Context of Research in the North

Research and Indigenous Peoples

For many years, research in an Indigenous context was carried out primarily by non-Indigenous researchers, who set the conditions for it. Historically, research was conducted in a colonial manner, without the collaboration of the peoples concerned, and without any validation or feedback on the results once the studies were complete. This explains why, in recent decades, Indigenous Peoples have criticized these methods, noting the lack of benefits for them. In fact, Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, along with others, were pioneers when it came to establishing research ethics standards. As Nagy mentions, “Thus in Canada it is now impossible for scientists to undertake research projects without the proper consultations, permissions, and collaborations with the communities involved.” However, this Canadian approach has not been unanimously accepted. Some European researchers are against the adoption of an ethics charter specific to social science research in the Arctic. It is also worth mentioning that

[…] Researchers in some fields, notably in natural sciences, are not used to dealing with human beings, and do not know how to react when Indigenous Peoples tell them they were created as stewards of Mother Earth, and that as a result it is up to them to decide how research on the land, the animals, and the plants must be defined.

The key focus in this context is on drafting, implementing, using, and institutionalizing research protocols in Indigenous ethics. 

A number of Indigenous Peoples and organizations have developed research protocols that help provide a framework for research in Indigenous settings and ensure compliance with research ethics standards. These tools address the concerns raised by Indigenous groups with regard to research conducted in their communities.

It is also essential to take into account the notion of “collective knowledge” (most often applicable in an Indigenous context), not solely that referred to as “individual knowledge,” which is more often applied in a non-Indigenous context. Furthermore, in an Indigenous context, it is important to make a distinction between “common knowledge,” i.e., that generally available to all; “family knowledge,” which circulates and is transmitted within families and between relatives; and “private or secret knowledge” that is known only to a handful of people. Finally, in affirming that Inuit knowledge is being respected, it is not enough to simply write terms in Inuktitut or in another language. 

FPWG: Defining the North

Coming up with a definition of the North is a challenge. INQ defines the North (or rather, the Norths) in relation to the 49th parallel. Four Indigenous nations—the Cree, Inuit, Naskapi and Innu—live in these northern regions, an area of over 1.2 million km2, or 72% of Quebec’s total land mass. They share the territory with the Atikamekw and the Anicinabek, who have family territories there. This definition reflects that of the Government of Quebec. 

But government and institutional definitions of the North do not necessarily coincide with those of the Indigenous Peoples, for whom the territory is shared among different nations, with varying degree of political or administrative boundaries. As a result, decolonizing research requires that considerable thought be given to the notions of customary law and traditional territory. FPWG therefore suggests that in drafting these guidelines, there be a reflection on defining the North, and that researchers establish, as part of their project and together with the Indigenous Peoples concerned, a common definition of the territory where the research is to be conducted. 

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