Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Month: August, 2019

93. Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor”

tuck yang

My walking is finished, and even though I ought to be exploring the sights here in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, I’m in the hotel room, working. These texts won’t read themselves, after all, and I’m not going to hit my goal of 100 texts by the end of August. I’ve just been having too much fun walking!

“Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor” is one of the key texts in the study of settler colonialism, and for that reason it’s important that I read it. It begins with two epigraphs from Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth on decolonization, which in Fanon’s case meant the departure of the imperial power (France, since Fanon wrote The Wretched of the Earth in Algeria during that country’s struggle for independence) from a colony and the creation of an independent national government. (The Wretched of the Earth is the next thing I’ll be reading for this project, mostly because one of my supervisors suggested that it would be valuable.) The first epigraph suggests that decolonization is “a program of complete disorder” (qtd. 2), which reflects (I think) the authors’ argument that the goal of decolonization is open-ended and undetermined, and that it is a historical process, which cannot be understood unless we “discern the movements which give it historical form and content” (qtd. 2). The second epigraph, which suggests that “the settler knows perfectly well that no phraseology can be a substitute for reality” (qtd. 2), reflects the authors’ contention that the word “decolonization” needs to be understood literally rather than rhetorically.

Tuck and Yang begin by noting that their area of research is education, and in particular the ways that “settler colonialism has shaped schooling and educational research in the United States and other settler colonial nation-states” (2). That work requires an engagement with the meaning of decoloniation, “what it wants and requires” (2). Tuck and Yang object to “the ease with which the language of decolonization has been superficially adopted into education and other social sciences, supplanting prior ways of talking about social justice, critical methodologies, or approaches which decenter settler perspectives” (2). Decolonization must not be subsumed by those projects, they argue, noting that decolonization is often discussed without mentioning Indigenous peoples or their struggles for sovereignty or “the contributions of Indigenous intellectuals and activists to theories and frameworks of decolonization” (3). “[T]his kind of inclusion is a form of enclosure, dangerous in how it domesticates decolonization,” they write. “It is also a foreclosure, limiting in how it recapitulates dominant theories of social change” (3). The rhetorical use of the word “decolonization” is therefore “another form of settler appropriation” (3). 

This essay, published in the first issue of a journal called Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society, is an attempt “to clarify that decolonization is not a metaphor”: “When metaphor invades decolonization, it recenters whiteness, it resettles theory, it extends innocence to the settler, it entertains a settler future” (3). “Our goal in this essay is to remind readers what is unsettling about decolonization—what is unsettling and should be unsettling,” they suggest (3). The notions of unsettling (of theory, of politics, of identity), of decentring whiteness, of denying both innocence to settlers and a future to the settler identity, are central points in this essay. So is the notion of difficulty: anything that seems to be too easy is, according to Tuck and Yang, a wrong approach to or misunderstanding of decolonization.

“There is a long and bumbled history of non-Indigenous peoples making moves to alleviate the impacts of colonialization,” Tuck and Yang write. “The too-easy adoption of decolonizing discourse (making decolonization a metaphor) is just one part of that history and it taps into pre-existing tropes that get in the way of more meaningful potential alliances” (3). Those tropes are “moves to innocence” for settlers; they “problematically attempt to reconcile settler guilt and complicity, and rescue settler futurity” (3). A discussion of those moves to innocence is at the core of this essay. Those moves to innocence include:

  1. Settler nativism
  2. Fantasizing adoption
  3. Colonial equivocation
  4. Conscientization
  5. At risk-ing/Asterisk-ing Indigenous peoples
  6. Re-occupation and urban homesteading[.] (4)

“Such moves ultimately represent fantasies of easier paths to reconciliation,” they write:

attending to what is irreconcilable within settler colonial relations and what is incommensurable between decolonizing projects and other social justice projects will help to reduce the frustration of attempts at solidarity; but the attention won’t get anyone off the hook from the hard, unsettling work of decolonization. (4)

For that reason, they continue, they have also included “a discussion of interruptions that unsettle innocence and recognize incommensurability” (4).

First, though Tuck and Yang distinguish between external colonialism (colonial activities outside the borders of the imperial nation) and internal colonialism (colonial activities within the borders of the imperial nation). However, neither of these definitions adequately describe the form of colonialism in countries where the colonizers have come to stay. “Settler colonialism operates through internal/external colonial modes simultaneously because there is no spatial separation between metropole and colony,” they write. “The horizons of the settler colonial nation-state are total and require a mode of total appropriation of Indigenous life and land, rather than the selective expropriation of profit-producing fragments” (5). What makes settler colonialism different from other forms of colonialism is the fact that “settlers come with the intention of making a new home on the land, a homemaking that insists on settler sovereignty over all things in their new domain” (5). That homemaking means that the most important concern of settler colonialism is land, “both because the settlers make Indigenous land their new home and source of capital, and also because the disruption of Indigenous relationships represents a profound epistemic, ontological, cosmological violence” (5). They cite Patrick Wolfe’s famous dictum: settler colonialism is a structure rather than an event (5). That structure remakes land into property and restricts human relationships to land to property ownership. “Epistemological, ontological, and cosmological relationships to land are interred, indeed made pre-modern and backward,” they write. “Made savage” (5). 

“In order for the settlers to make a place their home, they must destroy and disappear the Indigenous peoples that live there,” Tuck and Yang write:

For the settlers, Indigenous peoples are in the way and, in the destruction of Indigenous peoples, Indigenous communities, and over time and through law and policy, Indigenous peoples’ claims to land under settler regimes, land is recast as property and as a resource. Indigenous peoples must be erased, must be made into ghosts. (6)

They also suggest that “settler colonialism involves the subjugation and forced labor of chattel slaves,” a claim that is not true of all settler colonial states; while slavery was legal in what is now Canada until the early 19th century, for example, it was not a central part of the economy there as it was in Spanish colonies in Central and South America, as well as in the United States. Perhaps that distinction doesn’t matter. It’s true that the settler “sees himself as holding dominion over the earth and its flora and fauna, as the anthropocentric normal, and as more developed, more human, more deserving than other groups or species” (6). (That way of thinking is the root of the planet’s current ecological crises.) “The settler is making a new ‘home’ and that home is rooted in a homesteading worldview where the wild land and wild people were made for his benefit,” Tuck and Yang continue. “He can only make his identity as a settler by making the land produce, and produce excessively, because ‘civilization’ is defined as production in excess of the ‘natural’ world (i.e. in excess of the sustainable production already present in the Indigenous world)” (6). For Tuck and Yang, that excess production requires slavery, although in the part of Canada where I live it actually required mechanized agriculture. Moreover, “[s]ettlers are not immigrants,” Tuck and Yang contend. “Immigrants are beholden to the Indigenous laws and epistemologies of the lands they migrate to. Settlers become the law, supplanting Indigenous laws and epistemologies” (6-7). That is, I think, Harold Johnson’s point in his book Two Families: Treaties and Government: when the Cree chiefs who negotiated Treaty 6 engaged the Crown representatives in a pipe ceremony, they were adopting them (and the settlers who would follow) and expecting they would behave like the immigrants Tuck and Yang describe here, rather than like settlers.

Decolonization in settler colonial situations is complicated, Tuck and Yang contend, “because empire, settlement, and internal colony have no spatial separation. Each of these features of settler colonialism in the US context—empire, settlement, and internal colony—make it a site of contradictory decolonial desires” (7). Thinking of decolonization in metaphorical ways “allows people to equivocate these contradictory desires because it turns decolonization into an empty signifier to be filled by any track towards liberation. In reality, the tracks walk all over land/people in settler contexts” (7). For Tuck and Yang, 

decolonization in the settler colonial context must involve the repatriation of land simultaneous to the recognition of how land and relations to land have always already been differently understood and enacted; that is, all of the land, and not just symbolically. This is precisely why decolonization is necessarily unsettling, especially across lines of solidarity. (7)

“Settler colonialism and its decolonization implicates and unsettles everyone,” they conclude (7).  I agree that repatriation of land is central to decolonization, and that idea certainly unsettles me, because although I was born on stolen land, it’s also the only home I’ve ever known, and I have nowhere else to go. The notion that “all of the land” must be repatriated is a political impossibility for that reason. Yes, that’s what must be done for decolonization to take place in a settler colonial context; but it is also what will not happen, because the settler majority will not stand for it. That contradiction implicates all of us and ought to unsettle us as well.

“Everything within a settler colonial society strains to destroy or assimilate the Native in order to disappear them from the land,” Tuck and Yang argue. That is the reason Settler society can have “multiple simultaneous and conflicting messages about Indigenous peoples, such as all Indians are dead, located in faraway reservations, that contemporary Indigenous people are less indigenous than prior generations, and that all Americans are a ‘little bit Indian’” (9). These fantasies constitute desires to erase Indigenous peoples, “because the death of pre-modern ways of life is thought to be inevitable,” and that erasure would provide a resolution to the colonial situation “through the absolute and total destruction or assimilation of original inhabitants” (9). The failure of that destruction “prompts multiple forms of settler anxiety,” because the presence of Indigenous peoples, “who make a priori claims to land and ways of being,” is “a constant reminder that the settler colonial project is incomplete” (9). The metaphorical use of the term “decolonization” is “a form of this anxiety, because it is a premature attempt at reconciliation”; it is “one way the settler, disturbed by her own settler status, tries to escape or contain the unbearable searchlight of complicity, of having harmed others just by being one’s self” (9). “The desire to reconcile is just as relentless as the desire to disappear the Native,” they continue: “it is a desire to not to have to deal with this (Indian) problem anymore” (9).

Tuck and Yang take the idea of settler moves to innocence from the work of Janet Mawhinney. These moves to innocence are the result of a desire “to find some mercy or relief in the face of the relentless of settler guilt and haunting” (9). “Directly and indirectly benefitting from the erasure and assimilation of Indigenous peoples is a difficult reality for settlers to accept,” they contend, and so Settlers “hurry toward any reprieve” (9). “Settler moves to innocence are those strategies that attempt to relieve the settler of feelings of guilt or responsibility without giving up land or power or privilege, without having to change much at all,” they continue. “In fact, settler scholars may gain professional kudos or a boost in their reputations for being so sensitive or self-aware. Yet settler moves to innocence are hollow, they only serve the settler” (10). Their discussion of these moves to innocence may make their Settler readers embarrassed or uncomfortable or feel implicated, and it seems that’s the point. Their goal in this discussion “is to provide a framework of excuses, distractions, and diversions from decolonization” (10). That framework is intended to make us “more impatient with each other, less likely to accept gestures and half-steps, and more willing to press for acts which unsettle innocence” (10).

Tuck and Yang then discuss the moves to innocence they listed earlier in the essay. The first move is claiming to have an Indigenous ancestor. This “is a settler move to innocence because it is an attempt to deflect a settler identity, while continuing to enjoy settler privilege and occupying stolen land” (11). “Settler nativism, through the claiming of a long-lost ancestory, invests in these specific racializations of Indigenous people and Black people, and disbelieves the sovereign authority of Indigenous nations to determine tribal membership,” Tuck and Yang argue. “Ancestry is different from tribal membership; Indigenous identity and tribal membership are questions that Indigenous communities alone have the right to struggle over and define, not DNA tests, heritage websites, and certainly not the settler state” (13). “Settler nativism is about imagining an Indian past and a settler future,” they continue, while “tribal sovereignty has provided for an Indigenous present and various Indigenous intellectuals theorize decolonization as Native futures without a settler state” (13).

The second move to innocence is settler adoption fantasies. “These fantasies can mean the adoption of Indigenous practices and knowledge, but more, refer to those narratives in the settler colonial imagination in which the Native (understanding that he is becoming extinct) hands over his land, his claim to the land, his very Indian-ness to the settler for safe-keeping,” Tuck and Yang write. “This is a fantasy that is invested in a settler futurity and dependent on the foreclosure of an Indigenous futurity” (14). They discuss James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales as an example. “In the unwritten decolonial version of Cooper’s story, Hawkeye would lose his land back to the Mohawk,” they write. “Hawkeye would shoot his last arrow, or his last long-rifle shot, return his eagle feather, and would be renamed Natty Bumppo, settler on Native land. The story would end at the moment of this recognition” (17). That ending, though, would leave a number of questions open: “Would a conversation follow after that between Native and the last settler? Would the settler leave or just vanish? Would he ask to stay, and if he did, who would say yes? These are questions that will be addressed at decolonization, and not a priori in order to appease anxieties for a settler future” (17). Is it likely, though, that settlers would “just vanish”? Where would they—we—go? Isn’t that a rather tidy resolution to a pretty big problem for decolonization?

It seems to me that Tuck and Yang are merging two separate ideas here. Isn’t the adoption of Indigenous practices and knowledge different from the narratives in which land and identity are given to Settlers “for safe-keeping”? Is reading Indigenous writers, not a way of adopting, or at least learning about, Indigenous knowledge? Isn’t it necessary to acquire that kind of knowledge in order to understand settler colonialism and its effects? Moreover, I’ve heard some Elders describe some ceremonies as open to anyone. For instance, I recently had a conversation with an Elder in which she was surprised to hear that I was reluctant to smudge on my own, even though I find it helpful and grounding. “Why not?” she asked. “I don’t want to appropriate customs that aren’t mine,” I answered. She didn’t think that was a good reason. Clearly not everyone is focused on issues of appropriation or adoption.

The third move to innocence is colonial equivocation, by which Tuck and Yang mean “the homogenizing of various experiences of oppression as colonization” (17). They want to separate those experiences of oppression from colonization. The “logical endpoint” of antiracism, they suggest, “the attainment of equal legal and cultural entitlements, is actually an investment in settler colonialism,” presumably because it accepts the authority of Settler society. “Indeed, even the ability to be a minority citizen in the settler nation means an option to become a brown settler,” they continue. “For many people of color, becoming a subordinate settler is an option even when becoming white is not” (18). They also distinguish between anti-colonial critique and “a decolonizing framework”: 

anti-colonial critique often celebrates empowered postcolonial subjects who seize denied privileges from the metropole. This anti-to-post-colonial project doesn’t strive to undo colonialism but rather to remake it and subvert it. Seeking stolen resources is entangled with settler colonialism because those resources were nature/Native first, then enlisted into the service of settlement and thus almost impossible to reclaim without re-occupying Native land. Furthermore, the postcolonial pursuit of resources is fundamentally an anthropocentric model, as land, water, air, animals, and plants are never able to become postcolonial; they remain objects to be exploited by the empowered postcolonial subject. (19)

I’m not sure I follow the shift from anti-colonial critique to resource exploitation here, particularly since the rest of the argument in this section of the essay focuses on the inadequacy of multicultural approaches to oppressions, which do not address Indigenous sovereignty or rights. Perhaps the shift to resource exploitation comes from the need for decolonization to include “unsettling/deoccupying the land” (19). Any arguments short of that recognition, they argue, are equivocations: “That is, they ambiguously avoid engaging with settler colonialism; they are ambivalent about minority/people of color/colonized Others as settlers; they are cryptic about Indigenous land rights in spaces inhabited by people of color” (19). 

Conscientization, a focus on “decolonizing the mind,” is the fourth move to innocence. Tuck and Yang note that Fanon argues that decolonizing the mind was a first step, not the only or final one. “Yet we wonder whether another settler move to innocence is to focus on decolonizing the mind, or the cultivation of critical consciousness, as if it were the sole activity of decolonization; to allow conscientization to stand in for the more uncomfortable task of relinquishing stolen land,” they write (19). “[T]he front-loading of critical consciousness building can waylay decolonization, even though the experience of teaching and learning to be critical of settler colonialism can be so powerful that it can feel like it is indeed making change,” they continue (19). Decolonization will only happen when “stolen land is relinquished” (19). And yet, isn’t the development of that “critical consciousness” necessary to relinquishing that stolen land? Wouldn’t developing a collective understanding that the land has been stolen and needs to be returned be an essential step in the decolonizing process? Besides, how would that stolen land be relinquished? What would happen afterwards? I realize that Tuck and Yang argue that there is no Settler futurity—that we ought to have no future on the stolen lands we occupy—but that is an extraordinary thing to ask people to accept, especially if they have not yet developed a “critical consciousness” regarding settler colonialism. 

Tuck and Yang describe that project of developing critical consciousness as settler harm reduction” (21). This project, they write, “is intended only as a stopgap”:

As the environmental crisis escalates and peoples around the globe are exposed to greater concentrations of violence and poverty, the need for settler harm reduction is acute, profoundly so. At the same time we remember that, by definition, settler harm reduction, like conscientization, is not the same as decolonization and does not inherently offer any pathways that lead to decolonization. (21-22)

All of this would be easier to understand, or perhaps accept, if Tuck and Yang were able to offer concrete examples of pathways that would lead to decolonization, defined as the return of stolen land. How do we get there from here?

The fifth move to innocence, “A(s)t(e)risk peoples,” has to do with the ways that Indigenous people are rendered invisible by social science research, either by being defined as “at risk” peoples, “on the verge of extinction, culturally and economically bereft, engaged or soon-to-be engaged in self-destructive behaviors which can interrupt their school careers and seamless absorption into the economy” (22), or by being left out or “represented by an asterisk” in statistical data sets because of small sample sizes (22). I’m not sure how to respond to this argument. On the one hand, it’s important that Indigenous peoples not be defined only by the social problems caused by colonization, but on the other, it would be foolish to pretend that such problems do not exist. Those self-destructive behaviours don’t just interrupt the “seamless absorption into the economy” of Indigenous youth, for instance; they can end their lives. Yes, becoming part of the economy may not be the resolution Tuck and Yang would like to see for those youth, but it’s better than some of the alternatives, and I don’t think it’s the role of privileged academics to tell people struggling to survive what their goals ought to be. The other problem appears to be without a solution: sample sizes need to be large to be statistically valid, and where a population is small—their example is urban Indigenous youth in schools—it is likely to be submerged in the data. Perhaps the answer would be to engage in more qualitative research than quantitative research, but that’s not where Tuck and Yang end up. Rather, they argue that because most Indigenous youth live in cities, “[a]ny decolonizing urban education endeavor must address the foundations of urban land pedagogy and Indigenous politics vis-a-vis the settler colonial state” (23). That may be true, but it doesn’t address the problem of large-scale population surveys which make “collecting basic education and health information about this small and heterogenous group” so difficult, or how those difficulties can be overcome in order to “counter the disappearance of Indigenous particularities in public policy” (22).

The last move to innocence, “Re-occupation and urban homesteading,” has to do with the failure of the Occupy movement to acknowledge that its occupations took place on stolen land, or that the source of the wealth that Occupy demanded be redistributed was that stolen Indigenous land (23). “For social justice movements, like Occupy, to truly aspire to decolonization non-metaphorically, they would impoverish, not enrich, the 99%+ settler population of [the] United States,” they write. “Decolonization eliminates settler property rights and settler sovereignty. It requires the abolition of land as property and upholds the sovereignty of Native land and people” (26). Again, that would be an extremely difficult proposition to sell to that settler majority. Tuck and Yang compare the Occupy/Decolonize movements to the French and Haitian Revolutions of the late 18th century. They note that Haiti was the richest French colony before its revolution, and the poorest afterwards, due to the French demand for reparations as a condition of recognizing Haitian independence. This comparison is a way of introducing the notion of incommensurability: the Occupy and Decolonize movements are incommensurable, because while Occupy sees the United States as composed of 99% Occupiers (I doubt Occupy ever claimed that 99% of the population was participating in the movement) and 1% Owners, the Decolonize movement sees the primary distinction as between the 0.9% Indigenous peoples and the 99.1% Settlers (27). “Occupation is a move towards innocence that hides behind the numerical superiority of the settler nation, the elision of democracy with justice, and the logic that what became property under the 1% belongs to the other 99%,” they write (28). They also connect Occupy’s demand to “occupy everything” to what they call “urban homesteading,” which I think is another way of thinking about the gentrification of poor neighbourhoods. Surely there is a radical distinction to be made between the Occupy movement and gentrification? Perhaps not. “In contrast to the settler labor of occupying the commons, homesteading, and possession, some scholars have begun to consider the labor of de-occupation in the undercommons, permanent fugitivity, and dispossession as possibilities for a radical black praxis,” they write, citing Fred Moten and Stephano Harney (28). I’ve tried to read Moten’s and Harney’s book The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, but I ran aground on the impossibility of their ideas, and frankly their unappealing nature. Who would want the instability of “permanent fugitivity” or of “dispossession”? Perhaps I need to return to Moten’s and Harney’s work and try harder to understand it. I found this section of the essay to be quite weak, with the excursion into the history of Haiti an unnecessary detour, and I think that Craig Fortier’s book Unsettling the Commons: Social Movements Within, Against, and Beyond Settler Colonialism to be a much clearer discussion of the contradictions between the Occupy movement and decolonization.

The last section of the essay, “Incommensurability is unsettling,” presents 

a synopsis of the imbrication of settler colonialism with transnationalist, abolitionist, and critical pedagogy movements—efforts that are often thought of as exempt from Indigenous decolonizing analyses—as a synthesis of how decolonization as material, not metaphor, unsettles the innocence of these movements. These are interruptions which destabilize, un-balance, and repatriate the very terms and assumptions of some of the most radical efforts to reimagine human power relations. We argue that the opportunities for solidarity lie in what is incommensurable rather than what is common across these efforts. (28)

They describe what they call “an ethic of incommensurability, which recognizes what is distinct, what is sovereign for project(s) of decolonization in relation to human and civil rights based social justice projects” (28). There are, they continue, “portions of these project that simply cannot be speak to one another, cannot be aligned or allied” (28). Those portions are incommensurable. They suggest “unsettling themes that challenge the coalescence of social justice endeavors broadly assembled in three areas: Transnational or Third World decolonizations, Abolition, and Critical Space-Place Pedagogies” (28-29). For each area, they provide “a bibliography of incommensurability” (29).

First is the discussion of Third World decolonizations. “The anti-colonial turn towards the transnational can sometimes involve ignoring the settler colonial context where one resides and how that inhabitation is implicated in settler colonialism, in order to establish ‘global’ solidarities that presumably suffer fewer complexities and complications” (29). They invite their readers “to consider the permanent settler war as the theatre for all imperial wars,” and provide a bibliography of texts that address a number of issues, such as “discovery, invasion, occupation and Commons as the claims of settler sovereignty,” “heteropatriarchy as the imposition of settler sexuality,” and “U.S. imperialism as the expansion of settler colonialism” (29).

Second is a discussion of the abolition of slavery. They note that freed slaves in the United States were promised 40 acres of land that belonged to Indigenous peoples as reparations. “[W]e urge you to consider how enslavement is a twofold procedure: removal from land and the creation of property (land and bodies),” they write. “Thus, abolition is likewise twofold, requiring the repatriation of land and the abolition of property (land and bodies). Abolition means self-possession but not object-possession, repatriation but not reparation” (30). I find the word “repatriation” rather ominous here; what of the formerly enslaved Africans in the United States who did not choose to be repatriated? What would happen to them? And why is this discussion of the abolition of slavery, something that happened in 1865, being considered a contemporary issue? I am missing something in this argument.

Third is critical pedagogies, something that engages Tuck and Yang, since they are professors of education. They suggest that place-based, environmentalist, and urban pedagogies are incommensurable with land education, and suggest several resources. So far, though, they have not explained how “opportunities for solidarity lie in what is incommensurable” (28). Perhaps that is the reason they provide a lengthy, italicized explanation of incommensurability. It is, they write, “an acknowledgement that decolonization will require a change in the order of the world” (31):

This is not to say that Indigenous peoples or Black and brown peoples take positions of dominance over white settlers; the goal is not for everyone to merely swap spots on the settler-colonial triad, to take another turn on the merry-go-round. The goal is to break the relentless structuring of the triad—a break and not a compromise. (31)

“There is,” they continue, “so much that in incommensurable, so many overlaps that can’t be figured, that cannot be resolved” (31). From this point the essay becomes a list of those apparently impossible to resolve issues: “Settler colonialism fuels imperialism all around the globe. Oil is the motor and motive for war and so was salt, so will be water. Settler sovereignty over these very pieces of earth, air, and water is what makes possible these imperialisms” (31). What is the connection between settler colonialism and oil? Isn’t settler colonialism a feature of places (I’m thinking of New Zealand) that don’t have oil reserves? Why bring salt into the discussion? Do Settlers have sovereignty over the air? Yes, the uranium mined near the Laguna Pueblo reservation in New Mexico was used to build bombs, and yes, the radioactive debris has poisoned the land, but how is that incommensurable? With what? How are the borders of the U.S. examples of incommensurability? How is the high rate of incarceration in Louisiana an example of incommensurability? There’s no question that prison farms and private prisons are contemporary forms of slavery, but how are they incommensurable? I don’t understand the connections Tuck and Yang are expecting their readers to make; nor do I understand how issues that are impossible to resolve can become the grounds of solidarity. That idea seems to have been dropped entirely.

Finally, Tuck and Yang provide a short conclusion that begins with this statement: “An ethic of incommensurability, which guides moves that unsettle innocence, stands in contrast to aims of reconciliation, which motivate settler moves to innocence” (35). Reconciliation, they continue, “is concerned with rescuing settler normalcy,” and with “rescuing a settler future” (35). Reconciliation asks questions like “what will decolonization look like? What will happen after abolition? What will be the consequences of decolonization for the settler?” (35). “Incommensurability,” Tuck and Yang write, “acknowledges that these questions need not, and perhaps cannot, be answered in order for decolonization to exist as a framework” (35). But won’t decolonization require an engagement with Settlers, given their sheer numbers (which Tuck and Yang have discussed)? How could such an engagement take place without answering those questions, or at least acknowledging that they are legitimate? My questions, however, are the wrong ones to ask, and my suggestion that Settlers need to be engaged is off-topic: “decolonization is not accountable to settlers, or settler futurity,” Tuck and Yang write. “Decolonization is accountable to Indigenous sovereignty and futurity” (35). Moreover, they argue, the answers to the questions Settlers might ask “are not fully in view and can’t be as long as decolonization remains punctuated my metaphor” (35). I’m not sure that argument makes sense; one can imagine giving back stolen land without resorting to metaphor, and the questions Settlers would ask about their future would still exist. The authors’ next point makes more sense: “The answers will not emerge from friendly understanding, and indeed require a dangerous understanding of uncommonality that un-coalesces coalition politics—moves that may feel very unfriendly” (35). The point, I think, is that uncommonality is built into this issue; that decolonization will be a struggle between Indigenous peoples and Settlers, not a coalition that includes both parties. The unfriendliness they acknowledge is simply part of the structure, and the struggle, of decolonization. 

“To fully enact an ethic of incommensurability means relinquishing settler futurity, abandoning the hope that settlers may one day be commensurable to Native peoples,” Tuck and Yang write:

It means removing the asterisks, periods, commas, apostrophes, the whereas’s, buts and conditional clauses that punctuate decolonization and underwrite settler innocence. The Native futures, the lives to be lived once the settler nation is gone—these are the unwritten possibilities made possible by an ethic of incommensurability. (36)

“Decolonization is not an ‘and,’” they write, not something that can be made a part of other human or civil rights approaches to justice. “It is an elsewhere” (36). 

After reading and summarizing “Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor,” I have mixed feelings. I see the need to give back the stolen land that I—we—live on. I see the moves to innocence that Settlers use to protect themselves from the knowledge that despite their enlightened qualities and their apparent lack of innocence they are actually part of the colonial problem. But I am confused by what Tuck and Yang mean by “an ethic of incommensurability” (36), or how incommensurability can be the grounds of solidarity. It’s just not clear to me. I’m not sure how one can deny anyone anyone’s future, either, although denying settler futurity is not uncommon in texts about settler colonialism, perhaps because this essay has been so influential. (I think denying Indigenous futurity is a crime.) Certainly that’s not a way to get many Settlers onside with the decolonizing project, although perhaps the way this essay begins and ends with Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth is a clue to what Tuck and Yang mean by decolonization—that, like the anti-colonial revolution in Algeria, it will be a violent struggle in which alliances between Settlers and Indigenous peoples will become null and void. That interpretation, though, runs aground on their apparent insistence that alliances between decolonization and other social-justice movements is possible, apparently through incommensurability. And while I understand their reluctance to offer any pathways towards decolonization—probably because they don’t actually know how it might play out, or how one might begin to set the process of returning land in motion—isn’t it a serious weakness to suggest that conscientization (consciousness raising might be a better word) or gestures towards decolonization are insufficient, without providing any positive alternatives? I don’t think the work of Moten and Harney is likely to lead to workable alternatives; like Tuck and Yang, their thinking is too utopian and not grounded in the unpleasant reality of politics in settler colonial states to be of practical use. I suppose what I ought to do is take what is useful from the essay and leave the rest behind, although some of what I would have to leave behind is frankly baffling. I must be misunderstanding something central to their argument, but I honestly don’t know what it might be. So I’m left confused and frustrated—probably not for the last time, either. Some of the stuff I’m reading is confusing and frustrating. I need to get used to it.

Works Cited

Fortier, Craig. Unsettling the Commons: Social Movements Within, Against, and Beyond Settler Colonialism. ARP Books, 2017

Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, Minor Compositions, 2013.

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization Is Not A Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, vol. 1, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1-40.

Carlton Trail Walk, Day Eight

The morning was muggy, with rain threatening to make the day a challenge. When we started walking, though, the sun came out, and the rain didn’t materialize. It was a perfect day for walking.

Everyone was up early this morning, which was a good thing, because there was lots to do. We had to launder our towels and bedding, and clean the kitchen, which was filled with boxes and coolers and debris from last night’s supper. That supper was fantastic, and contrary to my prediction yesterday, we had just enough food. We gave Hugh Henry a book about Saskatchewan history, signed by everyone in the group. It was a token of our appreciation for the hard work that went into planning this walk.

It took less time than you’d think to return the rectory to the state it was in when we arrived. Raeann even vacuumed upstairs and down. Chaos resolved into order, and after a smudge we were on our way back to Beardy’s-Okemasis First Nation, where we stopped yesterday.

The first couple of miles, through the reserve, were on pavement. We passed a trio of beautiful horses, and Hugh Garth made friends with them. Soon we turned north, onto gravel, but it wasn’t long before we turned again, onto a dirt road, everyone’s favourite walking surface. Shortly after lunch, we came to the site of Ste. Anne de Titanic, a francophone Catholic church that closed in 1964. The building is gone, but there is a memorial and a cemetery that clearly is still in use. There is a pair of outhouses, too. The whole site is well cared for; clearly it means a lot to the people connected to it. Honestly, that’s where we should’ve stopped for lunch, although the spot we chose, shaded by aspens and dogwoods, was pretty good too.

In the afternoon I walked down a grassy road allowance with Larry’s son, Ryan. He’s a conservation biologist with an interest in grassland birds. He knows a lot about prairie plants, too. He told me that the grassland ecosystem is poorly understood; scientists just don’t know how the parts of it beneath the surface of the soil–nematodes, microorganisms, soil chemistry–are interrelated, or how they affect the mix of grasses and forbs we see on the surface. That makes prairie restoration projects a challenge. There’s more to them than just spreading seeds and waiting. For instance, some plants don’t propagate well from seed; plugs work better for those species. And it’s best to start by seeding the grasses first, and controlling broadleaf weeds with herbicides for the first few years, until all the weed seeds in the soil are gone. Then the forbs can be over seeded. But the issues of soil chemistry and microorganisms will remain. Given the challenges involved in restoring grassland, it would be better to stop ploughing it under altogether. That’s what I took away from our conversation. Also the fact that Ryan is a crooner with a fondness for the great America songbook.

We got to Fort Carlton by four o’clock, tired and bitten by mosquitoes but happy. There is a restoration of the fort, which burned, accidentally, in 1885. It would be worth coming back for a closer look. The young woman at the reception desk could hardly believe we had walked all the way from Humboldt. “Just stand downwind of us,” I told her.

We sat together and reflected on the walk and what we had learned. I’ve been thinking about those Cree words Louise gave us the other morning: pêyatihk, meaning patience, and sôhkitê, or courage. I think we put both virtues into practice on this walk: courage by carrying on even when we were tired and sore, and patience and forbearance by attending to each other’s positive qualities. There’s no way such a disparate group of people, from so many different walks of life, could cohere so quickly without pêyatihk. We became a team, and I’d like to think deep bonds were formed over the past eight days.

Then we returned to our vehicles and parted. Some of us will camp at Fort Carlton; others, like me, are heading home. The past week has left me with a lot to think about, and I hope for an opportunity to walk with those folks again.

Carlton Trail Walk, Day Seven

Just as we finished walking yesterday, it started to rain. We were all glad to be staying in the rectory at St. Laurent-Grandin, out of the wet. The rain stopped while we were getting a tour of the site of a fur-trading post nearby. Two posts, actually: the Northwest Company and the Hudson Bay Company built their posts side by side in 1805, probably because they were thinking about mutual defence: a post just downriver was burned by a group of Gros Ventres eleven years before. And the rain kept the dust down this morning, at least for the first hour or so.

We encountered two angry pit bulls this morning. They were quite aggressive, and although their owner tried to call them back, she had little control over them. I tossed them a couple of Milk Bones, but they took that as an affront. I started backing away, but Peter walked right past them like they were ghosts. I thought he was brave, but he told me he was thinking of a Cree saying: the moon doesn’t stop moving just because the dogs bark. In other words, carry on regardless. We ended up following his example. There was little else we could do.

Otherwise today’s walk was uneventful. We trudged past a large stand of little bluestem (no pictures: it doesn’t photograph well), and some Indian paintbrush and blanket flower. By the time we got to Duck Lake, it was just after noon and ate lunch on the battered picnic tables outside the Regional Interpretive Centre. Some of went into look at the exhibits and climb the tower for a panoramic view; others sat outside and rested.

Then we were back on the road, heading towards our destination: Beardy’s-Okemasis First Nation. Tonight we’re making a communal supper. Spaghetti with red sauce is my contribution. The kitchen is chaos. We are going to have so much food–more than we can possibly eat.

Tomorrow we reach our destination–Fort Carlton, the Hudson Bay post where Treaty 6 was negotiated in 1876. I don’t know if anything of the post remains, or if it’s just a provincial park. This time tomorrow, I’ll know.

Carlton Trail Walk, Day Six

Last night was windy and I thought I heard rain hitting the bivvy. In the morning there was only the wind. The day promised to be hot but that wind, which made breaking camp a challenge, kept us cool.

Before turning in yesterday I went to see Paul Lapointe’s studio north of Batoche. I liked his art, especially the woodcuts of ravens, and the miniature horse foals in his corral stole my heart. Their mothers were cute, too.

We’ve been walking on pavement today. Yesterday the gravel and dirt roads didn’t bother my blisters, and I thought I was past the worst, but the pavement today has aggravated them, so I’m taking a turn driving a support vehicle. I’ve learned, again, how important it is to prepare for these walks, and what happens if you don’t.

We ate lunch at a church on One Arrow First Nation, but another twenty minutes of walking brought us to Batoche, where the new visitors’ centre has a canteen. I suppose our picnic was more nutritious than burgers and fries, but at least one of us indulged in pie and ice cream and a cold drink. We didn’t have enough time to explore the site, but I’ll come back for a longer visit.

Our goal today is St. Laurent-Grandin, on the other side of the South Saskatchewan River. We’ll be staying in the old rectory, which means a shower for this smelly pilgrim. We’ll be there two nights, and there might be a communal supper tomorrow night. I hope so.

Carlton Trail Walk, Day Five

Tuesday night we visited the Tourand’s Coulee/Fish Creek battle site where, during the 1885 Resistance, 120 or so Métis fighters made a much larger force of British regulars and Canadian militia to retreat, delaying their assault on Batoche for more than two weeks. The Métis Elder, Pat Adams, who showed us the area, explained the ways that the oral history of the battle is often correct, and the history books are often wrong. He was informed and passionate, but we were a restless audience: tired and sore after a day of walking and pestered by mosquitoes. I’m sorry about that. Anyway, the place has two names because the Métis knew it as Tourand’s Coulee, while Parks Canada has, until recently, followed colonial practice and referred to the place as Fish Creek. Now both names are on the sign: a small example of progress.

I’m tired and sore again today–almost too tired and sore to lay out my bivvy or cook supper. I feel the chill that accompanies heat exhaustion, even though it wasn’t hot today. Warm, yes: we walked under a nearly cloudless sky. It was the first day I’ve walked without an undershirt. (It’s time to launder the sweat-stained shirt I’ve been wearing.) But I often finish the day with a touch of heat exhaustion. It’s not strange. At least I finished. My blisters didn’t bother me as much this afternoon, and I was able to walk all the way to the end, despite the temptation of the support vehicles. But I’m paying for it now.

It was a day of thoughtful conversations. Rick and I talked about my PhD project, and the contradiction between a solo walking practice and the need to engage with community. It’s the question that’s been bothering me since I walked to Wood Mountain alone last summer, and it’s something I need to figure out before I write my project proposal next winter. Rick made a suggestion that might work; I need to write it down before the post-walk brain fog takes over.

And this morning, Louise left us with two Cree words: pêyatihk–I think that’s how it’s spelled–and sôhkitêhêwin. The first suggests patience and forbearance; the second, courage. I wonder if I displayed those virtues today. sôhkitêhêwin, perhaps, since I managed to stagger to our destination, although that might just have been bloody-mindedness. But did I express pêyatihk? I don’t know. Maybe.

One of the day’s highlights was seeing a small herd of bison–a huge bull and some cows–behind a tall, strong fence. They were magnificent. They ran away before I could get my camera pointed in the right direction, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Other moments worth mentioning: Pat and Rick buying ice cream sandwiches for the group; lunch at an old Ukrainian Catholic Church; and this photograph, which Hugh, our leader, set up for Matthew Anderson. I horned in to get a picture for the blog, but it’s all Hugh’s idea.

Now I must get out of this chair, change my shirt, and make camp. We have another visit with Pat tonight, or else we can go to an artist’s studio in Batoche. But I won’t be able to do either one if I don’t stir myself.

Carlton Trail Walk, Day Four

We got off to a late start this morning; a set of car keys went missing. (They reappeared.) It had been a cold, damp night, and I was happy to get a hot shower. There was a kitchen, too, so no fiddling with camp stoves at breakfast. Such luxury! Last night we were well treated, too, with excellent pizza. Pizza in Prud’homme; I had no idea.

The first leg of today’s journey was in a curving dirt road–wonderful for walking. Then we were back on the gravel grid. We stopped for lunch in a peaceful country churchyard. Then we carried on. It sounds uneventful, but lots was happening: conversations, songs, meditation, listening to the sigh of the wind in the barleys day the crunch of footsteps. All the dogs we’ve met have been friendly, too, or at least not overtly hostile. One was too friendly, following us for miles. I hope he finds his way home.

In the middle of the afternoon I took a ten driving a support vehicle. It was my turn, and as the day goes on and the miles add up, my blisters start stinging. I’m writing some of these words while parked at the side of the road, watching others directly experience the land, its contours and sounds. There’s a patch of little bluestem beside the road, a rare bit of native grass in a place where agronomic species predominate. The road has departed from the grid and is curving gently. The sun is warm. It’s almost perfect.

Tonight a Métis Elder is going to take us to Tourand’s Coulee, the site of a battle during the 1885 Resistance. That might mean cutting today’s walk short, but it will be worthwhile,even though it’s a perfect day for walking in this beautiful place.

Carlton Trail Walk, Day Three

Rain on the bivvy sack woke me this morning. It sounded worse than it was: a mere sprinkle, hardly enough to make a difference in this dry season. But it was a useful dry run for the possibility of a serious rain while I’m sleeping out. I mean, I can hardly get out of the thing, let alone get out in a rainstorm while still keeping my sleeping bag dry. (Sorry, no photos of the bivvy sack; it was raining! But more information is available here.)

Our hosts, Ken and Diane, let us sleep in their orchard last night, next to the cherry trees. (Got any Chekhov jokes?) My bivvy was between two saskatoon bushes. They have a beautiful space, with huge gardens. Last night, Ken brought out his banjo and Dave, one of the walkers, got his guitar, and we had a singalong. Ken and Dianne were very kind, and that was a little surprising, because their son, who lived on the next farm, died just three weeks ago.

This morning Harold left for a meeting in Saskatoon. He said he might rejoin us later, but the way he said goodbye, I don’t think it’s likely.

We were followed this morning by someone’s friendly border collie (is there any other kind?). He finally turned back; good thing, because we’ve had to drive other friendly dogs home on other walks.

Mostly we walked on dirt roads today, which led to a slight problem when one dead ended at a slough. We stopped at a Hungarian Catholic church, St. Lazlo’s, which was, surprisingly, open. It’s well cared for; clearly it’s important to the community. We also walked past an old wooden grain elevator in Bremen–the kind you rarely see anymore.

Sometimes I walked alone today; sometimes with companions. We talked about the numbered treaties and the need for Settlers to make restitution. Rick said I need to see First Reformed–that it’s an important film. I’m going to look for it. For the last hour, I drove one of the support vehicles; we all need to take a turn, and my feet are quite blistered.

When we got to Prud’homme, we were given a tour of the museum and the church and the cemetery, which features Stations of the Cross with people represented by wheat, on the steel fence. The view from the cemetery, which stands on the top of a hill, is incredible. After supper at the local pub, we’re going to have to make camp. I hope we finish before dark. We have access to the showers at the rink–and there is hot water! After three days of walking, I am very dirty. If not tonight, tomorrow morning.

Carlton Trail Walk, Day Two

This morning, Hugh handed out buttons bearing the Cree word Louise Halfe, one of the 14 people walking to Fort Carlton, suggested as the theme for our walk: asohtêwak, “together the hearts walk.” It’s a lovely statement about the possibility of deep connection that can be created when we walk together, literally or metaphorically. Cree is beautiful like that: words have stories, embedded etymological meanings, beyond the dictionary definitions. Every morning Louise says a prayer in Cree, and I love the sound of the language, so soft and rhythmic. I can pick out the occasional word, which after two years of learning the language is either not bad or terrible.

There are three kinds of roads in Saskatchewan: paved, gravel, and dirt. Dirt is the softest on a walker’s feet, and as long as it hasn’t rained recently, it’s the best walking surface. (It hasn’t rained around here for months.) For a few miles today we had the pleasure of walking on dirt roads. Someone had planted along row of potatoes along the side of one of them. I guess the Rural Municipality doesn’t mind.

Harold went to Mass in Bruno this morning. “I’ll catch up,” he said. Everyone thought he meant that he would drive. But when he left, I noticed that he was carrying his pack. Sure enough, when we were finishing lunch, we spotted a lone figure walking quickly down the road towards us. It was Harold. “I know the average person walks at three miles an hour,” he said, “so I was trying for four. I don’t think I quite made it.”

By the way, Harold is 83.

Later we thought we saw a large Gumby in the distance. It was this sculpture. A border collie came out to greet us–that rare creature, a friendly farm dog. I offered him a Milk Bone. He was reluctant to take it; maybe it was stale. To be polite, I think, he finally accepted it. But he refused to be photographed.

We passed memorials for two schools this afternoon. Rural depopulation has been happening here since the 1930s. Farms get bigger as the economy of farming changes, and when people sell up they move away. It’s a global phenomenon. We also passed a large glacial erratic–a buffalo rubbing stone. I left some tobacco with it. The roadsides were filled with wildflowers: roses, blanket flower, asters, goldenrod, sage.

Later in the afternoon, I took a turn driving one of the support vehicles for a couple of miles. Then I kept walking. My feet are blistered and sore, but I sang to myself to keep up my spirits. When I sang “The Old Gray Mare,” Madonna thought I was talking about her. “Well, if the horseshoe fits,” I answered.

Speaking of Madonna: since Matthew, who had the idea for these walks back in 2014, can’t be with us this year, she suggested her stuffed prairie dog might represent him. Here it (he?) is, tied to her walking pole. So, Matthew, you aren’t here physically, but you are here in spirit–and in effigy.

Carlton Trail Walk, Day One

The day started off cold and windy, and the people who came out to see us off at Original Humboldt (the site of a nineteenth-century telegraph station that became a small settlement) felt sorry for us. “Oh, it’s too cold to walk,” one woman said. “They’ll freeze.” I was glad I had packed a winter hat. Then the sun came out, and even though the wind stayed cool, when we stopped for lunch in the lee of some aspen trees, it was quite warm.

A group of 15 or so of us are walking from Humboldt to Fort Carlton along the path of the old Carlton Trail, which ran from Fort Garry to Fort Edmonton. Not on the actual trail: it’s been covered over by girls of barley and canola, although part of the original trail–the wagon ruts–are apparently visible at Batoche. No, we’re walking on grid roads roughly parallel to the Trail. It’s the third trail walk the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society has sponsored. The first was a walk along the North West Mounted Police Trail, from Wood Mountain Post to Fort Walsh, in 2015; the second was the Battleford Trail Walk, from Swift Current to Fort Battleford, in 2017. Hugh Henry, an artist and historian from Swift Current, organized or, as I prefer to say, curated all three walks, along with last summer’s walk along the Frenchmen’s Trail, from Mortlach to Gravelbourg. The point of these walks, Hugh says, is to give participants a chance to connect with themselves, other walkers, and the landscape. And I would think, to connect with the multiple histories of this space.

Today we trudged along grid roads: six miles west, four miles north, past fields and sloughs churned into white caps by the wind, with a stop for lunch in the grove of aspens. That took us to the edge of the hamlet of Carmel, where our party divided into two groups: those who were willing to walk four miles more, and those who preferred to get first dibs on the camping spots in Bruno, where we’re staying tonight. I kept walking, but my feet are sore and I’m wondering if the other group made the better choice. But the roadside ditches were filled with asters and goldenrod and wild roses, and although the wind was in our faces most of the day, the sky was beautiful.

A few of us decided to help out the local economy by eating at the Bruno Hotel. (Also there’s cold beer.) The others are cooking for themselves, which might’ve been a better decision, but I don’t feel like ramen noodles. We’ll see what the chow mein here is like. (It’s excellent.)

The overnight low will be four degrees tonight. Think of us as we shiver together, wearing all the clothes we’ve brought and hoping the wind doesn’t carry our tents away.

92. Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples


decolonizing methodologies

Somehow I’ve gotten this far without reading Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies. During my MFA work, I read Margaret Kovach’s Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts and Shawn Wilson’s Research Is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods, but for some reason I missed Tuhiwai Smith’s book. One of my supervisors has given me an anthology about Indigenous research methodologies co-edited by Tuhiwai Smith, and I’m just savvy enough to know that when your supervisors ask you to read something, you’d better read it. Before I tackle that rather long book, though, I thought it might be a good idea to read Tuhiwai Smith’s own work, which is considered to be a classic.

In the book’s foreward, Tuhiwai Smith notes that its focus is “the intersection of two powerful worlds, the world of indigenous peoples and the world of research,” worlds that are important to Smith, that she moves within: “I negotiate the intersection of these worlds every day. It can be a complicated, challenging and interesting space” (ix). It is book concerned “with the context in which research problems are conceptualized and designed, and with the implications of research for its participants and their communities,” as well as “the institution of research, its claims, its values and practices, and its relationships to power” (ix). Since the publication of the first edition in 1999, Decolonizing Methodologies 

has been used to stimulate far-reaching discussions within Indigenous contexts, academic institutions, non-government organizations and other community-based groups about the knowledge claims of disciplines and approaches, about the content of knowledge, about absences, silences and invisibilities of other peoples, about practices and ethics, and about the implications for communities of research. (ix-x)

When she wrote the first edition of the book, indigenous peoples “were not considered agents themselves, as capable of or interested in research, or as having expert knowledge about themselves and their conditions,” and she wanted “to disrupt relationships between researchers (mostly non-indigenous) and researched (indigenous), between a colonizing institution of knowledge and colonized peoples whose own knowledge was subjugated, between academic theories and academic values, between institutions and communities, and between and within indigenous communities themselves” (x). The notion of research as colonizing violence remains, although many indigenous communities have become more active in research, “and more indigenous researchers and institutions bridge the intersection between research and community” (xi). The first part of the book explores “the imperial legacies of Western knowledge and the ways in which those legacies continue to influence knowledge institutions to the exclusion of indigenous peoples and their aspirations,” and the second demonstrates “the possibilities of re-imagining research as an activity that indigenous researchers could pursue within disciplines and institutions, and within their own communities” (xii-xiii). It also argues that there is a connection between “the indigenous agenda of self-determination, indigenous rights and sovereignty, on the one hand, and, on the other, a complementary indigenous research agenda that was about building capacity and working towards healing, reconciliation and development” (xiii). 

Tuhiwai Smith’s introduction begins with a much-quoted statement about research (even I knew it before I opened the book): “The word itself, ‘research,’ is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world’s vocabulary” (1). That’s because of the deep connections between research, on the one hand, and colonialism and imperialism, on the other. Anthropological research seems to have been particularly offensive:

It galls us that Western researchers and intellectuals can assume to know all that it is possible to know of us, on the basis of their brief encounters with some of us. It appalls us that the West can desire, extract and claim ownership of our ways of knowing, our imagery, the things we create and produce, and then simultaneously reject the people who created and developed those ideas and seek to deny them further opportunities to be creators of their own culture and own nations. (1)

“This book identifies research as a significant site of struggle between the interests and ways of knowing of the West and the interests and ways of resisting of the Other,” namely Indigenous peoples (2). However, Tuhiwai Smith is also interested in research conducted by Indigenous peoples: “This book acknowledges the significance of indigenous perspectives on research and attempts to account for how, and why, such perspectives may have developed” (3). 

Decolonizing Methodologies is addressed “to those researchers who work with, alongside and for communities who have chosen to identify themselves as indigenous,” whether they are indigenous or not (5). Her consistent message is that “indigenous research is a humble and humbling activity” (5). “Part of the project of this book is ‘researching back,’ in the same tradition of ‘writing back’ or ‘talking back,’ that characterizes much of the post-colonial or anti-colonial literature,” Tuhiwai Smith writes (8). Some of the issues related to research in Indigenous contexts “which continue to be debated quite vigorously” include such critical questions as “Whose research is it? Who owns it? Whose interests does it serve? Who will benefit from it? Who has designed its questions and framed its scope? Who will carry it out? Who will write it up? How will its results be disseminated?” (10). “Indigenous methodologies tend to approach cultural protocols, values and behaviours as an integral part of methodology,” she continues:

They are “factors” to be built into research explicitly, to be thought about reflexively, to be declared openly as part of the research design, to be discussed as part of the final results of a study and to be disseminated back to the people in culturally appropriate ways and in language that can be understood. This does not preclude writing for academic publications but is simply part of an ethical and respectful approach. There are diverse ways of disseminating knowledge and of ensuring that research reaches the people who have helped make it. Two important ways not always addressed by scientific research are to do with “reporting back” to the people and “sharing knowledge.” Both ways assume a principle of reciprocity and feedback. (15-16)

Reporting back, she states, “is never a one-off exercise or a task that can be signed off on completion of the written report,” and sharing knowledge “is also a long-term commitment. It is much easier for researchers to hand out a report and for organizations to distribute pamphlets than to engage in continuing knowledge-sharing processes” (16). Researchers have a responsibility not just to share “surface information” but “to share the theories and analyses which inform the way knowledge and information are constructed and represented” (17). That sharing is essential: “To assume in advance that people will not be interested in, or will not understand, the deeper issues is arrogant. The challenge always is to demystify, to decolonize” (17). However, she notes that the discussion about how non-Indigenous researchers can work with Indigenous peoples “in an ongoing and mutually beneficial way” is not addressed in this book, because “the present work has grown out of a concern to develop indigenous peoples as researchers. There is so little material that addresses the issues indigenous researchers face. The book is written primarily to help ourselves” (18). Indigenous researchers are clearly Tuhiwai Smith’s audience.

The first chapter,“Imperialism, History, Writing and Theory,” begins with a well-known epigraph from the poet Audre Lorde: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (20). “Imperialism frames the indigenous experience,” Tuhiwai Smith writes. “It is part of our story, our version of modernity. Writing about our experiences under imperialism and its more specific expression of colonialism has become a significant project of the indigenous world” (20). The purpose of this chapter “is to discuss and contextualize four concepts which are often present (though not necessarily clearly visible) in the ways in which the ideas of indigenous people are articulated: imperialism, history, writing, and theory” (20). She chose those words “because from an indigenous perspective they are problematic”:

They are words which tend to provoke a whole array of feelings, attitudes and values. They are words of emotion which draw attention to the thousands of ways in which indigenous languages, knowledges and cultures have been silenced or misrepresented, ridiculed or condemned in academic and popular discourses. They are also words which are used in particular sorts of ways or avoided altogether. In thinking about knowledge and research, however, these are important terms which underpin the practices and styles of research with indigenous peoples. (20-21)

As she suggested in the introduction, she believes that the purpose of research is decolonization: “Decolonization is a process which engages with imperialism and colonialism at multiple levels. For researchers, one of those levels is concerned with having a more critical understanding of the underlying assumptions, motivations and values which inform research practices” (21). 

There are different meanings of “imperialism”: it can suggest economic expansion, the subjugation of “‘others,’” “an idea or spirit with many forms of realization,” or “a discursive field of knowledge” (22). The first three definitions reflect a view from the European imperial centre; the last one “has been generated by writers whose understandings of imperialism and colonialism have been based either on their membership of and experience within colonized societies, or on their interest in understanding imperialism from the perspective of local contexts” (23-24). “Colonialism,” on the other hand, “became imperialism’s outpost, the fort and the port of imperial outreach” (24). “Colonialism was, in part, an image of imperialism, a particular realization of the imperial imagination”:

It was also, in part, an image of the future nation it would become. In this image lie images of the Other, start contrasts and subtle nuances, of the ways in which indigenous communities were perceived and dealt with, which make the stories of colonialism part of a grander narrative and yet part also of a very local, very specific experience. (24)

There are two major strands in the critique of the impact of imperialism and colonialism: “One draws upon a notion of authenticity, of a time before colonization in which we were intact as indigenous peoples”; the other “demands that we have an analysis of how we were colonized, of what that has meant in terms of our immediate past and what it means for our present and future” (25). “The two strands intersect but what is particularly significant in indigenous discourses is that solutions are posed from a combination of the time before, colonized time, and the time before that, pre-colonized time. Decolonization encapsulates both sets of ideas,” she continues (25).

Tuhiwai Smith clearly understands why research continues to be understood as part of the project of imperialism, despite its claims to be justified because it is for the good of humanity: 

Research within late-modern and late-colonial conditions continues relentlessly and brings with it a new wave of exploration. Researchers enter communities armed with goodwill in their front pockets and patents in their back pockets, they bring medicine into villages and extract blood for genetic analysis. No matter how appalling their behaviours, how insensitive and offensive their personal actions may be, their acts and intentions are always justified as being for the “good of mankind.” Research of this nature on indigenous peoples is still justified by the ends rather than the means, particularly if the indigenous peoples concerned can still be positioned as ignorant and undeveloped (savages). Other researchers gather traditional herbal and medicinal remedies and remove them for analysis in laboratories around the world. Still others collect the intangibles: the belief systems and ideas about healing, about the universe, about relationships and ways of organizing, and the practices and rituals which go alongside such beliefs, such as sweat lodges, massage techniques, chanting, hanging crystals and wearing certain colours. (25-26)

Because of the unethical behaviour of researchers, questions of ethics, “the ways in which indigenous communities can protect themselves and their knowledges, the understandings required not just of state legislation but of international agreements,” have become “topics now on the agenda of many indigenous meetings” (26).

Colonialism and imperialism dehumanized Indigenous peoples by considering them to be “primitive”:

One of the supposed characteristics of primitive peoples was that we could not use our minds or intellects. We could not invent things, we could not create institutions or history, we could not imagine, we could not produce anything of value, we did not know how to use land and other resources from the natural world, we did not practice the “arts” of civilization. By lacking such virtues we disqualified ourselves, not just from civilization but from humanity itself. (26)

“To consider indigenous peoples as not fully human, or not human at all, enabled distance to be maintained and justified various policies of either extermination or domestication,” Tuhiwai Smith continues (27). For that reason, “[t]he struggle to assert and claim humanity has been a consistent thread of anti-colonial discourses on colonialism and oppression” (27).

“The fact that indigenous societies had their own systems of order” was dismissed through negations: “they were not fully human, they were not civilized enough to have systems, they were not literate, their languages and modes of thought were inadequate” (29), Tuhiwai Smith writes, citing Albert Memmi (whose The Colonizer and the Colonized is on the floor beside my table, waiting to be read). Those “systems of order” were disrupted by imperialism and colonialism, which “brought complete disorder to colonized peoples, disconnecting them from their histories, their landscapes, their languages, their social interactions and their own ways of thinking, feeling and interacting with the world” (29). As a result, “fragmentation has been the consequence of imperialism” (29). “A critical aspect of the struggle for self-determination has involved questions relating to our history as indigenous peoples and a critique of how we, as the Other, have been represented or excluded from various accounts,” Tuhiwai Smith continues. “Every issue has been approached by indigenous peoples with a view to rewriting and rerighting our position in history. Indigenous peoples want to tell our own stories, write our own versions, in our own ways, for our own purposes” (29). For Indigenous peoples, correcting that record is “a very powerful need to give testimony to and restore a spirit, to bring back into existence a world fragmented and dying. The sense of history conveyed by these approaches is not the same thing as the discipline of history, and so our accounts collide, crash into each other” (29-30). “Writing, history and theory . . . are key sites in which Western research of the indigenous world have come together,” she states:

indigenous voices have been overwhelmingly silenced. The act, let alone the art and science, of theorizing our own existence and realities is not something which many indigenous people assume is possible. Frantz Fanon’s call for the indigenous intellectual and artist to create a new literature, to work in the cause of constructing a national culture after liberation, still stands as a challenge. While this has been taken up by writers of fiction, many indigenous scholars who work in the social and other sciences struggle to write, theorize and research as indigenous scholars. (30)

“The negation of indigenous views of history was a critical part of asserting colonial ideology, partly because such views were regarded as clearly ‘primitive’ and ‘incorrect’ and mostly because they challenged and resisted the mission of colonization” (31), but reclaiming history is an important part of decolonization, and linked to the reclamation of land:

Our orientation to the world was already being redefined as we were being excluded systematically from the writing of the history of our own lands. This on its own may not have worked were it not for the actual material redefinition of our world which was occurring simultaneously through such things as the renaming and “breaking in” of the land, the alienation and fragmentation of lands through legislation, and the social consequences which resulted in high sickness and mortality rates. (34-35)

“Indigenous attempts to reclaim land, language, knowledge and sovereignty have usually involved contested accounts of the past by colonizers and colonized,” in courts, official inquiries, and legislatures (35). And Indigenous versions of history are an important part of that struggle.

For Tuhiwai Smith, “History is about power”:

It is the story of the powerful and how they became powerful, and then how they use their power to keep them in positions in which they can continue to dominate others. It is because of this relationship with power that we have been excluded, marginalized and “Othered.” In this sense history is not important for indigenous peoples because a thousand accounts of the ‘truth’ will not alter the “fact” that indigenous peoples are still marginal and do not possess the power to transform history into justice. (35)

Nevertheless, revisiting history has been a significant part of decolonization, because of 

the intersection of indigenous approaches to the past, of the modernist history project itself and of the resistance strategies which have been employed. Our colonial experience traps us in the project of modernity. There can be no ‘postmodern’ for us until we have settled some business of the modern. This does not mean that we do not understand or employ multiple discourses, or act in incredibly contradictory ways, or exercise power ourselves in multiple ways. It means that there is unfinished business, that we are still being colonized (and know it), and that we are still searching for justice. (35-36)

“To hold alternative histories is to hold alternative knowledges,” she continues, and those alternative knowledges can form the basis of alternative modes of action (36). “Transforming our colonized views of our history (as written by the West), however, requires us to revisit, site by site, our history under Western eyes,” she writes: 

This in turn requires a theory or approach which helps us to engage with, understand and then act upon history. It is in this sense that the sites visited in this book begin with a critique of a Western view of history. Telling our stories from the past, reclaiming the past, giving testimony to the injustices of the past are all strategies which are commonly employed by indigenous peoples struggling for justice. (36)

Correcting the historical record is thus a form of resistance.

But Tuhiwai Smith is not only concerned with history as a form of knowledge: “every aspect of the act of producing knowledge has influenced the ways in which indigenous ways of knowing have been represented” (36). Much of  academic discourse claims that Indigenous people do not exist, or that they exist in terms which Indigenous people cannot recognize, that they are no good, and that what they think is not valid (36). Indigenous people are typically not included in the audience of texts produced in the UK, the US, or in western Europe (37). For that reason, “reading and interpretation present problems when we do not see ourselves in the text. There are problems, too, when we do see ourselves but can barely recognized ourselves through the representation” (37). Uncritical academic writing—or writing academically in uncritical ways—can reinforce colonial or imperial ideas (37). The “Empire writes back” discourse argues “that the centre can be shifted ideologically through imagination and that this shifting can recreate history” (37). The language of the colonizers can be appropriated, although Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o argues that writing in Indigenous languages (Gikuyu, in his case) is a better strategy (37-38). Indigenous people often end up writing back to the centre while writing for themselves: “The different audiences to whom we speak makes the task somewhat difficult” (38). 

In all academic disciplines, research is linked to theory; it adds to or is generated from theoretical understandings (39). “Any consideration of the ways our origins have been examined, our histories recounted, our arts analysed, our cultures dissected, measured, torn apart and distorted back to us will suggest that theories have not looked sympathetically or ethically than us,” Tuhiwai Smith argues (39). “The development of theories by indigenous scholars which attempt to explain our existence in contemporary society (as opposed to the ‘traditional’ society constructed under modernism) has only just begun” (39). Those “new ways of theorizing by indigenous scholars are grounded in a real sense of, and sensitivity towards, what it means to be an indigenous person” (39-40). Theory is important for Indigenous peoples, she argues:

At the very least it helps make sense of reality. It enables us to make assumptions and predictions about the world in which we live. It contains within it a method or methods for selecting and arranging, for prioritizing and legitimating what we see and do. Theory enables us to deal with contradictions and uncertainties. Perhaps more significantly, it gives us space to plan, to strategize, to take greater control over our resistances. The language of a theory can also be used as a way of organizing and determining action. It helps us to interpret what is being told to us, and to predict the consequences of what is being promised. Theory can also protect us because it contains within it a way of putting reality into perspective. If it is a good theory it also allows for new ideas and ways of looking at things to be incorporated constantly, without the need to search constantly for new theories. (40)

Like history and writing, theory can be rejected by Indigenous scholars, but that doesn’t make it go away or offer alternatives (40). The methodologies and methods of research, and the theories that inform them, the questions they produce and the kinds of writing they use, all need to be decolonized, which doesn’t mean completely rejecting theory, research, or Western knowledge: “Rather, it is about centring our concerns and world views and then coming to know and understand theory and research form our own perspectives and for our own purposes” (41).

For Indigenous peoples, Tuhiwai Smith contends, research is a site of struggle:

As a site of struggle research has a significance for indigenous peoples that is embedded in our history under the gaze of Western imperialism and Western science. It is framed by our attempts to escape the penetration and surveillance of that gaze whilst simultaneously reordering and reconstituting ourselves as indigenous human beings in a state of ongoing crisis. Research has not been neutral in its objectification of the Other. Objectification is a process of dehumanization. In its clear links to Western knowledge research has generated a particular relationship to indigenous peoples which continues to be problematic. At the same time, however, new pressures which have resulted from our own politics of self-determination, of wanting greater participation in, or control over, what happens to us, and from changes in the global environment, have meant that there is a much more active and knowing engagement in the activity of research by indigenous peoples. (41)

Because research is a site of struggle, it is important “to have a critical understanding of some of the tools of research—not just the obvious technical tools but the conceptual tools, the ones which make us feel uncomfortable, which we avoid, for which we have no easy response” (41).

At the beginning of her second chapter, “Research through Imperial Eyes,” Tuhiwai Smith notes that she wants to go broader than critiques of empiricism and positivism (44). Her argument is that “Western research draws from an ‘archive’ of knowledge and systems, rules and values which stretch beyond the boundaries of Western science to the system now referred to as the West” (44). She cites Stuart Hall’s suggestion that “the West is an idea or concept, a language for imagining a set of complex stories, ideas, historical events and social relationships,” which allows for the classification of societies, their condensation in a system of representation, the creation of a standard model of comparison, and the establishment of criteria for evaluating them (44-45). The rules governing such evaluation are often implicit, and power is expressed both explicitly and implicitly (45). “Scientific and academic debate in the West takes place within these rules,” she writes (45).

Indigenous resistance to those rules brings together complex sets of ideas, such as in the claim brought by Maori women to the Waitangi Tribunal in New Zealand in 1975. Those ideas included a legal framework inherited from Britain, with its rules of evidence; the privileging of written texts over oral testimony; views about science, which enable selection and arrangement of facts; values and morals, such as “notions of ‘goodwill’ and ‘truth telling’”; and ideas about subjectivity and objectivity, time and space, human nature, individual accountability and culpability, and politics (48-49). “Within each set of ideas are systems of classification and representation—epistemological, ontological, juridical, anthropological and ethical—which are coded in such was as to ‘recognize’ each other and either mesh together, or create a cultural ‘force field’ that can screen out competing and oppositional discourses,” Tuhiwai Smith writes. “Taken as a whole system, these ideas determine the wider rules of practice which ensure that Western interests remain dominant” (49). 

“Western forms of research also draw on cultural ideas about the human self and the relationship between the individual and the groups to which he or she may belong,” Tuhiwai Smith contends. “Such ideas explore both the internal workings of an individual and the relationships between what an individual is and how an individual behaves. These ideas suggest that relationships between or among groups of people are basically causal and can be observed or predicted” (49). She suggests that a shift from naturalistic explanations of these relationships to humanistic ones began with Greek philosophy: “Naturalistic explanations linked nature and life as one and humanistic explanations separate people out from the world around them, and place humanity on a higher plane (than animals and plants) because of such characteristics as language and reason” (49-50). That separation led to the development of a dualism between mind and body throughout Western philosophy (50). “When confronted by the alternative conceptions of other societies,” Tuhiwai Smith continues,

Western reality became reified as representing something “better,” reflecting “higher orders” of thinking, and being less prone to the dogma, witchcraft and immediacy of people and societies which were so “primitive.” Ideological appeals to such things as literacy, democracy and the development of complex social structures make this way of thinking appear to be a universal truth and a necessary criterion of civilized society. (50-51)

While the individual is “the basic building block of society” in the West (51), it’s not necessary as central in other cultures; in a similar way, concepts like time and space are different in the West and in Indigenous societies, a difference that can be seen in language (52).“Space is often viewed in Western thinking as being static or divorced from time,” suggesting that the world is “well-defined, fixed and without politics,” a way of thinking that “is particularly relevant in relation to colonialism,” which “involved processes of marking, defining and controlling space” (55). There were also different conceptions of time and the way time was organized, especially in the West in the nineteenth century (time organized because of capitalism and other factors), versus the way time was organized in other parts of the world (56). “Different orientations towards time and space, different positioning within time and space, and different systems of language for making space and time ‘real’ underpin notions of past and present, of place and of relationships to the land,” she contends:

Ideas about progress are grounded within ideas and orientations towards time and space. What has come to count as history in contemporary society is a contentious issue for many indigenous communities because it is not only the story of domination: it is also a story which assumes that there was a “point in time” which was “prehistoric.” The point as which society moves from prehistoric to historic is also the point at which tradition breaks with modernism. Traditional indigenous knowledge ceased, in this view, when it came into contact with “modern” societies, that is the West. (57-58)

For the colonizers, then, the act of colonization led, inexorably, to the disappearance of the colonized.

Throughout colonization, Western researchers assumed that Western ideas about the most fundamental things were the only rational ideas: “the only ideas which can make sense of the world, of reality, of social life and of human beings. It is an approach to indigenous peoples which still conveys a sense of innate superiority and an overabundance of desire to bring progress into the lives of indigenous peoples—spiritually, intellectually, socially and economically” (58). Such a way of thinking is racist, it assumes an ownership of the entire world, and it has “established systems and forms of governance which embed that attitude in institutional practices” (58). That way of thinking has underpinned Western research, and it is one of the reasons the idea of “research” has such a bad odour in Indigenous communities.

Tuhiwai Smith’s third chapter, “Colonizing Knowledges,” “argues that the form of imperialism which indigenous peoples are confronting now emerged from that period of European history known as the Enlightenment,” which “provided the spirit, the impetus, the confidence, and the political and economic structures that facilitated the search for new knowledges” (61). “The project of the Enlightenment is often referred to as ‘modernity,’” she continues, “and that project is said to have provided the stimulus for the industrial revolution, the philosophy of liberalism, the development of disciplines in the sciences and the development of public education. Imperialism underpinned and was critical to these developments” (61). In this chapter, her aim is to “show the relationship between knowledge, research and imperialism, and then discuss the ways in which it has come to structure out own ways of knowing, through the development of academic disciplines and through the education of colonial elites and indigenous or ‘native’ intellectuals” (62). 

Modernity led to colonization, according to Tuhiwai Smith: “The development of scientific thought, the exploration and ‘discovery’ by Europeans of other worlds, the expansion of trade, the establishment of colonies, and the systematic colonization of indigenous peoples in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are all facets of the modernist project” (62). But the encounter with Indigenous “Others” also fed those developments: “Discoveries about and from the ‘new’ world expanded and challenged ideas the West held about itself. The production of knowledge, new knowledge and transformed ‘old’ knowledge, ideas about the nature of knowledge and the validity of specific forms of knowledge, became as much commodities of colonial exploitation as other natural resources” (62). In this process, Indigenous peoples became objects of research, without voices or the ability to contribute to science (64). A variety of things—territories, new species of flora and fauna, mineral resources, and cultures—were collected, rearranged, represented and redistributed (64-65). The colonizers also introduced new species of plants and animals to colonies, which interfered in their ecologies and led to extinctions and to a colonization by weeds (65). “Among the other significant consequences of ecological imperialism—carried by humans, as well as by plants and animals—were the viral and bacterial diseases which devastated indigenous populations,” she notes (65). The effects of colonization and the ideology of social Darwinism led to the notion that Indigenous peoples were destined to die out (65). 

“The nexus between cultural ways of knowing, scientific discoveries, economic impulses and imperial power enabled the West to make ideological claims to having a superior civilization,” Tuhiwai Smith continues. “The ‘idea’ of the west became a reality when it was re-presented back to indigenous nations through colonialism” (67). Colonial education systems were central in “imposing this positional superiority over knowledge, language and culture” and in creating local Indigenous elites (67). Even now, “[a]ttempts to ‘indigenize’ colonial academic institutions and/or individual disciplines within them have been fraught with major struggles over what counts as knowledge, as language, as literature, as curriculum and as the role of intellectuals, and over the critical function of the concept of academic freedom” (68). “Underpinning all of what is taught at universities is the belief in the concept of science as the all-embracing method for gaining an understanding of the world,” she argues (68). “Concepts of ‘academic freedom,’ the ‘search for truth’ and ‘democracy’ underpin the notion of independence and are vigorously defended by intellectuals,” she argues. “Insularity protects a discipline from the ‘outside,’ enabling communities of scholars to distance themselves from others and, in the more extreme forms, to absolve themselves of responsibility for what occurs in other branches of their discipline, in the academy and in the world” (70-71). That absolution has included a denial of responsibility for the treatment of Indigenous children in colonial educational systems.

Tuhiwai Smith addresses questions of authenticity and essentialism in a colonial context: 

The belief in an authentic self is framed within humanism but has been politicized by the colonized world in ways which invoke simultaneous meanings; it does appeal to an idealized past when there was no colonizer, to our strengths in surviving thus far, to our language as an uninterrupted link to our histories, to the ownership of our lands, to our abilities to create and control our own life and death, to a sense of balance among ourselves and with the environment, to our authentic selves as a people. Although this may seem overly idealized, these symbolic appeals remain strategically important in political struggles. (77)

She notes that there is often a conflict between the notion of “a Western psychological self, which is a highly individualized notion,” and the “group consciousness as it is centred in many colonized societies” (77). The Western view of authenticity contends “that indigenous cultures cannot change, cannot recreate themselves and still claim to be indigenous. Nor can they be complicated, internally diverse or contradictory. Only the West has that privilege” (77). As with authenticity, “[t]he concept of essentialism is also discussed in different ways within the indigenous world”: 

claiming essential characteristics is as much strategic as anything else, because it has been about claiming human rights and indigenous rights. But the essence of a person is also discussed in relation to indigenous concepts of spirituality. In these views, the essence of a person has a genealogy which can be traced back to an earth parent. . . . A human person does not stand alone, but shares with other animate and, in the Western sense, “inanimate” beings, a relationship based on a shared “essence” of life. The significance of place, of land, of landscape, of other things in the universe, in defining the very essence of a people, makes for a very different rendering of the term essentialism as used by indigenous peoples. (77)

“The arguments of different indigenous peoples based on spiritual relationships to the universe, to the landscape and to stones, rocks, insects and other things, seen and unseen, have been difficult arguments for Western systems of knowledge to deal with or accept,” she continues:

These arguments give a partial indication of the different world views and alternative ways of coming to know, and of being, which still endure within the indigenous world. . . . The values, attitudes, concepts and language embedded in beliefs about spirituality represent, in many cases, the clearest contrast and mark of difference between indigenous peoples and the West. It is one of the few parts of ourselves which the West cannot decipher, cannot understand and cannot control . . . yet. (78)

It seems that, despite the postmodern suspicion about arguments based on authenticity or essentialism, Tuhiwai Smith sees those arguments as strategically essential in determining the differences between Indigenous cultures and those cultures that have colonized them.

Chapter 4, “Research Adventures on Indigenous Lands,” looks at informal ways that the West developed knowledge of Indigenous peoples:

travellers’ tales and other anecdotal ways of representing indigenous peoples have contributed to the general impressions and the milieu of ideas that have informed Western knowledge and Western constructions of the Other. There has been recent theorizing of the significance of travel, and of location, on shaping Western understandings of the Other and producing more critical understandings of the nature of theory. (81)

“One particular genre of travellers’ tales relates to the ‘adventures’ experienced in the new world, in Indian country, or Maoriland, or some other similarly named territory,” she writes: 

These adventures were recounted with some relish; they told stories of survival under adversity and recorded eye witness accounts of fabulous, horrible, secret, never-seen-before-by-a-European ceremonies, rituals or events. . . . The sense of adventure and spirit which is contained in histories of science and biographies of scientists are a good example of how wondrous and exciting the discoveries of ‘new scientific knowledge’ from the new world were perceived in the West. (81)

“Although always ethnocentric and patriarchal,” Tuhiwai Smith continues, “travellers’ accounts remain interesting because of the details and sometimes perceptive (and on occasions reflective) comments made by some writers of the events they were recording” (81-82). These informal systems of collecting information about Indigenous societies became formalized and institutionalized in New Zealand, becoming more authoritative in the process: “What may have begun as early fanciful, ill-informed opinions or explanations of indigenous life and customs quickly entered the language and became ways of representing and relating to indigenous peoples” (82). That organization and institutionalization shaped “the directions and priorities of research into indigenous peoples” (82).

Travellers and traders made use of their familiarity with Indigenous customs and languages and people in different ways, from becoming scholars to soldiers “intent on killing resistant indigenous populations” (82-83), or magistrates or land commissioners “who presided over the alienation of Maori land” (85). Early examples in New Zealand included the explorer Abel Tasman and the naturalist Joseph Banks (83-84). “Those observers of indigenous peoples whose interest was of a more ‘scientific’ nature could be regarded as being far more dangerous in that they had theories to prove, evidence and data to gather and specific languages by which they could classify and describe the indigenous world,” Tuhiwai Smith writes (85-86). As colonization progressed, “[a]cademic research on Maori became . . . obsessed with describing various modes of cultural decay”: it saw the historical progression as a movement from discovery and contact, to population decline, acculturation, assimilation, and then “reinvention” “as a hybrid, ethnic culture” (91). “Indigenous perspectives also show a phased progression,” she continues, one articulated as contact and invasion, genocide and destruction, resistance and survival, and finally recovery as Indigenous peoples (91). “The sense of hope and optimism is a characteristic of contemporary indigenous politics which is often criticized, by non-Indigenous scholars, because it is viewed as being overly idealistic,” Tuhiwai Smith suggests (91). Those theories of disappearance ignored the effect of colonization on those who were supposedly disappearing:

While Western theories and academics were describing, defining and explaining cultural demise, however, indigenous peoples were having their lands and resources systematically stripped by the state; were becoming ever more marginalized; and were subjected to the layers of colonialism imposed through economic and social policies. This failure of research, and of the academic community, to address the real social issues of Maori was recalled in later times when indigenous disquiet became more politicized and sophisticated. Very direct confrontations took place between Maori and some academic communities. Such confrontations have also occurred in Australia and other parts of the indigenous world, resulting in much more active resistances by communities to the presence and activities of researchers. (91)

Tuhiwai Smith argues that a direct line exists between failures of academic research in the nineteenth century and failures in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

“There is a direct relationship between the expansion of knowledge, the expansion of trade and the expansion of empire,” she continues (92). Much of that trade was conducted on unjust terms:

Many indigenous responses to Western “trading” practices have generally been framed by the Western juridical system and have had to argue claims on the basis of proven theft, or of outrageously unjust rates of exchange (one hundred blankets and fifty beads do not buy one hundred million hectares of land for the rest of eternity). The more difficult claims have attempted to establish recognition of indigenous spirituality in Western law. Even when evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of an indigenous case, there are often statutes of limitation which determine how far back in time a claim can reach, or there are international agreements between states, or some institutions just refuse in principle to consider the possibility that an indigenous group have a claim at all. The legacy, however, of the fragmentation and alienation of a cultural “estate” over hundreds of years is that the material connection between people, their place, their languages, their beliefs and their practices has been torn apart. (92)

“[A] vast industry based on the positional superiority and advantages gained under imperialism,” which Tuhiwai Smith calls “trading the Other” (93). That industry, she continues, is about ideas, language, knowledge, images, beliefs and fantasies: “Trading the Other deeply, intimately, defines Western thinking and identity. As a trade, it has no concern for the peoples who originally produced the ideas or images, or with how and why they produced those ways of knowing. It will not, indeed cannot return the raw materials from which its products have been made” (93). In contemporary formations, trading the Other is, as bell hooks writes, “Eating the Other,” a commodification of otherness which, in New Zealand, has included the commodification of “treaty rights, identity, traditional knowledge, traditional customs, traditional organizations, land titles, fauna and flora” (93).

“It might seem curious to link travellers and traders with the more serious endeavours of amateur researchers and scientists,” Tuhiwai Smith acknowledges. “From indigenous perspectives the finer distinctions between categories of colonizers were not made along the lines of science and the rest. It was more likely to be a distinction between those who were ‘friends’ and those who were not” (94). One place where different knowledges about Indigenous peoples intersect in in discussions of the problem of a particular Indigenous group. This kind of discussion is 

a recurrent theme in all imperial and colonial attempts to deal with indigenous peoples. It originates within the wider discourses of racism, sexism and other forms of positioning the Other. Its neatness and simplicity gives the term its power and durability. Framing “the . . . problem,” mapping it, describing it in all its different manifestations, trying to get rid of it, laying blame for it, talking about it, writing newspaper columns about it, drawing cartoons about it, teaching about it, researching it, over and over . . . how many occasions, polite dinner parties and academic conferences would be bereft of conversation if “the indigenous problem” had not been so problematized? (94)

At first, these “problems” were military or policing concerns about how to deal with Indigenous resistance (94). Later they focused on social policies, “notions of cultural deprivation or cultural deficit which laid the blame for indigenous poverty and marginalization even more securely on the people themselves” (95). According to Tuhiwai Smith, “many researchers, even those with the best of intentions, frame their research in ways that assume that the locus of a particular research problem lies with the indigenous individual or community rather than with other social or structural issues” (95). “For many indigenous communities research itself is taken to mean ‘problem’; the word research is believed to mean, quite literally, the continued construction of indigenous peoples as the problem,” she writes (96).

Chapter 5, “Notes from Down Under,” marks the end of the book’s first section and an introduction to its second section (98). She writes that, in the current moment,

[w]hile the West might be experiencing fragmentation, the process of fragmentation known under its older guise as colonization is well known to indigenous peoples. We can talk about the fragmentation of lands and cultures. We know what it is like to have our identities regulated by laws and our languages and customs removed from our lives. Fragmentation is not an indigenous project; it is something we are recovering from. While shifts are occurring in the ways in which we indigenous peoples put ourselves back together again, the greater project is about recentring indigenous identities on a larger scale. (100)

As times have changed, imperialism has changed as well, although 

[e]vangelicals and traders still roam the landscape, as fundamentalists and entrepreneurs. Adventurers now hunt the sources of viral diseases, prospectors mine for genetic diversity and pirates raid ecological systems for new wealth, capturing virgin plants and pillaging the odd jungle here and there. . . . The imperial armies assemble under the authority of the United Nations defending the principles of freedom, democracy and the rights of capital. (101)

“New analyses and a new language mark, and mask, the ‘something’ that is no longer called imperialism,” she contends (101). One new term, “post-colonial,” suggests that colonialism is finished business—but the colonizers have not left (101). “Decolonization, once viewed as the formal process of handing over the instruments of government, is now recognized as a long-term process involving the bureaucratic, cultural, linguistic and psychological divesting of colonial power” (101). As imperialism has changed, so too have Indigenous peoples:

they have regrouped, learned from past experiences, and mobilized strategically around new alliances. The elders, the women and various dissenting voices within indigenous communities maintain a collective memory and critical conscience of past experiences. Many indigenous communities are spaces of hope and possibilities, despite the enormous odds aligned against them. (101-02)

A new language of negotiation and reconciliation has appeared, along with terms like sovereignty and self-determination, but “[c]orporate chiefs and corporate warriors attempt to make deals with the new brokers of power and money,” leaders who, “though totally corrupted and evil, are kept in power by the very states which espouse democracy and human rights”; meanwhile, other Indigenous leaders “have become separated from their own indigenous value system and have been swept up into the games and machinations of a world they only partly understand” (102). 

There have been changes in research as well. Scientific and technological advances “place indigenous peoples and other marginalized and oppressed groups at extreme risk”—partly because the belief in technology as a solution to problems “suppresses and destroys indigenous alternatives” (102). A range of colonizing projects continues to be attempted, according to Tuhiwai Smith: having genealogy and biological identity—DNA—stolen, patented and copied (103); the “farming” of umbilical cord blood of aborted babies, a substance which is considered sacred by Maori (104); the patenting of Indigenous cultural institutions and rituals by non-Indigenous people (104); the scientific and political reconstruction of a previously extinct Indigenous group through DNA (104); the creation of new species of life that contain human DNA (105); the commodification of Indigenous spirituality for profit (105); the creation of virtual culture as authentic culture (105-06); television advertising and its effect of turning young Indigenous people into consumers (106); the development of private suburbs for the rich (106); the denial of global citizenship to Indigenous peoples (106-07); the war on terror (107); and food dependency, food impoverishment, and the monoculture of food products, and their contribution to global starvation (107). “While the language of imperialism and colonialism has changed, the sites of struggle remain,” particularly over the control of Indigenous forms of knowledge (108). “At the same time indigenous peoples offer genuine alternatives to the current dominant form of development,” she continues. “Indigenous peoples have philosophies which connect humans to the environment and to each other, and which generate principles for living a life which is sustainable, respectful and possible” (109). However, “[w]hat is more important than what alternatives indigenous peoples offer the world is what alternatives indigenous people offer each other” (109). These include the importance of sharing spiritual, creative and political resources: “To be able to share, to have something worth sharing, gives dignity to the giver. To accept a gift and to reciprocate gives dignity to the receiver. To create something new through that process of sharing is to recreate the old, to reconnect relationships and to recreate our humanness” (110).

Chapter 6, “The Indigenous Peoples’ Project: Setting a New Agenda,” begins by suggesting that “the following chapters shift the focus towards the developments that have occurred in the field of research that have been conceptualized and carried out by indigenous people working as researchers in indigenous communities” (111). “This chapter sets out the framework of the modern indigenous peoples’ project,” Tuhiwai Smith writes:

This is a project which many of its participants would argue has been defined by over 500 years of contact with the West. In this sense it might also be described as a modernist resistance struggle. For most of the past 500 years the indigenous peoples’ project has had one major priority: survival. This has entailed survival from the effects of a sustained war with the colonizers, from the devastation of diseases, from the dislocation from lands and territories, from the oppressions of living under unjust regimes; survival at a sheer basic physical level and as peoples with our own distinctive languages and cultures. (111)

Since the middle of the twentieth century, “the indigenous peoples’ project was reformulated around a much wider platform of concerns” (111). “[A] new agenda for indigenous activity has been framed that goes beyond the decolonization aspirations of a particular indigenous community towards the development of global indigenous strategic alliances” (112). For those reasons, this chapter “will discuss two aspects of the indigenous peoples’ project: the social movement of indigenous peoples which occurred from the 1960s and the development of an agenda or platform of action which has influenced indigenous research activities” (112).

Indigenous social movements involve “a revitalization and reformulation of culture and tradition; an increased participation in and articulate rejection of Western institutions; and a focus on strategic relations and alliances with non-indigenous groups” (114). These movements have “developed a shared international language or discourse which enables indigenous activists to talk to each other across their cultural differences while maintaining and taking their directions from their own communities or nations” (114). Grassroots development is the strength of the movement: “It is at the local level that indigenous cultures and the cultures of resistance have been born and nurtured over generations” (114). Different communities have had different priorities: some communities have focused on cultural revitalization, while others have tried to reorganize political relations with the state (115)—sometimes with non-Indigenous allies (115-16). “Frustrations at working within the nation state led some indigenous communities towards establishing or re-establishing, in some cases, international linkages or relations with other indigenous communities,” however (116). One of those international connections is the United Nations: the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was developed by the UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples (119). 

In research, themes which emerged in the 1960s have developed since (120). “The research agenda is conceptualized here as constituting a programme and set of approaches that are situated within the decolonization politics of the indigenous peoples’ movement,” an agenda which is focused strategically “on the goal of self determination of indigenous peoples” (120). Indigenous research focuses on self-determination:

Self-determination in a research agenda becomes something more than a political goal. It becomes a goal of social justice which is expressed through and across a wide range of psychological, social, cultural and economic terrains. It necessarily involves the processes of transformation, of decolonization, of healing and of mobilization as peoples. The processes, approaches and methodologies—while dynamic and open to different influences and possibilities—are critical elements of a strategic research agenda. (120)

“The indigenous research agenda is broad in its scope and ambitious in its intent,” and while in some ways it is different from the research agendas of scientific organizations or national research programmes, some elements are similar to any research programme “which connects research to the ‘good’ of society” (122). The elements of the Indigenous research agenda that are different, however, are found “in key words such as healing, decolonization, spiritual, recovery,” words which are at odds with the terminology of Western science because they are politically engaged and not neutral or objective (122). In research, though, the intentions of those terms “are embedded in various social science research methodologies” which have a sense of social responsibility (122). Nevertheless, Indigenous peoples remain cynical “about the capacity, motives or methodologies of Western research to deliver any benefits to indigenous peoples whom science has long regarded, indeed has classified, as being ‘not human’” (122). That cynicism means that Indigenous communities will expect researchers to be clear and detailed about the likely benefits of their research (122).

Ethical research protocols don’t exist in all disciplines, although individual communities and nations may have ethical research guidelines (122-23). It’s important that community and Indigenous rights or perspectives be recognized and respected (123).“From indigenous perspectives ethical codes of conduct serve partly the same purpose as the protocols which govern our relationships with each other and with the environment,” Tuhiwai Smith writes. “The term ‘respect’ is consistently used by indigenous peoples to underscore the significance of our relationships and humanity. Through respect the place of everyone and everything in the universe is kept in balance and harmony. Respect is a reciprocal, shared, constantly interchanging principle which is expressed through all aspects of social conduct” (125).

In chapter 7, “Articulating an Indigenous Research Agenda,” Tuhiwai Smith explores “the development of indigenous initiatives in research and discusses some of the ways in which an indigenous research agenda is currently being articulated” (127). “There are two distinct pathways through which an indigenous research agenda is being advanced,” she writes. “The first one is through community action projects, local initiatives and national or tribal research based around claims. The second pathway is through the spaces gained within institutions by indigenous research centres and studies programmes” (128). There is a significant overlap between those two pathways, however: they “reflect two distinct developments. They intersect and inform each other at a number of different levels” (128).

The idea of community is “defined or imagined in multiple ways: as physical, political, social, psychological, historical, linguistic, economic, cultural, and spiritual spaces” (128). Colonialism’s effect on community has been fragmentation and marginalization (128). Defining community is complex; so too is defining community research (129). “What community research relies upon and validates is that the community itself makes its own definitions” (129). Some projects initiated by local people; others, supported by development agencies, “focus on developing self-help initiatives and building skilled communities” (129-30). “Social research at community level is often referred to as community action research or emancipatory research,” she notes (130).In addition, some communities of interest don’t occupy a specific geographical space (130). “In all community approaches process—that is, methodology and method—is highly important,” Tuhiwai Smith continues:

In many projects the process is far more important than the outcome. Processes are expected to be respectful, to enable people, to heal and to educate. They are expected to lead one small step further towards self-determination. Indigenous community development needs to be informed by community-based research that respects and enhances community processes. (130)

There is a divide between communities and universities; the latter, while they are committed to the creation of knowledge through research, are seen by Indigenous peoples as elitist and Western, and “many indigenous students find little space for indigenous perspectives in most academic disciplines and most research approaches” (132). “What large research institutions and research cultures offer are the programmes, resources, facilities and structures that can, if the conditions are appropriate, support and train indigenous researchers” (135).

“Most indigenous researchers who work with indigenous communities or on indigenous issues are self-taught, having received little curriculum support for areas related to indigenous concerns,” Tuhiwai Smith writes (136). “For some indigenous students one of the first issues to be confronted is their own identities as indigenous and their connected identities to other indigenous peers” (137). There are challenges working with Elders (137), and difficulties negotiating entry to a community or a home, even for Indigenous researchers (138). There is also the issue of insider versus outsider research: outsider research typically presumed to be objective and neutral (138). “Indigenous research approaches problematize the insider model in different ways,” Tuhiwai Smith writes, “because there are multiple ways of being either an insider or an outsider in indigenous contexts. The critical issue with insider research is the constant need for reflexivity” (138). Insider researchers will live with the consequences of their processes (138). Because of the complexity of their work,

insider researchers need to build particular sorts of research-based support systems and relationships with their communities. They have to be skilled at defining clear research goals and ‘lines of relating’ which are specific to the project and somewhat different from their own family networks. Insider researchers also need to define closure and have the skills to say “no” or “continue.” (138-39)

In addition, insiders can become outsiders in important ways when they conduct research (139-40). “Insider research has to be as ethical and respectful, as reflexive and critical, as outsider research. It also needs to be humble,” because the researcher is a community member “with a different set of roles and relationships, status and position” (140). 

Tuhiwai Smith notes that many communities do not have the resources for projects that require intensive input, even if there is enthusiasm and goodwill (141). She also points out that Indigenous researchers have to meet research criteria or risk their work being judged as not rigorous, not robust, not theorized; however, they also have to meet indigenous criteria that can judge research as useless, unfriendly, unjust, or not Indigenous (142). “The indigenous agenda challenges indigenous researchers to work across these boundaries,” she writes. “It is a challenge that provides a focus and direction helpful in thinking through the complexities of indigenous research. At the same time, the process is evolving as researchers working in this field dialogue and collaborate on shared concerns” (142).

Chapter 8, “Twenty-five Indigenous Projects,” begins with a statement about the imperatives for Indigenous research:

The imperatives for indigenous research which have been derived from the imperatives inside the struggles of the 1970s seem to be clear and straightforward: the survival of peoples, cultures and languages; the struggle to become self-determining, the need to take back control of our destinies. These imperatives have demanded more than rhetoric and acts of defiance. The acts of reclaiming, reformulating and reconstituting indigenous cultures and languages have required the mounting of an ambitious research programme, one that is very strategic in its purpose and activities and relentless in its pursuit of social justice. Within the programme are a number of very distinct projects. Themes such as cultural survival, self-determination, healing, restoration and social justice are engaging indigenous researchers and communities in a diverse array of projects. (143)

This chapter sets out 25 different projects being pursued by Indigenous communities that “constitute a very complex research programme” and that intersect with the Indigenous research agenda (143). Some projects are not entirely Indigenous; some have not been created by Indigenous researchers (143). Some research approaches have come out of social science methodologies; others “invite multi-disciplinary research approaches”; others have come out of Indigenous practices (143). Some involve empirical research, but not all (143). These projects, however, read more like research themes or possibilities than concrete discussions of actual projects. Surprisingly, many of these themes or possibilities sound like artistic projects rather than academic research.

The projects Tuhiwai Smith lists in this chapter include, first, claiming, which consists of research required for formal claims processes demanded by courts and governments; so the histories generated by this research are intended “to establish the legitimacy of the claims being asserted for the rest of time” (144). Claiming research is written for different audiences: the court, for example; a general non-Indigenous audience; the Indigenous people themselves (145). The history told in claiming becomes “an official account of their collective story,” but it is a history without an ending because “it assumes that once justice has been done the people will continue their journey” (145). The second project is testimony. Testimonies intersect with claiming because they are a way to present oral testimony, usually about painful events (145). The third project is storytelling. Along with oral histories and perspectives of Elders and women,  storytelling is “an integral part of all indigenous research”; stories “contribute to a collective story in which every indigenous person has a place” (145). Celebrations of survival or, in Gerald Vizenor’s term, “survivance,” are Tuhiwai Smith’s fourth form of research project. These accentuate “the degree to which indigenous peoples and communities have retained cultural and spiritual values and authenticity in resisting colonialism” (146). These celebrations are sometimes reflected in stories (146). The fifth research project is remembering: not so much remembering an idealized past, but rather remembering a painful past, “connecting bodies with place and experience, and, more importantly, people’s responses to that pain” (147). “Both healing and transformation, after what is referred to as historical trauma, become crucial strategies in any approach that asks a community to remember what they may have decided unconsciously or consciously to forget,” Tuhiwai Smith writes (147).

The sixth project is Indigenizing and Indigenist processes. There are two dimensions to this project: the first, a “centring in consciousness of the landscapes, images, languages, themes, metaphors and stories of the indigenous world, and the disconnecting of many of the cultural ties between the settler society and its metropolitan homeland,” a project with involves “non-indigenous activists and intellectuals” (147); and the second, the centring of “a politics of indigenous identity and indigenous cultural action” (147). Tuhiwai Smith’s seventh research project is intervening: “becoming involved as an interested worker for change,” both structural and cultural (148). It is essential that the community itself invites the project in and sets out its parameters, she writes (148). “Intervening is . . . directed at changing institutions that deal with indigenous peoples, and not at changing indigenous peoples to fit the structures” (148). The eighth research project is revitalizing and regenerating: specifically, revitalizing and regenerating Indigenous languages, arts, and cultural practices (148-49). Number nine is connecting: “Connectedness positions individuals in sets of relationships with other people and with the environment,” to their families, to their traditional lands “through the restoration of specific rituals and practices” (149). “Connecting is related to issues of identity and place, to spiritual relationships and community well-being,” she continues, noting that researchers need to “have a critical conscience about ensuring that their activities connect in humanizing ways with indigenous communities” (150). “Connecting is about establishing good relations,” she writes (150). The tenth research project is reading: this involves critical rereadings of Western history and the Indigenous presence in that history; a telling of origin stories of colonialism and imperialism which generates “deconstructed accounts of the West, its history through the eyes of indigenous and colonized peoples” (150). 

Tuhiwai Smith’s eleventh research project is writing and theory making. She suggests that “writing is employed in a variety of imaginative, critical, and also quite functional ways” (150-51), in the production of anthologies as well as stand-alone texts “that capture the messages, nuances and flavour of indigenous lives” (151). Writing is linked to efforts at revitalizing languages (151). Connected to writing is the twelfth research project, representing: this project is about the right of Indigenous peoples to represent themselves, both “as a political concept and as a form of voice and expression” (151), so it is both political and artistic in scope (152). “Representation of indigenous peoples by indigenous people is about countering the dominant society’s image of indigenous peoples, their lifestyles and belief systems,” she suggests (152). The thirteenth research project is gendering. “Gendering indigenous debates, whether they are related to the politics of self-determination or the politics of the family, is concerned with issues arising from the relations between indigenous men and women that have come about through colonialism,” she writes, noting that colonization had a destructive effect on Indigenous gender relations (152). The fourteenth project is envisioning: asking Indigenous people to imagine a future, set a new vision (153). “The confidence of knowing that we have survived and can only go forward provides some impetus to a process of envisioning,” Tuhiwai Smith writes. “The power of indigenous peoples to change their own lives and set new directions, despite their impoverished and oppressed conditions, speaks to the politics of survivance” (153). The fifteenth research project is reframing, which refers to “taking much greater control over the ways in which indigenous issues and social problems are discussed and handled”—not by framing them as “the ‘indigenous problem,’” but rather through the community “making decisions about its parameters, about what is in the foreground, what is in the background, and what shadings or complexities exist within the frame” (154). “Reframing occurs also within the way indigenous people write or engage with theories and accounts of what it means to be indigenous,” she continues (155).

The sixteenth research project is restoring. This means the restoration of well-being—“spiritually, emotionally, physically and materially”—through projects what are holistic and focused on healing rather than punishment (155-56). The seventeenth research project is returning: intersecting with claiming, this approach “involves the returning of lands, rivers and mountains to their indigenous owners,” and the “repatriation of artefacts, remains and other cultural materials stolen or removed and taken overseas” (156). Returning also includes repatriating people who have been forcibly adopted out of communities (157). The eighteenth project is democratizing and Indigenist governance: “Although indigenous communities claim a model of democracy in their traditional ways of decision making,” Tuhiwai Smith notes, “many contemporary indigenous organizations were formed through the direct involvement of states and governments,” creating “colonial constructions that have been taken for granted as authentic indigenous formations” (157). “Democratizing in indigenous terms is a process of extending participation outwards through reinstating indigenous principles of collectivity and public debate without necessarily recreating a parliamentary or senatorial style of government” (157). The nineteenth project is networking: stimulating “information flows,” educating people about issues, and creating “extensive international talking circles” (157), as well as “building knowledge and data bases which are based on the principles of relationships and connections (157-58). “Networking by indigenous peoples is a form of resistance,” she writes (158). “Networking is a way of making contacts between marginalized communities” (158). The twentieth research project is naming: that is, renaming geographical locations, removing their colonial names and reinstating their Indigenous names; also renaming children according to Indigenous cultural practices (158).

The twenty-first research project is protecting. This is a multifaceted project “concerned with protecting peoples, communities, languages, customs and beliefs, art and ideas, natural resources and the things indigenous peoples produce” (159). “Every indigenous community is attempting to protect several different things simultaneously,” she suggests, sometimes involves alliances with non-indigenous groups and organizations (159). The twenty-second project is creating. This project is “about transcending the basic survival mode through using a resource or capability that every indigenous community has retained throughout colonization—the ability to create and be creative” (159). “Creating is about channelling collective creativity in order to produce solutions to indigenous problems” (159-60). “Indigenous communities also have something to offer the non-indigenous world,” she argues: 

There are many programmes incorporating indigenous elements, which on that account are viewed on the international scene as “innovative” and unique. Indigenous peoples’ ideas and beliefs about the origins of the world, their explanations of the environment, often embedded in complicated metaphors and mythic tales, are now being sought as the basis for thinking more laterally in current theories about the environment, the earth and the universe. (160)

Number twenty-three is negotiating, which involves “thinking and acting strategically,” and “recognizing and working towards long-term goals” (160). “Patience and negotiation are linked to a very long view of our survival” (160). The twenty-fourth research project is discovering the beauty of Indigenous knowledge: “This project is about discovering our own indigenous knowledge and Western science and technology, and making our knowledge systems work for indigenous development” (161). “Traditionally, science has been hostile to indigenous ways of knowing,” she notes (161). Discovering the beauty of Indigenous knowledge “is as much about rediscovering indigenous knowledge and its continued relevance to the way we lead our lives. Indigenous knowledge in terms of the environment is well-recognized as traditional ecological knowledge” (161). “Indigenous knowledge extends beyond the environment, however; it has values and principles about human behaviour and ethics, about relationships, about wellness and leading a good life,” Tuhiwai Smith continues. “Knowledge has beauty and can make the world beautiful if used in a good way” (161). The last project is sharing: “sharing knowledge between indigenous peoples, around networks and across the world of indigenous peoples” (162). “Sharing is also related to the failure of education systems to educate indigenous people adequately or appropriately,” she writes. “It is a form of oral literacy, which connects with the story telling and formal occasions that feature in indigenous life” (162). Sharing is part of every community research project; it is a responsibility. “The technical term for this is the dissemination of results, usually very boring to non-researchers, very technical and very cold. For indigenous researchers, sharing is about demystifying knowledge and information and speaking in plain terms to the community” (162). This list, she points out, is not definitive or exclusive; there are many collaborations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers, and books and articles have identified specific Indigenous methodologies and concepts; other projects have been standard social science projects such as critical ethnography (162-63). She also states, “[t]he naming of the projects listed in this chapter was deliberate. I hope the message it gives to communities is that they have issues that matter, and processes and methodologies that can work for them” (163).

At the beginning of Chapter 9, “Responding to the Imperatives of an Indigenous Agenda: A Case Study of Maori,” Tuhiwai Smith suggests that chapters nine and ten are “a case study of one Indigenous development, which demonstrates how many of the issues raised in the previous chapters come together” (165). Chapter 9, she continues, “tracks the transition from Maori as the researched to Maori as the researcher,” a transition that has happened since the 1970s, although “it would be wrong to claim either an overall change in attitudes by Maori to research or a steady progression of changes” (165). She begins by noting that research is typically understood as objective, value-free and scientific: in other words, our ideas about research are drawn from positivism (166). “Differences in approach to research, however, have been the subject of continuous debate, as those engaged in attempts to understand human society grapple with the problematic nature of social science inquiry” (165). Disputes over method in the social sciences are important, because method “is regarded as the way in which knowledge is acquired or discovered and as a way in which we can ‘know’ what is real” (166). She points out that academic disciplines are attached not just to ideas about knowledge but to methodologies (166); debates about methodology and method are about “the appropriateness of research design and analysis” (166). “Definitions of validity and reliability are of critical importance here as researchers attempt to construct and perfect scientific instruments for observing and explaining human behaviour and the human condition,” she writes (166). However, at another, broader level, “the debate has been concerned with the wider aims and role of research” (166). Is positivism, for example, “an appropriate paradigm for understanding human society” (166)?

In the 1960s questions were asked about the connection between power and research by Indigenous activists: “Such questions were based on a sense of outrage and injustice over the failure of education, democracy and research to deliver social change for people who were oppressed. These questions related to the relationship between knowledge and power, between research and emancipation, and between lived reality and imposed ideals about the Other” (167). Similar questions were asked by feminism, which was important in challenging “the epistemological foundations of Western philosophy, academic practice and research” (168). However, white feminism has been challenged by women who are not white: they disagreed with the assumptions that “all women shared some universal characteristics and suffered from universal oppressions which could be understood and described by a group of predominantly white, Western-trained women academics” (168). At the same time, a feminist critique of Marxist critical theory was developed, a challenge which “focused on the notion of reflexivity in research, a process of critical self-awareness, reflexivity and openness to challenge” (168). Women of colour “argued that oppression takes different forms, and that there are interlocking relationships between race, gender and class which make oppression a complex sociological and psychological condition” (169-70); Tuhiwai Smith is talking about intersectionality, although she doesn’t use that term, at least not here. 

“Research is about satisfying a need to know, and a need to extend the boundaries of existing knowledge through a process of systematic inquiry. Rationality in the Western tradition enabled knowledge to be produced and articulated in a scientific and ‘superior’ way,” she continues (172). Those forms of knowledge allowed for the dismissal of other forms of knowledge that were considered “primitive” (172). Since the 1960s, however, “[t]he reassertion of Maori aspirations and cultural practice . . . has demonstrated a will by Maori people to make explicit claims about the validity and legitimacy of Maori knowledge” (174).“When studying how to go about doing research, it is very easy to overlook the realm of common sense, the basic beliefs that not only help people identify research problems that are relevant and worthy, but also accompany them throughout the research process,” she argues (175). In a cross-cultural context, researchers need to ask themselves a series of questions: Who defined the research problem? For whom is this study worthy and relevant? Who says so? What knowledge will the community gain from this study? What knowledge will the researcher gain from this study? What are likely positive and negative outcomes from this study? How can those negative outcomes be eliminated? To whom is the researcher accountable? What processes are in place to support the research, the researched and the researcher? (175-76). Furthermore, “it is also important to question that most fundamental belief of all, that individual researchers have an inherent right to knowledge and truth. We should not assume that they have been trained well enough to pursue it rigorously, nor to recognize it when they have ‘discovered’ it” (176).

Colonization has made it difficult for Maori knowledge to be understood as legitimate, Tuhiwai Smith contends:

The colonization of Maori culture has threatened the maintenance of that knowledge and the transmission of knowledge that is “exclusively” or particularly Maori. The dominance of Western, British culture, and the history that underpins the relationship between indigenous Maori and non-indigenous Pakeha, have made it extremely difficult for Maori forms of knowledge and learning to be accepted as legitimate. By asserting the validity of Maori knowledge, Maori people have reclaimed greater control over the research that is being carried out in the Maori field. (177)

As a result, she continues,

[r]esearch projects are designed and carried out with little recognition accorded to the people who participated—“the researched.” Indigenous people and other groups in society have frequently been portrayed as the powerless victims of research, which has attributed a variety of deficits or problems to just about everything they do. Years of research have frequently failed to improve the conditions of the people who are researched. This has led many Maori people to believe that researchers are simply intent on taking or “stealing” knowledge in a non-reciprocal and often underhanded way. (178)

Since research has tended to benefit the researcher and “the knowledge base of the dominant group in society,” 

it is critical that researchers recognize the power dynamic that is embedded in the relationship with their subjects. Researchers are in receipt of privileged information. They may interpret it within an overt theoretical framework, but also in terms of a covert ideological framework. They have the power to distort, to make invisible, to overlook, to exaggerate and to draw conclusions, based not on factual data, but on assumptions, hidden value judgements, and often downright misunderstandings. They have the potential to extend knowledge or to perpetuate ignorance. (178)

Clearly research is not the value-free or objective process that it is often claimed to be; nor does it lead to the “truth.”

The Maori challenge that researchers “‘keep out’ of researching Maori people or Maori issues” has led to a variety strategies for carrying out further research. These strategies include avoidance, “whereby the researcher avoids dealing with the issues or with Maori”; “‘personal development,’ whereby the researchers prepare themselves by learning Maori language, attending hui and becoming more knowledgeable about Maori concerns”; “consultation with Maori, where efforts are made to seek support and consent”; “‘making space’ where research organizations have recognized and attempted to bring more Maori researchers and ‘voices’ into their own organization”; and partnership, “whereby the organization recognizes the need to reflect partnership at governance level and embed it in all its policies and practices” (179). These strategies have positive and negative consequences, although Tuhiwai Smith states that avoidance “may not be helpful to anyone” (179). However, “the move towards research that is more ethical, and concerned with outcomes as well as processes, has meant that those who choose to research with Maori people have more opportunities to think more carefully about what this undertaking may mean”—although it doesn’t guarantee anything (179).

Tuhiwai Smith examines Graham Smith’s four models “by which culturally appropriate research can be undertaken by non-indigenous researchers” (179). These include tiaki or the mentoring model, “in which authoritative Maori people guide and sponsor the research”; the whangai or adoption model, in which “researchesr are incorporated into the daily life of Maori people, and sustain a life-long relationship which extends far beyond the realms of research”; the “power sharing model” in which researchers seek community support in developing the research; and the “empowering outcomes model,” “which addresses the sorts of questions Maori people want to know and which has beneficial outcomes” (179-80). These models are culturally sensitive and empathetic, but they go beyond that kind of engagement “to address the issues that are going to make a difference for Maori” (180). Another model, Tuhiwai Smith suggests, is bicultural research: this “involves both indigenous and non-indigenous researchers working on a research project and shaping that project together” (180). All of those models, she notes,

assume that indigenous people are involved in the research in key and often senior roles. With very few trained indigenous researchers available, one of the roles non-indigenous researchers have needed to play is as mentors of indigenous research assistants. Increasingly, however, there have been demands by indigenous communities for research to be undertaken exclusively by indigenous researchers. It is thought that Maori people need to take greater control over the questions they want to address, and invest more energy and commitment into the education and empowering of Maori people as researchers. (180-81)

I’m not sure that people without much training will be able to conduct research effectively, although given the track record of Western researchers, especially Western anthropologists, maybe they couldn’t do much worse than those highly trained individuals.

Chapter 10, “Towards Developing Indigenous Methodologies: Kaupapa Maori Research,” begins with a question: “What happens to research when the researched become the researchers?” (185). The challenges for Maori researchers, according to Tuhiwai Smith, include retrieving space “to convince Maori people of the value of research for Maori”; convincing “the various, fragmented but powerful research communities of the need for greater Maori involvement in research;” and developing “approaches and ways of carrying out research that take into account, without being limited by, the legacies of previous research, and the parameters of both previous and current approaches” (185). “What is now referred to as Kaupapa Maori approaches to research, or simply as Kaupapa Maori research, is an attempt to retrieve that space and to achieve those general aims,” (185) she writes. Unfortunately, Tuhiwai Smith doesn’t define Kaupapa Maori. However, a quick Google search tells me that “Kaupapa” “refers to the collective vision, aspiration and purpose of Māori communities” (“Principles of Kaupapa Māori”).  “Similar approaches to engage with research on indigenous terms have been developed in other contexts,” Tuhiwai Smith continues. “Indigenist research is a term frequently used to name these approaches” (185). “This chapter begins by discussing the ways in which Kaupapa Maori research has become a way of structuring assumptions, values, concepts, orientations and priorities in research” (185).

“[N]ot all those who write about or talk about Kaupapa Maori are involved in research,” Tuhiwai Smith notes. “Kaupapa Maori has been applied across a wide range of projects and enterprises,” and “not all Maori researchers would regard either themselves, or their research, as fitting within a Kaupapa Maori framework. There are elements within the definitions of Kaupapa Maori which serve the purpose of selecting what counts and what does not count” (186). One question is whether a non-Indigenous researcher carry out Kaupapa Maori research. The answer to that question depends on who is asked. One answer is maybe, but not on their own; and if they were involved, they would have to find ways of positioning themselves as non-Indigenous (186). Another answer, more radical, is simply “no”: “Kaupapa Maori research is Maori research exclusively” (186). 

According to Kathy Irwin, Kaupapa Maori research is culturally safe, involves mentorship by Elders, is “culturally relevant and appropriate while satisfying the rigour of research,” and is undertaken by a Maori researcher, “not a researcher who happens to be Maori” (186). Russell Bishop’s model of Kaupapa Maori, however, 

is framed by the discourses related to the Treaty of Waitangi and by the development within education of Maori initiatives that are “controlled” by Maori. By framing Kaupapa Maori within the Treaty of Waitangi, Bishop leaves space for the involvement of non-indigenous researchers in support of Maori research. He argues that non-indigenous people, generally speaking, have an obligation to support Maori research (as Treaty partners). And, secondly, some non-indigenous researchers, who have a genuine desire to support the cause of Maori, ought to be included, because they can be useful allies and colleagues in research. (186)

For Bishop, control and empowerment are linked: Maori people need to be in control of investigations into Maori people’s lives (186-87). “Bishop also argues that Kaupapa Maori research is located within an alternative conception of the world from which solutions and cultural aspirations can be generated,” Tuhiwai Smith writes (187). 

“Both Irwin and Bishop argue for the importance of the concept of whanau as a supervisory and organizational structure for handling research,” she continues, noting that “whanau provides the intersection where research meets Maori, or Maori meets research, on equalizing terms” (187). The word whanau refers to extended family (171). According to Tuhiwai Smith, “under the rubric of Kaupapa Maori research different sets of ideas and issues are being claimed as important. Some of these intersect at different points with research as an activity. Some of these features are reframed as assumptions, some as practices and methods, and some are related to Maori conceptions of knowledge” (187). She notes that Graham Smith contends that Kaupapa Maori research “is related to ‘being Maori’”; it “is connected to Maori philosophy and principles”; it “takes for granted the validity and legitimacy of Maori, the importance of Maori language and culture”; and it is concerned with Maori struggle for cultural well-being (187). According to Tuhiwai Smith, this definition

locates Kaupapa Maori research within the wider project of Maori struggles for self-determination, and draws from this project a set of elements which, he argues, can be found in all the different projects associated with Kaupapa Maori. The general significance of these principles, however, is that they have evolved from within many of the well-tried practices of Maori as well as being tied to a clear and coherent rationale. (187)

Another dimension of Kaupapa Maori is connected to issues of identity: most Maori researchers would argue that being Maori is “a critical element of Kaupapa Maori research,” even an essential element, but that “being Maori does not preclude . . . being systematic, being ethical, being ‘scientific’” (188-89).

Here Tuhiwai Smith returns to the concept of whanau as a way of organizing research (189). “All Maori initiatives have attempted to organize the basic decision making and participation within and around the concept of whanau,” she suggests.It is argued that the whanau, in pre-colonial times, was the core social unit, rather than the individual. It is also argued that the whanau remains a persistent way of living and organizing the social world” (189). Whanau is part of a methodology, a way of organizing the research group and incorporating ethical procedures that report back to the community; it is also a way of distributing tasks, incorporating people with specific forms of expertise, and making Maori values central to the research project (189). Non-Indigenous people can be involved at the level of the whanau (189). “The whanau then can be a very specific modality through which research is shaped and carried out, analysed and disseminated” (189).

Whanau is one of several aspects of Maori philosophy, values and practices which are brought to the centre in Kaupapa Maori research,” Tuhiwai Smith writes (189). “Taukana Nepe argues that Kaupapa Maori is derived from very different epistemological and metaphysical foundations and it is these that give Kaupapa Maori its distinctiveness from Western societies” (189). The Maori have a different epistemological tradition which frames the way they see the world and organize themselves in it, that shapes the questions they ask and the answers they seek (190). Kaupapa Maori “is tied to the connection between language, knowledge and culture,” but it isn’t equivalent to Maori knowledge and epistemology; rather, it is “a way of abstracting that knowledge, reflecting on it, engaging with it, taking it for granted sometimes, making assumptions based upon it, and at times critically engaging in the way it has been and is being constructed” (190). It is possible within Kaupapa Maori for there to be different constructions of Maori knowledge; for instance, Maori women may question the version of Maori society provided by Maori men (190). In addition, social justice is an important question in Kaupapa Maori research (191).

Positivistic scientists tend not to be sympathetic to Kaupapa Maori (191). The two forms of research compete for resources. Positivistic research is “well established institutionally and theoretically” and is hegemonic: “As far as many people are concerned, research is positivist; it cannot be anything else” (191). In comparison, “Kaupapa Maori is a fledgling approach, occurring within the relatively smaller community of Maori researchers; this in turn exists within a minority culture that continues to be represented within antagonistic colonial discourses. It is a counter-hegemonic approach to Western forms of research and, as such, currently exists on the margins” (191). “Kaupapa Maori research is imbued with a strong anti-positivistic stance,” but Maori communities tend to include “all those researchers attempting to work with Maori and on topics of importance to Maori” (192): in health research, for instance, both kinds of research are done, and there can be connections between the results. “Kaupapa Maori research is a social project; it weaves in and out of Maori cultural beliefs and values, Western ways of knowing, Maori histories and experiences under colonialism, Western forms of education, Maori aspirations and socio-economic needs, and Western economics and global politics,” she continues. “Kaupapa Maori is concerned with sites and terrains. Each of these is a site of struggle” (193).

“Kaupapa Maori approaches to research are based on the assumption that research that involves Maori people, as individuals and communities, should set out to make a positive difference for the researched,” Tuhiwai Smith writes. “This does not need to be an immediate or direct benefit. The point is that research has to be defined and designed with some ideas about likely short-term or longer-term benefits” (193). “The research approach also has to address seriously the cultural ground rules of respect, of working with communities, of sharing processes and knowledge”:

Kaupapa Maori research also incorporates processes such as networking, community consultations and whanau research groups, which assist in bringing into focus the research problems that are significant for Maori. In practice all of these elements of the Kaupapa Maori approach are negotiated with communities or groups from ‘communities of interest.’ It means that researchers have to share their ‘control’ of research and seek to maximize the participation and the interest of Maori. In many contexts research cannot proceed without the project being discussed by a community or tribal gathering, and supported. There are some tribes whose processes are quite rigorous and well established. . . . Many communities have a strong sense of what counts as ethical research. Their definition of ethics is not limited to research related to living human subjects but includes research involving the environment, archival research and any research which examines ancestors, either as physical remains (extracting DNA), or using their photographs, diaries or archival records. (193-94)

Kaupapa Maori research is also involved in training and supporting young Maori researchers in how to work in their own communities and within their own value systems and cultural practices (194). “Kaupapa Maori as an approach has provided a space for dialogue by Maori, across disciplines, about research,” Tuhiwai Smith concludes (195).

Chapter 11, “Choosing the Margins: The Role of Research in Indigenous Struggles for Social Justice,” is about struggle, “an important tool in the overthrow of oppression and colonialism” (199). Struggle can be a blunt tool, however, and it can end up privileging patriarchy and sexism in specific groups or undermining their values (199). “As a blunt instrument struggle can also promote actions that simply reinforce hegemony and that have no chance of delivering significant social change,” Tuhiwai Smith suggests (199). While consciousness of injustice is often a precursor to engagement in struggle, Graham Smith argues that in the Maori context, participation in struggle can come before a raised consciousness of injustice:

Smith’s research has shown that people often participated in struggles more as a solidarity with friends and family, or some other pragmatic motivation, than as a personal commitment to or knowledge about historical oppression, colonialism and the survival of Maori people. Along the way many of those people became more conscious of the politics of struggle in which they were engaged. (200)

Smith’s conclusion is that strugle can be seen “as group or collective agency rather than as individual consciousness” (200). 

“Struggle is also a theoretical tool for understanding social change, for making sense of power relations and for interpreting the tension between academic views of political actions and activist views of the academy,” Tuhiwai Smith writes (200). “The Maori struggle for decolonization is multi-layered and multi-dimensional, and has occurred across multiple sites simultaneously” (200). Kaupapa Maori is important in that particular context: “theorizing this struggle from a Maori framework of Kaupapa Maori has provided important insights about how transformation works and can be made to work for indigenous communities” (200-01). Tuhiwai Smith argues that there are “five conditions or dimensions that have framed the struggle for decolonization”: “a critical consciousness, an awakening from the slumber of hegemony, and the realization that action has to occur”; “a way of reimagining the world and our position as Maori within the world, drawing upon a different epistemology and unleashing the creative spirit,” which “enables an alternative vision” and “dreams of alternative possibilities”; “the coming together of disparate ideas, the events, the historical moment,” which creates opportunities and “provides the moments when tactics can be deployed”; “movement or disturbance,” “the unstable movements that occur when the status quo is disturbed”; and finally structure, “the underlying code of imperialism, of power relations” (201). “What I am suggesting, by privileging these layers over others, is that separately, together, and in combination with other ideas, these five dimensions help map the conceptual terrain of struggle,” she contends (201).

Tuhiwai Smith cites Chandra Mohanty’s argument that oppressions are simultaneous (201). “Intersections can be conceptualized not only as intersecting lines but also as spaces that are created at the points where intersecting lines meet,” she writes, and those spaces “are sites of struggle that offer possibilities for people to resist” (202). According to Tuhiwai Smith,

it is important to claim those spaces that are still taken for granted as being possessed by the West. Such spaces are intellectual, theoretical and imaginative. One of these is a space called Kaupapa Maori. The concept has emerged from lessons learned through Te Kohanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Maori and has been developed as a theory in action by Maori people. Graham Smith has argued for Kaupapa Maori as an intervention into theoretical spaces, particularly within the sphere of education. Kaupapa Maori research refers to Maori struggles to claim research as a space within which Maori can also operate. (202)

Given the history of research as a tool of colonialism, this might seem strange:

“Maori and other indigenous peoples, however, also have their own questions and curiosities; they have imaginations and ways of knowing that they seek to expand and apply. Searching for solutions is very much part of the struggle to survive; it is represented within our own “traditions” for example, through creations stories, values and practices. The concept of “searching” is embedded in our world views. Researching in this sense, then, is not something owned by the West, or by an institution or discipline. Research begins as a social, intellectual and imaginative activity. It has become disciplined and institutionalized with certain approaches empowered over others and accorded a legitimacy, but it begins with human curiosity and a desire to solve problems. It is at its core an activity of hope. (202-03)

Because hope is central to political struggle, “if they are to work, to be effective, political projects must also touch on, appeal to, make space for, and release forces that are creative and imaginative,” although these forces “do not necessarily lead to emancipatory outcomes” (203). Those forces are also, she continues, 

inherently uncontrollable, which is possibly why this aspect is excluded from decolonization programmes and other attempts at planned resistance. However, there is a point in the politics of decolonization where leaps of imagination are able to connect the disparate, fragmented pieces of a puzzle, ones that have different shadings, different shapes, and different images within them, and say that “these pieces belong together.” The imagination allows us to strive for goals that transcend material, empirical realities. For colonized peoples this is important because the cycle of colonialism is just that, a cycle with no end point, no emancipation. . . . To imagine a different world is to imagine us as different people in the world. To imagine is to believe in different possibilities, ones that we can create. (203-04)

In other words, “[d]ecolonization must offer a language of possibility, a way out of colonialism”: “Imagining a different world, or reimagining the world, is a way into theorizing the reasons why the world we experience is unjust, and posing alternatives to such a world from within our own world views” (204).

Here Tuhiwai Smith shifts to discuss the notion of the margin. “The metaphor of the margin has been very powerful in the social sciences and humanities for understanding social inequality, oppression, disadvantage and power,” she writes (204). Tt locates people “in spatial terms as well as in socio-economic, political and cultural terms” (204). The critical issue, she continues, is 

that meaningful, rich, diverse, interesting lives are lived in the margins; these are not empty spaces occupied by people whose lives don’t matter, or people who spend their lives on the margins trying to escape. Many groups who end up there “choose” the margins, in the sense of creating cultures and identities there: for example, the deaf community, gay and lesbian communities, minority ethnic groups, and indigenous groups. (205)

In addition, she suggests,

There are also researchers, scholars and academics who actively choose the margins, who choose to study people marginalized by society, who themselves have come from the margins or who see their intellectual purpose as being scholars who will work for, with, and alongside communities who occupy the margins of society. If one is interested in society then it is often in the margins that aspects of a society are revealed as microcosms of the larger picture or as examples of a society’s underbelly. In a research sense having a commitment to social justice, to changing the conditions and relations that exist in the margins is understood as being “socially interested” or as having a “standpoint.” (205)

Research conducted by people who come from the communities concerned may be understood as “insider” research. “Kaupapa Maori research can be understood in this way as an approach to research that takes a position—for example, that Maori language, knowledge and culture are valid and legitimate—and has a standpoint from which research is developed, conducted, analysed, interpreted and assessed,” Tuhiwai Smith argues (205).

Specific methodologies have been developed out of what has been called social justice research, critical research, or community action research, and these methodologies “facilitate the expression of marginalized voices, and that attempt to re-present the experience of marginalization in genuine and authentic ways” (205). “[I]t is crucial that researchers working in this critical research tradition pay particular attention to matters that impact on the integrity of research and the researcher, continuously develop their understandings of ethics and community sensibilities, and critically examine their research practices,” Tuhiwai Smith contends (205), noting that “the researchers who choose to research with and for marginalized communities are often in the margins themselves in their own institutions, disciplines and research communities” (206). Such research can have a negative effect on researchers’ careers, and on perceptions of their expertise and intellectual authority (206). “Researchers who work in the margins need research strategies that enable them to survive, to do good research, to be active in building community capacities, to maintain their integrity, manage community expectations of them and mediate their different relationships,” Tuhiwai Smith argues. “Kaupapa Maori research developed out of this challenge” (213). It “encourages Maori researchers to take being Maori as a given, to think critically and address structural relations of power, to build upon cultural values and systems and contribute research back to communities that are transformative” (214).

Building strong relationships with communities is important; for Maori researchers, the skills and principles that help build such relationships can be as simple as “showing one’s face” as the first step in a relationship, but building networks of people with strong links to communities, and building community capacity so people can do the research themselves, are also important (214). “Research is important because it is the process for knowledge production; it is the way we constantly expand knowledge. Research for social justice expands and improves the conditions for justice; it is an intellectual, cognitive and moral project, often fraught, never complete, but worthwhile” (214-15).

Chapter 12, “Getting the Story Right, Telling the Story Well: Indigenous Activism, Indigenous Research,” expands on the connection between activism and research. There is no easy or natural relationship between these two activities, Tuhiwai Smith suggests: “Research and activism exist as different activities, undertaken by different kinds of people employing different tools for different kinds of ends” (217). This chapter is about “why we do what we do either as researchers and/or activists” and relating that question to “the potential ways in which indigenous activists and indigenous researchers can collaborate to advance indigenous interests at local, national and international levels” (217). 

First, though, Tuhiwai Smith thinks about globalization. International meetings of Indigenous peoples and of world leaders both “represent something interesting about globalization”: one group represents the “descendants of peoples who were for the most part not expected to survive into the twenty-first century,” and the other brings together “those who presume to govern” (219)—in other words, they represent resistance to power and power itself. Neoliberalism is the ideology of globalization, and it claims that the world is a marketplace (219-20). Since the world is a marketplace, everything in neoliberalism is for sale. “From indigenous perspectives some of their unique knowledge is on the verge of extinction and ought never to be commercialized, while other aspects of the culture may in fact be commercial but there is no regime for ensuring benefits flow to the communities who created or have possessed such knowledge,” Tuhiwai Smith suggests (220). Indigenous activists against globalization “have often acted as the critic and conscience of societies, much to the displeasure of governments and powerful business voices” (220), and one of the sites of conflict has been traditional knowledge (221). “One of the most difficult academic arguments for indigenous scholars to make has been the very existence of indigenous knowledge as a unique body of world knowledge that has a contribution to make in contemporary disciplines and institutions, let alone for indigenous peoples themselves,” she suggests. “The arguments are not necessarily framed as knowledge questions, as they are more likely to be about political issues of access to institutions, equity and equality of opportunity, physical spaces, designated staff positions and course content” (223). “Indigenous academic researchers in the area of traditional knowledge have to work at a philosophical or epistemological (theory of knowledge) level to muster their arguments, as well as at very practical levels such as the provision of support for indigenous students or the design of a course,” she continues (223-24). 

Research into traditional knowledge has a surprising connection to activism, according to Tuhiwai Smith:

the very existence of a community that can study and research traditional indigenous knowledge is something that activism has actually created and must also protect—in other words, it is a measure of the success of activism, but cannot be successful unless the knowledge scholars do the work they have to do to protect, defend, expand, apply and pass knowledge on to others. (225)

She argues that “getting the story right and telling the story well are tasks that indigenous activists and researchers must both perform. . . . The nexus, or coming together, of activism and research occurs at the level of a single individual in many circumstances. An activist must get the story right as well as tell the story well, and so must a researcher” (226).

The book’s conclusion is a memoir of Tuhiwai Smith’s experiences as a researcher in the social sciences. “Since the publication of the first edition of Decolonizing Methodologies in 1999 I have had the privilege of talking about research to numerous indigenous communities and academic institutions,” she concludes (232). She learned that the university education Indigenous people experienced “was alienating and disconnected from the needs of their own communities,” and that education tended to be premised on assimilating Indigenous people (232). However, many Indigenous people did return to their communities and nations and work for them (232). “In various places around the world there are small initiatives that are providing indigenous peoples with space to create and be indigenous. Research seems such a small and technical aspect of the wider politics of indigenous peoples,” she writes, but Indigenous peoples have their own research needs and priorities: “Our questions are important. Research helps us to answer them” (232).

I can see why Decolonizing Methodologies is an important book, although I recall finding Indigenous Methodologies and Research is Ceremony more directly related to my work, and I wonder if I shouldn’t take the time to reread them as part of this project. I thought Tuhiwai Smith’s 25 research projects were fascinating, since so many of them could be considered creative or artistic projects, and discussions of research are often hard to relate to artistic research or research-as-creation. The notion of Kaupapa Maori research is particularly interesting, and I wonder if other Indigenous nations have similar ideas or forms of research. It certainly helps me to articulate my reluctance to speak at a discussion of Indigenous research in September. If one were to take Kaupapa Maori research as a model for Indigenous research, then there’s no way that a môniyaw, or pakeha, ought to be taking up space at a panel discussion on that topic. After all, as I’ve said earlier in this blog, my research is Settler research, not Indigenous research, and while there could be methodologies that are useful to that work—and that’s why rereading Kovach and Wilson might be useful—it’s important to understand what I’m doing and what I’m not doing, and to be able to explain that to others.

Work Cited

Kovach, Margaret. Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Concersations, and Contexts, University of Toronto Press, 2010.

“Principles of Kaupapa Māori.” Rangahau,, accessed 13 August 2019.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, second edition, Zed/Otago University Press, 2012.

Wilson, Shawn. Research Is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods, Fernwood, 2009.