- Centering Indigenous Nations within Indigenous Methodologies
How do we understand Indigenous individuals, communities, and nations as research subjects, researchers, and beneficiaries of research? The primary focus of Indigenous methodologies and research should center on the issues and concerns of Indigenous nations or peoples. Indigenous nations, cultures, governments, and issues should be the primary research units and the primary focus of theory, policy, positionality, and analysis within Indigenous studies approaches and paradigms. Western research institutions and academic disciplines express their values, goals, and research results when addressing policy, political, or academic issues found in Western nations and cultural and intellectual traditions. Often Western researchers theorize and study Indigenous peoples as part of their own “universal” research, policy, and theoretical interests. This is the main body of research in regard to Indigenous peoples that currently takes place in the world. Indigenous peoples have widely differing cultures, territories, and conceptions of self-government, and goals and values that usually differ from the research goals conducted by institutions supported by nation-states. There is nothing wrong with differing research paradigms and perspectives, if researchers are truly seeking reliable knowledge and understanding. Just as mainstream-supported research serves the goals and interests of nation-states, Indigenous studies should foster the goals and values of Indigenous governments, nations, and communities. Research [End Page 57] conducted among Indigenous nations should respect their worldviews and forms of government, community, culture, and nationality.
Indigenous nations have their own culturally informed ways of sustaining self-government, culture, territory, and economic well-being. Indigenous nations cannot be summarized by a discussion of race, ethnicity, marginalized-colonized populations, cultural groups, or minority groups. Indigenous nations predate contemporary nation-states and were not parties to the formation, agreements, or constitutions of nation-states. Indigenous people usually are not consensual citizens of their surrounding nation-states. In the contemporary world, Indigenous nations are often at odds with their surrounding nation-state in regard to a variety of issues including language, territory, self-government, cultural worldviews, and citizen status. Indigenous peoples and nation-states usually do not agree on the fundamental rules of political, cultural, and economic order. Indigenous nations do not necessarily want to challenge the legal and political structures of nation-states, but nation-states often require legal and normative conformity from Indigenous peoples on disputed issues. These incommensurate cultural and institutional outlooks frame the current contentious context of Indigenous peoples and nation-states. Indigenous peoples do not directly challenge nation-states, but the very fact of their carrying on their own institutional, political, and cultural orders is often incompatible with the laws and rules of nation-states.
Western academic scientific theory and social interpretations are positivistic, materialistic, reductionist, objectivist, and focused on compartmentalizing knowledge into specialties. Indians are seen as subjects—or objects—of research, and are conceptualized in ways alien to Indian understandings of human groups and their place in the universe. Indigenous peoples have holistic interpretations and values that provide knowledge about the interrelatedness of humans and nonhuman forces in the world. Some Indigenous knowledge and viewpoints are gaining attention and validation in the scientific world. Medicine is exploring holistic medical practices and discovering that many pharmaceuticals known to be effective today were often used by Native peoples. In addition, environmentalists look to Indigenous perspectives for visions of sustainable holistic cosmic order. Policy makers in development theory are increasingly discussing Indigenous knowledge, and traditional ecological knowledge is gaining interest and study. When classical scientific viewpoints clash with Indigenous worldviews and values, however, distrust and misunderstanding can result among Indigenous peoples.1 Claims by Western researchers of neutrality, universalism, and objectivity are difficult for Indigenous peoples to accept and comprehend both politically and culturally.2
Researchers who are conducting research in Indigenous nations and among Indigenous peoples are transitioning from one worldview [End Page 58] or way of life to another. Not to recognize Indigenous nations’ cultural and political clashes with nation-states, and their different goals and values, is to fail to recognize Indigenous peoples’ diverse understandings, values, and ways of being. The diversity and even the presence of Indigenous nations are often not explicitly articulated in many theories and methodologies. These methodologies therefore cannot adequately explain...