have moved on without any feedback, consultation, sharing, or return of materials (DNA and other biological samples, personal items, narratives, etc.).

Take, for example, Rick Ward, a researcher who was funded by Health Canada in the 1980s to conduct rheumatoid arthritis research in the Ahousaht and Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ (Ucluelet) First Nations in British Columbia. This month is the thirty-fourth anniversary of Mr. Ward’s original research on the Nuu-Chah-Nulth people.

He did not ask for their consent to continue to use their blood for research outside of the arthritis project and they did not know he had been using their blood in this way until 2000.

*click the word consent to read more about Rick Ward’s research


Thanks to the ongoing and tireless efforts of Elders, knowledge keepers, indigenous rights advocates and scholars, indigenous researchers and research participants, and community-based organizations across the world the field has shifted since Mr. Ward’s day and indigenous-led discourses around Indigenous Knowledge Systems and research ethics have informed how legitimate research with, about, and by indigenous peoples is (and ought to be) practiced.

In this spirit, SFNFCI’s own research process is informed by a profound respect for Indigenous Knowledge Systems/Traditional Ecological Knowledges as well as by OCAP (Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession) principles.  This process is also informed by a set of relational principles consistent with indigenous reciprocal practices:

Sustained and sustainable – SFNFCI’s overall research mission requires both a long-term and short-term perspective. The research relationship is thus approached as a necessarily sustained activity and, as such, practice unfolds with sustainability as a core tenet.

Fluid processes – The research relationship, like anything else, needs to be flexible enough to shift and transform as the situation does. Methods are emergent and responsive to the situation as it happens. Community partners have the larger role in guiding the process and the research plan unfolds accordingly.

Practical applications – This is not research for its own sake; it serves the express purpose of increasing quality of life outcomes for the entire community through supporting First Nations with their data management, information acquisition, and community wellness goals.

Relational accountability – Reciprocity forms the basis of a mutually respectful research relationship that takes into consideration each community partner’s specific situation. The researcher is accountable to community-partners.

Review and renewal – The relationship continues to develop and evolve as the research itself does and regular check-ins allow everyone to make sure congruency is achieved and maintained. This is also an opportunity to have conversations to review research parameters and whether or not the existing approach, plan, or model is still serving the community’s best interests.

Leading innovation – Community-based research is not theory-driven, it is practice-driven. This results in adaptive, on-the-ground research methods that are uniquely suited to the community-partner.

As we move forward in addressing the issues of most concern to our communities, research guided by Indigenous Ethics, Principles, and Protocols (IEPP) is becoming more relevant in nation building and management activities across the province and country. Information is important for understanding the needs of our communities as well as for assessing and allocating resources required to provide appropriate wellness-initiatives for community members. When done in a good way and in line with OCAP and IEPP, research is an important asset for First Nations.

For more information contact: Roberta Desnomie, SFNFCI Researcher at:

Roberta@sfnfci.ca or 306-713-5146



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