116. Kathleen E. Absolon (Minogiizhigokwe), Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know
One of my colleagues here raves about Minogiizhigokwe’s (or Kathleen E. Absolon’s) Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know. So I thought I had better read it. In the book’s preface, Absolon notes that it’s a published version of her PhD thesis, which she completed at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. However, she doesn’t seem completely happy with the notion of publishing her work. “The scary thing is that how we come to know is living and fluid, not concrete and fixed like typeset words,” Absolon writes. “I trust that this book is part of a larger process where Indigenous searchers are articulating the spaces where voices and knowing reside but were never allowed to be heard. Until exposure to knowledge occurs, you don’t know what you don’t know” (10). However, she notes that this book is important, “because colonizing knowledges have attempted to silence Indigenous ways of coming to know and have fabricated false notions that Indigenous methodologies do not exist,” ideas she contests in this book (10). Kaandossiwin, she continues, “is an Anishinaabe word that describes a process of how we come to know, a process of acquiring knowledge. . . . This book is about kaandossiwin and speaks to journeys of learning, being and doing” (10).
The first chapter, “Preparing to Search,” begins by stating that Indigenous research “is often guided by the knowledge found within. Aboriginal epistemology (the ways of knowing our reality) honours our inner being as the place where Spirit lives, our dreams reside and our heart beats” (12). This idea is “a key Indigenous methodological principle” (12). Despite the attempts by colonization to make Indigenous realities invisible, Absolon writes, “I do not need to make comparisons with eurowestern methods of searching. There is no need to. There are many pathways to knowledge” (12). Her hope is that “this book will contribute to establishing the visibility and knowledge of Indigenous methodologies in the search for knowledge in the academy and elsewhere” (12). She suggests that Indigenous epistemologies are often presented metaphorically: “the harvest of this search is wholistically presented as a petal flower with roots (worldview), centre flower (self), leaves (journey), stem (analytical backbone) and petals (methods). Petal flowers are as varied as Indigenous re-search methodologies; thus the type of flower is undefined” (12). Kaandossiwin is the result of a review of “eleven selected theses by Indigenous graduate re-searchers in adult education, social work, Indigenous studies and sociology; conversations with Indigenous re-searchers in the academy; and a learning circle of Indigenous re-searchers” (13). The book is not exhaustive, but it does provide “a general sense of Indigenous re-search methodologies used by graduate Indigenous re-searchers,” and the acceptance of these methodologies within the academy “establishes precedence of the application and legitimacy of Indigenous knowledge and methodologies” (13).
Before going any further, Absolon locates herself autobiographically, “because positionality, storying and re-storying ourselves come first”: who her family is and where she grew up (13-15). “I want my words to reflect my way of thinking, being and doing, and it’s difficult at times to balance what I think I’m supposed to write with my sense of self, so I get knotted up inside,” Absolon writes. “I began to connect my aching back with my own history and the reasons why this book feels important. Yes, there are bunched up knots in my personal and political history, and I thought about the years of suppression of my cultural identity and traditions. The body ache is connected to other aches that are exposed through this book” (15). Those aches include her separation from her community after her mother lost her status through marriage (15). She notes that her Anishinaabe grandfather told her, in a dream, to tune into her “own journey with the Spirits” (16), and her sense that her grandfather holds her when she feels “lonely and uncertain in this world” (16). She grew up in the bush, and she writes, “[w]hen I need to find ways to balance the demands of contemporary stressors, like work and more complex lifestyles, I return to the land” (17). Her doctoral research, she continues, was a means “to join other Indigenous voices and carry our knowledge forward” (17). This degree was not the beginning of her desire for learning, however; as a child, she was “thirsty . . . to learn about what happened to our people” (18). “It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I began to meet other Anishinaabe people who were involved in our cultural ways,” she continues. “It was only then that I slowly started to see what it was that my grandparents would have wanted me to know” (18). She also notes that growing up in the bush “was a gift”: “because of that strong foundation I resisted being fenced into eurowestern ways of knowing, being and doing” (18).
Absolon’s lived experiences led her in writing this book. “Like all the re-searchers recognized in this project,” she writes, “the politics of decolonization and indigenizing is a conscious and necessary part of the journey” (19). “What I mean is that colonization has attempted to eradicate every aspect of who we are,” she continues. “Colonizing knowledge dominates, ignorance prevails, and we internalize how and who the colonizers want us to be” (19). Recovering from that colonization, she writes, “has involved rediscovering and nurturing my Anishinaabe Spirit, healing my Anishinaabe heart, decolonizing my mind and creating a critical action plan in my own life,” a process which has included learning her language (19). “At a personal level decolonization means examining the inherent conflicts within myself: I am Anishinaabe and english,” she writes, and “decolonizing in a colonial education system” means seeking “to advance Indigenous knowledge systems in a mainstream education system,” a process that is “met with antagonism and resistance by the gatekeepers of colonizing forms of knowledge production,” since “Indigenous methodologies are often not perceived as valid forms of knowledge production,” something that needs to change (19-20). As a community-based researcher, Absolon has experienced the suspicion and fear Indigenous people have about research, although she has also “seen community-based researchers embrace research as a community development tool once they learned about and saw the value of research for themselves” (20). Her aim, she writes, is to explore Indigenous “knowledge, epistemologies, paradigms, philosophies, practices and methods,” and “articulate how they may be developed and honoured in mainstream academic contexts” (20).
Absolon notes that she uses Anishinaabemowin because “this is my mother tongue” (21). “Sometimes I conjure up words and use english words in atypical ways,” she continues (21). For instance, she hyphenates the word research, for example, to give it a sense of “meaning to look again. To search again from our own location and to search again using our own ways as Anishinaabek is Indigenous re-search. It is the process of how we come to know” (21). Such research is “by nature related to Indigenous peoples’ contexts: historical, political, legal, economical, geographical, cultural, spiritual, environmental and experiential. Indigenist re-search promotes Indigenous knowledge and methods. As we re-search, we re-write and we re-story ourselves” (21). “Indigenous re-search methodologies,” she continues,
are those re-search methods, practices and approaches that are guided by Indigenous worldviews, beliefs, values, principles, processes and contexts. Indigenous methodologies are wholistic, relational, interrelational and interdependent with Indigenous philosophies, beliefs and ways of life. The methods are determined by understanding the nature of our existence, of how we come to know, of how knowledge is produced and of where knowledge comes from. Methods or ways of coming to know stem from understanding natural laws. Indigenous peoples still carry this knowledge close to the heart and Spirit. Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing are connected to the nature of our existence, just as eurowestern researchers are guided by colonialist beliefs and values, even though they claim, sometimes vehemently, that they are “value neutral”! (22)
I hope not all Settler researchers “are guided by colonialist beliefs and values,” although perhaps that hope is unfounded. Absolon states that this book “is not a formula or prescription for Indigenous methodologies,” nor does it attempt “a general representation of all Indigenous methodologies” (22). It does not address informal methodologies used outside the university. Rather, its aim “is to validate and make Indigenous methodologies a solid methodological choice” (22).
Absolon’s second chapter, “Indigenous Re-search,” begins by stating that “Indigenous peoples have always had means of seeking and accessing knowledge. “Yet, Indigenous searchers are usually caught in the context of colonial theories and methodologies” (23). For that reason, “[t]his book positions Indigenous knowledge up front and centre” (23). Traditionally, Indigenous research “has been conducted to seek, counsel and consult; to learn about medicines, plants and animals; to scout and scan the land; to educate and pass on knowledge; and to inquire into cosmology” (24).“Searching for knowledge was congruent with the principles, philosophies, customs, traditions, worldview and knowledge of a particular nation,” she continues. “Today, Indigenous researchers are committed to rediscovering that congruency between worldview and methodology” (24).
First, Absolon pays respect “to the oral traditions and knowledge that I was raised with and that guide Aboriginal methodologies of searching” (24). Beginning with one’s experiences “and cultural orientations,” she continues, “is seen as integral to the resurgence of Indigenous knowledge” (24). And so Absolon writes, “I return to the bush because that is where my first teachings about searching began. . . . Searching is so intrinsic to living in the bush that we can connect this tradition to our contemporary search for knowledge” (25). That search for knowledge is inherently ethical, she continues, because “we learned to give thanks and express our intentions, actions and feelings for what we needed and took from the earth” (25). In addition, “negotiating the bush requires an understanding of the laws of nature,” laws which “are non-negotiable, meaning we must be prepared” (25). Searching for spiritual knowledge also means following a process. “Searching the land, in sacred spaces or human spaces, is guided by the nature of how we exist,” she writes:
Preparation is essential to any search: bring semaa (tobacco), be of good heart and mind, think about your route, wear the proper clothing, father your tools, bring food and water and plan for the unexpected. Announce yourself and your intentions; share this with others. In our search for berries we started with our own knowledge. Know where to begin and how to find your path. Thus, in my search for principles of Indigenous methodologies, I begin with my own knowledge of searching in the bush. I was taught to attune to the land and what the animals were doing. Announcing my intentions to the land or warning the animals of my presence was a central philosophy that respected the animals and our relationship to Creation. I learned to offer a prayer with semaa to acknowledge the Spirits of the land. (25-26)
“Walking the land and negotiating the elements of the bush called for another principle: do not get lost,” Absolon continues. “Listening and walking carefully were other principles central to my search” (26). “In practicing these principles,” she writes, “I learnt about demonstrating respect for the land and its inhabitants” (26). In the bush, she also learned perseverance, gratitude, and “a sense of connection, understanding and knowing” (26).
“Indigenous cultural histories are rich and have been passed from one generation to the next since time immemorial,” Absolon writes. “Our lived experiences are records of these histories” (26). “Intertwined in histories were methodologies from which purpose and meaning were actualized,” she continues (26). “As Indigenous scholars, we are challenged to take back control and change the way research is is conducted within our communities, peoples, and cultures,” she writes, and acknowledging Indigenous research methods “is pivotal to this task. If we intend to theorize and research as Indigenous scholars, then we must identify what that means and how that happens” (27). This work also means acknowledging “the context of racism and colonialism” (27). “[M]easuring Aboriginal knowledges against western criteria,” she contends, “is academic racism and colonialism” (27). “The legacy of colonizing knowledge has created a disconnection of people from their traditional teachings, people, family, community, spiritual leaders, medicine people, land and so on,” she writes. “The oppressive silencing of Aboriginal knowledges has perpetrated oppression and threatens the ultimate extinction of cultures whose epistemologies, philosophies, worldviews and theories have sustained both the earth and its inhabitants for centuries” (27-28).
The chapter’s next section discusses Indigenous science and knowledge; I’m not sure whether Absolon means science as a particular or general term. She notes that “the waning of traditional science among Indigenous peoples” was the result of colonialism and its confiscation or destruction of “knowledge bundles and ceremonial objects” (28). “Traditional science was replaced with belief systems based on western scientific thought,” she writes, which explain truth within Eurocentric paradigms, as absolute truth (28-29). “[A]sserting that truth is a construction of those in positions of power over knowledge,” she continues, “makes a trail for Indigenous worldviews as another form of truth” (29). She cites Shawn Wilson’s suggestion that Indigenous research paradigms have developed in four stages—I really need to reread Wilson’s book—and notes that “Indigenous paradigms are increasingly receiving recognition and respect as Indigenous scholars re-search and teach from their distinct stance” and that “Indigenous critiques are vital to create space for Indigenous paradigms and methodologies in Indigenous searches to emerge (29). She notes the existence of allied methodologies—“emancipatory, liberatory, anticolonial and anti-racist” (29)—which “have introduced new and relevant theories and epistemologies of research to include socio-political and historically critical perspectives,” particularly “action-based research, participatory action research and community-based strategies” (29-30). She notes that using these forms of research isn’t the same as doing research “within an Indigenous worldview/paradigm,” but that “some qualitative research methodologies are compatible with Indigenous paradigms” (30). However, in order to reclaim Indigenous forms of knowledge production, she argues, “we need to look at our own understandings of existence and the nature of knowledge and ethics (ontology, epistemology, methodology and axiology) as a starting point,” because “Indigenous paradigms are fundamentally different”: they are based on the belief that knowledge is relational and shared with all of Creation (30). “The concept ‘we are all related’ informs the wholistic and relational nature of Indigenous methodologies,” Absolon writes. “Indigenous thought and knowledge guides how we search for knowledge—a search that considers reciprocity and interdependence” (30-31). Absolon stresses “the significance and extent of Indigenous knowledge within Indigenous re-searchers’ consciousness. Indigenous knowledge is knowledge that is wholistically derived from Spirit, heart, mind and body. Indigenous forms of knowledge production accept intuitive knowledge and metaphysical and unconscious realms as possible channels to knowing” (31). Indigenous knowledge “is cyclical and circular and follows the natural laws of Creation,” and it “occupies itself with the past, present and future” (31). “Thus, research that is derived from Indigenous knowledge certainly entails methodologies that demonstrate respect and reverence within these understandings. Indigenous re-search is about being human and calls all human beings to wake from the colonial trance and rejoin the web of life,” she writes (31).
Next, Absolon describes her own research methodology, which “involved a process of preparing, searching and making meaning” (32). Preparing, in this instance, meant identifying the purpose of her research: “to make what we know visible by identifying what Indigenous methodologies graduate Indigenous re-searchers are using and how they are employing those methodologies within the academy” (32). Her process for gathering material “was eclectic, flexible and organic”: it involved a literature review, individual conversations with Indigenous researchers, and “a group learning circle with Indigenous searchers” (32). Making meaning, or “the process of interpreting and finding meaning,” “known in its western form as data analysis,” involved reading the theses she had found, and “travelling over the land to meet people in spaces that we both agreed upon” (33). “Prayer and dreaming were sources of support, guidance and direction during the phase of analysis and making meaning of the conversations,” she continues (34). After a dream, she “fashioned a tapestry representation” of her research, which “removed me from cerebral analysis and brought me to another level, where I was able to wholistically conceptualize what I had gathered” (34). Then she proposed a learning circle for Indigenous researchers at a conference in Winnipeg (35). “At the time of the learning circle, I knew that my basket was full and that I did not need to gather anymore,” she writes. “Sharing what I was learning from my own search, as a way of giving back and reciprocating other searchers’ generosity, became my goal” (35).
The third chapter, “Introducing the Re-Searchers and Their Searches,” summarizes the theses and dissertations Absolon read—a literature review, of a sort—and introduces the researchers she was able to meet with and talk to. (In some cases, she read the work of people she met.)
Chapter 4, “Wholistic Worldviews and Methodologies,” begins with this statement: “We must stand on our merits and not countenance anything less than full acceptance in the academy. Compromising who we are, what we know and where we come from is unacceptable” (47). “We are not alternative,” Absolon continues. “Being othered or alternative depends on whose turf it is. If it’s not your turn then I guess you’re the other. We must own our own turf within Indigenous search agendas. If the methods are Indigenous, within an Indigenous context and for Indigenous purposes, then it is normal and the mainstay of knowledge collection” (47). “The sooner the academy recognizes the existence and validity of Indigenous methodologies, the closer the academy comes to creating a welcoming environment for Indigenous scholars, who can then focus their energy on all areas of Indigenous knowledge production,” she continues (47).
Her goal in this chapter “is to present the methodologies Indigenous graduate searchers employ and their experiences of conducting Indigenous re-search in the academy,” and she “presents the harvest” of her research “within the framework of a petal flower. Each element of the petal flower is connected and interrelated to the whole of the flower and ought not to be interpreted in absence of its wholistic context,” in the way that Indigenous worldviews and methodologies “are wholistic, relational and interdependent” (47-48). “The methodologies, ideas, concepts and issues that are discussed herein represent concrete, multi-layered, dynamic, multi-dimensional and wholistic ways of searching for knowledge,” she writes. “Many people are curious about Indigenous knowledge and ceremonies, but I am certain that it is Indigenous people that need to reclaim that pathway first” (48). She is writing for an Indigenous audience, “not to provide pathways to sacred knowledges, but to provide support and information from which Indigenous scholars will benefit” (48).
The idea of a “petal flower” came from a dream. “All elements of the petal flower are essential to crafting a wholistic framework for Indigenous methodologies,” she writes:
Roots represent worldviews, the centre is the self, the leaves are the journey, the stem is the backbone and the petals represent the diverse methodologies I was learning about. . . . I realized that my framework was congruent with an earth-centred worldview, and the petal flower became the wholistic representation of Indigenous methodologies. (48)
By “petal flower,” Absolon seems to be referring to what botanists call composites; her examples are “wild daisies, roses, strawberries and sunflowers” (48). Indigenous methodologies are similar to these flowers “in that they call for the recognition and understanding of the natural and spiritual laws that govern their existence and survival. The flower is rooted in the earth, yet is moved by the wind and rain. It is an exquisite example of how something so concrete can be flexible and fluid at the same time” (49). Such flowers are beautiful and also used for medicinal or culinary purposes (49). She notes that Leroy Little Bear “uses the metaphor of four flower petals to symbolize strength, sharing, honesty and kindness in kinship relations” (49). “In summary, the petal flower is significant in a number of ways,” Absolon writes:
- all its components are interrelated and interdependent;
- it is earth centred and harmoniously exists in relationship with Creation;
- it is cyclical and changes from season to season;
- the environment it lives in impacts its life; and
- it has a Spirit and a life. (49)
“The petal flower framework acknowledges and validates Indigenous leadership and scholarship displayed within a climate that is often foreign, alienating and marginalizing,” she states (49).
In the dissertations and conversations, Absolon “identified some common tendencies,” which are integrated in the metaphor or image of the “petal flower” (50). First, “[t]he roots are the grounding for Indigenous methods. Although they are not visible, the life and presence of the flower depends on the strength of its roots” (50). Second, “[t]he centre of the flower represents self and self in relation to the re-search. Indigenous methodologies are just as much about who is doing the searching as the how of the search” (50). According to Absolon, “[s]ituating self in the search seemed essential to the purpose and nature of the search and appeared to be directly related to improving social, environmental, political and educational conditions for Indigenous peoples,” and “Indigenous re-searchers recalled memories, motives, personal responsibility and their need for congruency in the search process” (50). Third, “[t]he leaves enable photosynthesis of knowledge: transformative journeys,” and they “embody the journey of the self through the research process” (50). Fourth, “[t]he stem represents the methodological backbone and connector between all parts of the whole’ (50). That backbone “comprises a critique of colonialism, imperialism and eurowestern research on Aboriginal peoples” (50). It holds the research process together (50). Fifth, “[t]he petals represent the diversity of Indigenous re-search methodologies”; the ones “that are operationalized and manifested are those that have been grounded in the roots and journeyed through the self, the research process and the academy to a methodological research enactment” (51). “Indigenous language, culture and traditions and the personal challenges were inherent in relearning and integrating our ways into our research,” Absolon writes. Sixth, “[t]he environmental context of the petal flower influences the life of Indigenous methodologies in the academy and affects Indigenous re-searchers who are trying to advance their theories and methods” (51). That context “affects the degree to which Indigenous re-searchers feel able to remain congruent in their searches” (51). “All these aspects are interrelated and interdependent,” Absolon continues. “The roots, for example, are aspects of the self, are linked to the re-search journey and determine our role as a searcher” (52). Each of the aspects Absolon has listed “is connected to the whole petal flower, which represents the essential wholism of Indigenous worldview, knowledge and methodologies. The wholistic nature of Indigenous methodologies is what distinguishes them from non-Indigenous methodologies. The whole package is necessary to understand each of their parts and their distinctness” (52).
The fifth chapter focuses on the roots in the flower metaphor. “The roots establish the foundation and support the methodological process of searching and gathering,” Absolon writes. “Although not usually visible, they are essential and are manifested in actions, behaviours, ethics and methods. We cannot talk about Indigenous methodologies without acknowledging the worldviews they come from and the paradigms and principles they rest on” (53). According to Absolon, “[p]aradigms are frameworks, perspectives or models from which we see, interpret and understand the world,” and they are “influenced by culture, socialization and experiences,” the way we understand “the nature of our existence and our reality,” and our personal “morals and ethics” (53). Rather than using words like ontology and epistemology and methodology, Absolon would prefer simpler language. “I wonder what words in Anishinaabe would mean our understanding of our existence and how we come to know about our reality and existence?” she asks. “Paradigms are the understandings that ground us in the world, and our knowing, being and doing are guided by these” (53). These understandings influence “how we search for knowledge, on our research, methodology, data analysis, dissemination of results and so on” (53). “Indigenous paradigms/ways of understanding our existence, how we come to know about that existence and what we think about our existence are the roots of Indigenous methodologies in re-search,” she writes (54).
Absolon cites Shawn Wilson’s suggestion that it is necessary to begin researching from an Indigenous paradigm (qtd. 54), and suggests that this “means more than just adding perspective. It is a grounding stance, rooted within an Indigenous understanding of the nature of our existence, how we know and how this understanding affects our realities and searches for knowledge” (55). Indigenous paradigms “are liberatory, emancipatory and critical,” and they involve “a historical, colonial and power analysis” which give it “critical contours” (55). “The past, present and future intersect, and much of our research is about searching for truth, freedom, emancipation and ultimately finding our way home,” Absolon writes. “Finding our way home means searching to return to our own roots and to find the dignity and humanity intended by the Creator” (55). A search for knowledge is a search for power: “We are already aware of difference, being othered, and with this awareness we weave our stories and identities into the research process to reclaim our power and knowledge” (55). Moreover, Indigenous worldviews are strongly connected to territory, nation, and community; they are “rooted in . . . ancestral land” (56).
All of the researchers Absolon talked to agree “that Indigenous worldviews provide a foundation for Indigenous methodologies” (56). A worldview, she continues, “is an intimate belief system that connects Indigenous people to identity, knowledge and practices,” and these worldviews “are rooted in ancestral and sacred knowledges passed through oral traditions from one generation to the next” (56-57). These worldviews are the ways Indigenous people see the world (57). “[C]onscious Indigenous researchers acknowledge their worldview as being pivotal to their search for knowledge,” Absolon states (57). Worldviews affect methodology by influencing the self as a researcher, and the self within the research process (57). There are variations in the worldviews between members of different Indigenous nations, but there are commonalities as well: “our worldviews are earth-centred philosophies, express strong ties to the land and hold reverence for Spirit and ancestors” (57). “We view our position in Creation with humility and practise reverence to those elements of Creation that gave us life, such as the earth, sun, water and air,” Absolon continues, noting that this awareness of a relationship with the natural world “is integrated into our methodologies as we locate and story ourselves into our search processes” (58). Indigenous thought, she writes, “is wholistic in terms of looking to our past to understand our present and to have regard for the future. We acknowledge our relationship to all that is above, beneath and with us” (58). (In passing, Absolon notes that her spelling of “wholistic” is intended to distinguish it from “hole or holy” ). Colonization has “dismembered individuals, families, communities and nations,” and “[w]holistic approaches are inherently inclusive, which fosters and facilitates healing searches and healing relationships” (59).
Tobacco, Absolon writes, “is a sacred medicine and is used to recognize Spirit” (60). Spirit is central to Indigenous knowledge, which is “‘spiritually derived’” (Leanne Betamosake Simpson, qtd. 60). “Spiritually derived knowledge infers that knowledge also comes from dreams, visions, ceremonies and prayer,” Absolon continues. “Spiritually guided paradigms call attention to an existing relationship with the Spirit realm, Creation and those ‘power-helpers’ or Spirit helpers who walk with us” (60). “Spirituality is inherent in Indigenous epistemology, which sees everything in relation to Creation and recognizes that all life has Spirit and is sacred,” she continues (61). An Indigenous worldview must be lived “wholistically,” Absolon argues; such a worldview “is comprised of Spirit, heart, mind and body, and you have to understand the circle, you have to understand what that means and how you do things and how you more or less walk” (62). “Our roots as Indigenous people create a unique position from where we search,” she continues. “Being an Indigenous person in a search for knowledge situates me in a place that non-Indigenous people can never occupy. We have inner cultural knowledge and common experiences of colonization and its subsequent impacts on our families, communities and other relations in Creation” (63).
Next, Absolon discusses principles: “Indigenous methods that are rooted in Indigenous worldviews and philosophies promote Indigenous-based ethics and principles in the research process,” and those principles and ethics “set us apart from western researchers” (63). “Essentially, the worldviews and principles of Indigenous re-search are embedded in the methodologies themselves,” and those worldviews “are also made up of Indigenous principles, such as respect, sharing, balance, harmony, love, bravery and wisdom” (63). “All the re-searchers pursued their search with a goal of acting in accordance with the teachings of minobimaadiziwin—to live a good life, in balance and with respect for all of Creation,” Absolon writes (65). Respect is a core principle in Indigenous research, “a wholistic value [that] can be enacted at all levels of re-search” and “is interwoven throughout this entire work” (65). The teachings of minobimaadiziwin need to be applied now “to rebuild and recover from colonial trauma” (65). “Respectful research implies a search process with a goal toward creating and living a ‘good life,’” Absolon states (65-66). Also, “[t]he significance of ancestors cannot be ignored. Indigenous people know the ancestors are watching and waiting to share their knowledge” through sacred ceremonies, dreams, visions, prayer, and rituals (66). “The map to get to the ancestors’ knowledge is in Aboriginal protocols and ethics and more specifically within Aboriginal epistemology,” she writes (66).
Chapter Six, “The Flower Centre: Self as Central,” argues that “the re-searchers’s location, memory, motive and search for congruency” are central to Indigenous research (67). “What we see revealed through Indigenous re-search is the re-searcher, the self,” Absolon writes. “Within the self exists millennia of Indigenous ancestral knowledge, teachings and Spirit” (67). Researchers must “accept responsibility for our intentions, understandings and knowledge by writing self into our research” (68). Researchers themselves “are at the centre of their methodological process,” and “Indigenous worldviews and principles are actualized by Indigenous searchers who are consciously connected to their roots and who have supportive channels to actualize their worldviews” (68). “In many cases, the Indigenous searchers utilized a self-referential and experiential approach to gathering knowledge,” Absolon notes, acknowledging that her own research “is grounded within an Anishinaabe perspective and by an Anishnaabe kwe who loves the land and is also bi-cultural” (68-69). “Our searches become a portal or a doorway to learning about self and self in relation with Creation,” she continues. “The use of self in Indigenous methodologies may open doors that we never thought possible. It connects us to family, community and nation” (69). It “cultivates a healing movement of being reconnected and remembered from the dismemberment and disconnections created by colonial policy,” she continues (69).
“Many of our research processes are described as a personal process, and because of our situated-ness, as Indigenous people, our findings come from within,” Absolon writes (69). “[M]any searchers focus on their personal lessons and teachings about the world and their learning experiences,” she continues. “The self is woven throughout the process, linking self to methods” (70). For that reason, “[a] goal of Indigenous learning and searching is ultimately to learn more about our Indigenous self, history, worldview, culture and so on” (70). “With confidence, I assert that conscious Indigenous re-searchers are doing re-search with other Indigenous peoples, communities, cultures and lands and on issues important to Indigenous people,” she writes. “We want to make a contribution for the collective good of the community” (71).
“All of the re-searchers located themselves, which included things like identifying their nation, name, clan, family, territory and where they receive their teachings,” Absolon writes. “[S]earching for knowledge promotes an identification of location, which I think is distinctly Indigenous and goes directly against the positivist eurowestern research presumption that there is only one truth, that neutrality and objectivity are possible and that to safeguard against researcher bias, the researcher’s location doesn’t (and must not) matter” (71). That’s true, and it explains the use of passive voice in writing lab reports: it shouldn’t matter who conducted the experiment, because the results ought to be reproducible no matter who is involved. In contrast, “[i]n Indigenous contexts location does matter. People want to know who you are, what you are doing and why” (71). “Describing location, in Indigenous contexts, is part of ethical re-search,” she continues. “Because of the biased and obscured history of research on and about Indigenous peoples, visibly locating allows readers to make their own judgements about the research, knowing that there is no such thing as neutrality” (72). Location “reveals who we are in relation to the world, the earth, our nations, our clans, and so much more. Our location reveals a worldview and cultural orientation, which is central to what and how we search” (72). I’m certain that’s true of the kinds of research Absolon is discussing, but what about, say, cancer research? Would location matter in that case?
“Location varies from person to person, depending on our context,” Absolon continues. “As we grow, change, learn and transform, how we locate changes” (73). “Location addresses issues of accountability, validity and reliability, meaning that when we say who we are, the readers can form their own judgements about our credibility and authority to search and write,” she contends (73). Absolon does not believe in objective research:
Taking ourself out of the picture presents a misrepresentation that the author does not matter and that the researcher’s gender, race, class, sex, age or identity has no impact on the research. In reality it is people doing the research and people interpreting and making meaning; who they are does impact the interpretation and meaning and who they are does matter. Personally locating oneself, as an Indigenous principle and methodology, counters false notions of neutrality and objectivity. (73-74)
“Given the reciprocal nature of Indigenous communities, Indigenous re-searchers naturally identify their relations within a community and offer linkages between themselves and the research process,” Absolon continues, suggesting that this identification is part of the relationality “woven throughout Indigenous scholarship” and that “conveys an understanding that we are beings in relationship with all of Creation” (74). “The methodology is must as much about the person doing the searching as it is about the search,” Absolon writes (74). Personal connections to research are important, and all of the researchers she talked to agreed “that when we do re-search we are ultimately doing re-search about ourselves, families, communities, nations, histories, experiences, stories and cultures” (74). Because Indigenous researchers are subjective, they want their communities to benefit from their research (74). “[S]ituating self in Indigenous re-search is different from eurowestern research in that we acknowledge and include the relationships between self, Spirit, responsibility, knowledge and truth,” Absolon continues. “Situating self in Indigenous searches positions location, political climate, environment, history and cultural knowledge up front and centre” (76).
Absolon states that in her own work, “memory comes before motive” (76). She returns to her childhood in the bush and what she learned then (76-77). But memory is even more fundamental: “Indigenous scholars, through their research, reconnect to their ancestors, land, culture, traditions, language, history and knowledge,” and their research “becomes a catalyst to remembering who we are and what we know and to bringing those truths forward” (77). She acknowledges that she has used “remembering” in two different ways: one to refer to memories, and the other “related to reconnecting our ancestors” (77). But remembering also means “we bring our truth forward and tell the stories that we need to tell,” and that “we reconnect with our communities,” which have been “dismembered” through Canada’s colonial policies towards First Nations (77). “Remembering creates cultural mirrors that validate our life and experiences and those of other Indigenous peoples too,” Absolon writes. “The gift of our searches ends up being in the remembering of ancestral ties, their legacies and knowledge. . . . Remembering is giving back and contributing to the continuance of Indigenous peoples’ way of life and existence” (78).
In all of the discussions with Indigenous researchers, the importance of knowing the motives for the research was emphasized. Some motivations were related to family or community; others were more general. “One of our motives as Indigenous researchers must be to show that, despite the ignorance of the western world, our theories and methodologies are concrete and real,” Absolon writes. “They have governed our survival for millennia and will continue to do so for generations into the future” (78). Indigenous research, she continues, is “distinct because our methodologies contain an awareness of and integration of the ancestors and our families. It’s about survival” (78). Her own research “is about making sure that those methodological pathways survive,” but her research is intended to benefit Indigenous peoples rather than the academy (79). “It’s for the other students who are also searching for congruency,” she writes. “And it’s for our ancestors” (79). “Knowing our motives for our searches requires an awareness of our location and consciously situating ourself within our research context,” she continues (79). She lists motives articulated by Indigenous researchers:
- to re-enact respectful research in our searches with our own people;
- to empower and emancipate ourselves in order to regain our humanity, restore balance with Creation and ultimately live a good life;
- to advance, support, strengthen, revitalize and restore Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing, which create Indigenous methodology choices for Indigenous re-searchers as viable in all re-search contexts; and
- to fulfill family and community obligations when specific requests are presented; the search then becomes a way of giving back and making concrete contributions. (80)
All of the researchers said their motives are “connected to our personal stories and experiences” (80). “There are myriad possibilities for Indigenous peoples’ searches, but they are most often rooted in our Indigeneity,” she states (81).
“Searching for theories and methodologies that are congruent with Indigenous worldviews and philosophies preoccupies many Indigenous researchers,” Absolon writes, and “[h]ere the relationship between roots, self and methods becomes apparent” (81). Indigenous researchers are concerned with “methodological harmony” (81). That harmony, or congruency, between researchers’ methods and their Indigeneity “was instrumental,” Absolon continues:
Indigenous congruency, I believe, is essential to the research principles, methodology and ultimately the outcome. Because all of the research topics are explicitly focused on Indigenous experiences, realities, needs and histories, the researchers’ search for methodological congruency includes a consideration of factors such as cultural traditions, community, people, relationships, Spirit, ownership, oppression, empowerment, protocols and decolonizing. These factors became as much a part of the search as was the gathering of data. (82)
Earlier I asked a question about cancer research. It seems that kind of research is outside of Absolon’s consideration, since it wouldn’t be “explicitly focused on Indigenous experiences, realities, needs and histories.” Nevertheless, Absolon suggests that “[t]he search for congruency is about transcending contexts” (83). For her, research is like being on the land, looking for berries or hunting or gathering. That is the metaphor she uses to explain her research. “When I think about this search as a search for berries,” she writes, “I can find my way and feel myself as a researcher, knowing that I continue to do what my ancestors have done. Gather, hunt and search” (83). “Collecting the knowledge and experiences of Indigenous searchers and gatherers illustrates a powerful need to search for congruency,” she continues. “Indigenous methodological mirrors reinforce and validate a way of knowing, being and doing that makes sense when doing Indigenous re-search in an Indigenous way” (84). “The flower centre (the self) is acknowledged as integral to Indigenous methodologies in search for knowledge,” she writes. “Self as a methodological re-search tool inevitably implies a journey articulated in the leaves” (84).
Not surprisingly, the next chapter is entitled “The Leaves: The Methodological Journey.” A flower’s leaves, of course, produce energy for the plant through photosynthesis. For Absolon, “[t]he leaves of our flower represent the transformative and healing process and journey inherent within Indigenous methodologies” (85). Indigenous research is transformative (like photosynthesis). The essence of the methodologies she discussed with other researchers “is their process,” Absolon writes, and “[b]y process I mean their experiences, journey and transformation” (85). “Process involves a progression, a development, a series of steps toward achieving goals,” she continues. “Process can be either a planned or unplanned series of actions. It can be clearly defined and determined ahead of time or nebulous and emergent. Indigenous re-search methodologies cultivate organic processes, which are unplanned and unpredictable” (85). Indigenous research processes are open ended and indeterminate, requiring trust and faith for Indigenous researchers to “honour their process” (85). Community-driven research in particular requires that researchers “relinquish some power and control,” and Absolon believes “it calls for a degree of humility” (86). “Our worldview, including belief in Spirit and ancestors, is revealed in our ability to trust process,” she states (86). “Oral traditions are process oriented, and Indigenous searchers manifest orality in several ways,” she continues (87). Methodologies emerge organically “as we attune ourself to our search process,” Absolon contends. “When we listen to our inner knowing, our dreams, the signs around us and our intuition, we become attuned to possibilities that enable an organic process to emerge” (87). “[T]he process of attuning to protocols, ethics, and principles guide[s] the methodology,” she states (88).
“Process inevitably involves travelling,” Absolon states, although that travel seems to be metaphorical, given the way she describes what travels. Indeed, she is talking about the journey as a metaphor: “Indigenous methodologies include stories of who is doing the searching and their journey along the learning path” (89). However, she states that “Indigenous languages are descriptive and action or process oriented,” and “[t]he awareness of Indigenous languages and oral traditions causes a conscious searcher to attend to oral process” (90). Circular processes
can take a person on a transformative journey where engagement, involvement and presence are requisites. Humility in process reflects an inward journey and attunement to that journey within the collective circle. Consistently, Indigenous re-searchers strive to honour their journey by applying their own cultural protocols, such as offering tobacco, gift giving and, where comfortable, integrating ceremony. (90)
“Our journeys are also rich with cultural knowledge, people, sharing, learning and experiencing active processes,” Absolon writes. “We take many journeys: the journey of the thesis; the personal journey; the writing journey; the making meaning journey; the gathering journey of meeting people and having conversations; and the journey with our families along the way. . . . The motives, process, learning and meaning in the journey makes it worthwhile” (90).
“Undoubtedly, Indigenous processes are transformative and transforming,” Absolon continues. “The research journey was described by Indigenous re-searchers as transformative for people, and this transformation began within self. Indigenous-based knowledge quests can be life altering and unforgettable. When the Spirit is invited into the search, the essence of the search moves to another level of faith, trust and process” (91). The reference to Spirit is important, because “[i]n Indigenous cultural contexts, we are taught to search for knowledge in the Spirit realm. The process of learning how to do this requires personal commitment, sacrifice and a will to engage beyond the physical” (91). “This deep spiritual involvement and transformation is especially important and contradicts the logic and reason in hegemonic eurocentric academies,” she writes. It requires “resistance to being silenced and rendered invisible, insignificant, uncivilized, inhuman, non-existent and inconsequential” (91). “Not only do we transform ourselves through our research, we participate in transforming the academy” (91).
Some researchers argue that speaking an Indigenous language is essential, since the meaning of Indigenous concepts is lost when they are translated into English (91). “However, I believe that we must work with what we have and do the best we can without perpetuating guilt or shame for the loss of language among our peoples,” she continues (91-92). One way is by “[b]reaking the rules of language and creating a new language,” which “forges another level of resistance to colonialism” (92). (Absolon’s idiosyncratic English usages are examples of this process.) “Indigenous methodologies raise Indigenous voices out of suppression,” she states, and in that way, “the peoples’ stories are heard” (92).
Some of the researchers Absolon talked to described their research journeys as healing. “I believe that healing is also implied through methodological concepts of reconnection, remembering, learning, recovering and reclaiming,” she states. “In a sense, healing is woven throughout the re-search process. Indigenous re-search becomes a healing journey when what we gather helps us to recover and heal a part of our self, life, family, community, knowledge, culture, language, and so on. Indigenous searching is healing as it invokes restoration, repatriation, reclaiming, recovering and relearning” (93). Indigenous research “is about healing wounded Spirits, hearts, minds and bodies,” and “Indigenous methodologies facilitate healing individuals, families, communities and nations” (93). “Indigenous knowledges and methodologies hold the key to our healing,” she continues, “particularly in spiritually based methodologies such as ceremony, prayer, healing lodges and sweats” (93). Indigenous research journeys are not only about knowledge; they are also “journeys home, to our communities, to our ancestors, to our territories, to other territories and to our families,” a return that can be healing (94). “Most re-searchers referred to their search as a journey or learning path, but mainly a journey that was challenging at the personal, emotional, spiritual and mental levels of being,” she writes. “These journeys evidence tenacity and backbone within Indigenous searchers” (95).
Chapter Eight, “The Stem: Backbone and Supports,” begins with Absolon’s realization “that the stems of plants are their backbone or spine. Strength resides in the stem, which supports the flower and provides the channel for the flow of nutrients to and from the roots, leaves, and flower centre and petals; it holds everything together” (96). According to Absolon, “[c]onscious Indigenous re-searchers enter the academy with a strong backbone,” which she considers “the critical and bi-cultural consciousness necessary to preserve and succeed in using Indigenous methodologies in the academy” (96). “The strengths Indigenous searchers draw on to develop this backbone include a critical consciousness, internal resources and community supports,” she writes. “These, I believe, are what enable Indigenous re-searchers to employ Indigenous methodologies in an academic context” (96). All of the researchers Absolon interviewed displayed a critical consciousness. “The academic and educational context plays a vigilant role in acculturating, assimilating and annihilating Indigenous culture, identity, traditions and wisdoms,” she writes. “Indigenous knowledge sets are perceived and received with antagonism” (96). The research projects she learned about “critique the failure of western methodologies to reflect the strengths of the community, culture and traditions of Indigenous peoples,” and all of them “insisted on the need to critically address eurowestern research theory, methodology and ethics” (97). “We need to ensure that our re-search methodologies include critical analysis of the histories of Indigenous-White relations, the construction of knowledge and power, and socio-historic truth,” Absolon continues. “A critical understanding unveils the oppressive nature and intent of research on Aboriginal peoples and critiques the old order of scientific empiricism, which squashed methodologies of acquiring knowledge through the senses, by experience and observation” (97). I wonder if that’s entirely true; isn’t empiricism about observation and experience? In any case, Absolon’s point is that Indigenous researchers are engaged in a critique of colonialism in the academy. “We can’t dismantle colonized forms of knowledge production using colonial methodologies; we need to both develop a critique and then turn our gaze toward Indigenous tools and knowledge,” she writes. “Critiques of colonialism in research, historically and currently, are paramount in contextualizing Indigenous re-search today. . . . How dare the academy force colonial methods on our searches” (98).
At the same time, Absolon acknowledges, “[b]y virtue of researching in academic corridors, we explicitly navigate two knowledge sets” (100). This leads to tensions. “Indigenizing your search is to move beyond the critiques and centre your search form who you are as an Indigenous person,” she continues. “Context is understanding the intertwining of being both cultural and colonial. Contextualization requires an integration of the critique of colonialism and the domination of our traditional research in the process of conceptualizing and mapping our our own research methodologies” (101). “As Indigenous searchers navigate dual agendas, the channels become narrower and more difficult to steer through,” she writes. “We not only have the responsibility to present our findings and knowledge in the most respectful and authentic manner possible, but we also have to establish our context, argue for our methodology, expect cynicism on its validity and then present it to both the academic and Indigenous audiences” (101). It’s important to note that Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives on research differ on methodology and the purpose of research. “The efforts to create a discourse on the articulation of Indigenous methodologies challenge myths that Indigenous methods are unsystematic and not concrete,” Absolon argues (102). “[W]hen we are searching within our own cultural paradigms, we need to follow our own cultural guidelines and experiences in our own social world,” she writes (102). That seems to answer my question about cancer research.
And yet, Absolon suggests that “[c]onscious Indigenous re-searchers and re-search have a profound impact on the academy and are contributing to changes in curriculum, research methodology, programming, scholarship and faculty” (103). How so? She suggests that Indigenous scholars are accountable for their relationships
with all of creation and to follow our original instructions as they were orally passed on. Today we are challenged to continually relearn ceremonies and languages and to regenerate mutual relationships by Indigenizing methodologies. Our awareness of our place in Creation is our responsibility. Indigenous frameworks are ethical and spiritual considerations, and the codes of conduct are those guidelines provided to us by the Creator. (103)
“In owning our knowledge, we must acknowledge the history and roots of our teachings, or the origins of our accumulated knowledge,” she continues (103). But to focus on one’s academic research, at the expense of working with communities, is a mistake, she suggests, since the purpose of Indigenous scholars in the academy is “to ensure that research methods create change which benefits communities” (105).
Indigenous researchers realize that “[l]ong before we were in the academy, our ancestors were conducting research and relied on Indigenous methodologies as they sought out knowledge. Today, reclaiming Indigenous methods of searching for knowledge embodies our own learning and healing, and this knowledge is transferable” (105). Within universities, “the role of Indigenous re-searchers is to transform systems of knowledge production, to be congruent with Indigenous worldviews and to play a role in producing knowledge and information that is useful, beneficial and purposeful toward Indigenous emancipatory goals” (106). That means resisting academic acculturation (106).
Absolon acknowledges that she “consciously selected critically conscious Indigenous [for her research] because of their roles as advocates, facilitators, coordinators, helpers, healers, educators and much more” (107-08). All of the researchers she talked to “contributed a critique of colonial research methods and strengthened the presence of Indigenous knowledge in the academy. Activating our roles and maintaining a strong backbone involves strengths and supports that accompany Indigenous re-searchers who enter the academy. We are not alone as we carry our supports with us” (108). Those strengths and supports include “personal strengths, cultural strengths and community supports” (108). Such support systems are necessary for surviving in the academy; that survival “requires a vision beyond the academy, a sense of purpose, a grounding in identity, external supports and internal allies” (108). “Within the academy we are, at times, navigating chilly, intolerant, hostile and assimilating channels,” Absolon writes. “We survive and get through because of a strength in knowing who we are and where our supports come from” (108).
“Internal fences keep us boxed into particular ways of thinking, being and doing,” and “can confine and limit our perceptions, behaviours and actions” (109). Those fences are the result of colonialism, and “[c]onscious Indigenous searchers have worked to develop and heal their minds from internalized oppression and racism” (109). “Many of these researchers faced internal fences,” Absolon writes. “Their consciousness of these fences is a powerful tool in their searches” (109). She recalls her childhood experiences in the bush, finding her way around and through barriers there. “I believe Indigenous scholars are, at times, bush whacking it in the academy,” she suggests. “We are cutting trails and leaving clearer paths for others” (111).
“All Indigenous re-searchers who maintain their identity within the academy are bi-cultural,” Absolon contends. “There is diversity within. We are skilled at carrying dual knowledge sets. This is an advantage. It enables us to move in and out of and between our worlds with relative ease. . . . We occupy complex spaces where contemporary, cultural and traditional realities intersect” (111). “Our resource lies in our ability to draw on these dualities and ironies when we engage in research as Indigenous peoples first and then as scholars,” she continues (112). Some of the researchers she spoke to experienced anxiety and panic during phases of their research. “Being connected to the land kept some Indigenous researchers from getting lost in the academy,” she writes. “Taking time to return to the land and feel the essence of the earth grounded their mind, body, heart and Spirit during uncertain and stressful moments” (113). Others turned to ceremonies such as fasting (113). “I simply do not have the words to describe the strength of Spirit of these researchers,” she continues (114). Spirit is, as before, not a metaphor for Absolon: “We are Spirit beings. We search for who we are. We identity and locate and connect ourselves to our nations, our Spirit names, our clans and our land bases, and we have many expressions of gratitude for such gifts” (114). The researchers she spoke with also focus on gratitude as an expression of the values of reciprocity, balance, and harmony (114).
“Undoubtedly, Indigenous re-search methodologies are empowering to Indigenous peoples,” Absolon writes. “Our re-search is about us and it’s situated in our real experiences, it’s about empowering real people, and it’s about finding our way home” (114-15). One of her insights, she continues, is “that Indigenous researchers . . . are enjoying their search for knowledge when we employ Indigenous methodologies because our learning, recovering, reclaiming and re-asserting is relevant to our Indigeneity. It’s all very purposeful and connected to a greater intention” (115). Part of that connectedness lies in connections to community (115). “Many of the re-searchers talked about wanting to do the best they could for their community and that they persevered because of their community,” she writes (116).
“The stem as a methodological backbone emanates from the researchers’ sense of self and identity,” Absolon concludes. “The backbone or force of Indigenous re-searchers and research is explicitly grounded in worldview, cultur[e] and tradition. Conscious Indigenous re-searchers are aware that our presence carries a role to resist the pressures to conform and this requires a strong backbone” (117). “Undoubtedly,” she continues, “the stem links the roots to the whole while lifting up the leaves, flower centre and petals. It is the backbone that supports Indigenous re-searchers to actualize their worldviews, histories, knowledge and experiences in their research methodologies within the academy” (117).
Chapter Nine turns to the diverse methodologies represented by the flower’s petals. These methodologies “include the Spirit, heart, mind and body because Indigenous methodologies are wholistic in nature and encompass the whole being,” Absolon writes. “Each petal represents tendencies of Indigenous re-searchers on their searchers. Petals that are hidden represent Indigenous methodologies yet to be articulated because there are many more potential methodologies” (118). Some petals overlap “because Indigenous methodologies are interdependent, relational and reciprocating” (118). “The petals also change from season to season,” she continues. “They are not stagnant for formulaic” (118). Moreover, “Indigenous methodologies are alive; they aren’t set forth in a research textbook” (118). The “gestures, ways of thinking, being and doing” of Indigenous researchers “enact an Indigenous methodology. . . . The Indigeneity of our re-search is held within our own Spirit as our search for knowledge is regarded as a sacred process” (118). “One thing for sure, Indigenous methodologies are concrete, complex and complete,” Absolon writes (118). However, in the university, there is a danger that these methodologies “will be seen as addendums to western methodologies, marginalized as alternative or othered” (118-19). Because they are holistic and cyclical, these methodologies are “pluralistic, eclectic and flexible,” reflecting “the many facets of our existence today, while reflecting the cultural integrity of our ancestors” (120).
Absolon divided the methodologies she encountered “using the elements of the four directions—Spirit, heart, mind and body—to assist in creating some clarity in articulating the methodologies. They are not mutually exclusive of one another, and overlapping concepts occur. The overlaps simply reflect the wholistic, inclusive, relational and interdependent nature of methodologies” (120). She begins with methodologies of the Spirit. “All of the Indigenous searchers talked about incorporating Spirit, prayer, ceremony, dreams and cultural protocols, and this essentially means to care about how we conduct ourselves,” Absolon writes (121). “Establishing respectful relationships with Spirit forms a basic methodological principle,” she continues (121). Researchers use sacred medicines (sage, cedar, sweetgrass, tobacco) in offerings, showing that “Spirit is treated with the utmost respect and reverence” (121). “The journey of our search is a spiritual process, a major methodological concept for Indigenous searchers,” she states. “It’s not something that comes from the mind. The spiritual depth is nurtured and encouraged within Indigenous culture. We are taught to honour our spirit. It’s not something we say we’ve learnt outside of ourselves. It’s a process that flows from within us, and that pathway is often identified as a sacred pathway, a pathway of the Spirit” (121). This understanding can be seen in Indigenous Creation stories, which suggest that “[e]very living thing has a Spirit and a purpose” (121-22). Intuitive knowledge is “connected to our ancestors, which is connected to the Spirit world and other realms. There are certain things that we understand and know because we’re Aboriginal, or Anishinaabek” (122). “The search for knowledge is also a spiritual relationship with learning and knowledge production,” she continues. “When we are searching for ancestral wisdoms or traditional knowledge, the search process must acknowledge Spirit” (122). “Prayers, ceremony and dreams are concrete manifestations of how Spirit has a presence in Indigenous searches,” Absolon states (122-23). Ceremony, she contends, “is an expression of one’s spirituality,” and “[c]eremonies and dreams assist in the synthesis and processing of our searches” (123).
“Research with a consciousness of Spirit also implies an awareness and understanding of enacting research with heart,” Absolon writes (124). By “heart,” she seems to mean attending to relationships, creating positive research settings, and reciprocating “the sharing and witnessing” of research processes. “Creating positive research settings involves gatherings and meetings that reflect friendships, food, cultural/spiritual ceremonies and conversations about the future, families, communities and children,” she continues (124). In those gatherings or meetings, “people share stories, laugh and sometimes cry” (124). Such methods “require adaptability, flexibility and fluidity” (124). Most of the researchers she interviewed had existing relationships with their research participants, including Absolon herself: “relationships are recognized as an important strength and resource for Indigenous re-search, and we make new relationships through our re-search. We use our relationships to move forward. . . . Our relationships extend the boundaries of family, friendship, colleague, helper, teacher, advisor and so on” (124-25). These relationships “exist between the spiritual, physical and human realms,” but Absolon appears to focus primarily on human relationships, which call for “compassion, sensitivity and subjectivity” (125). Sharing circles are one relationship-based methodology; they provide “culturally congruent channels for sharing stories, cultures, experiences, histories, perspectives, lessons, mistakes, knowledge and wisdoms” (126). Another methodological tool is the “‘witnessing protocol,’” “in which four people simply witnessed and observed the talking circle” (126). Another methodology is dialogue or conversation, distinguished from interviews because it “involves more of an active engagement between people” (127). “Community relationships are another common strength of Indigenous methodologies,” Absolon continues, noting that the purpose of Indigenous research is to benefit the community involved (127). But a researcher may be part of a variety of different communities: Absolon is part of a community of Indigenous researchers, but she also has a “traditional community, geographic community and nation community,” “a clan family and a circle of people who I choose to be in relationship with and who lovingly support me” (128). “Community is determined and defined with respect to the searcher,” she continues; the point is that research does not take place in isolation (128). Working with Elders is often part of working with community (128-29). For Absolon, all of this is related to the heart: “Most of the searchers have a heart connection to their searches and passionate feelings about them. They enjoyed their searches and found them to be meaningful, purposeful and relevant” (129). She also suggests that collaborative dissertations should be considered as a way of “enacting relationship-based searches” (129).
Absolon’s next category, mind, is primarily about respect for Indigenous knowledge: “Enacting re-search that is respectful of Indigenous ways means that Indigenous re-searchers work to advance Indigenous perspectives, worldviews and methods in all areas of education, searching and scholarship” (129). “Indigenous scholars reference and privilege other Indigenous scholarship, knowledge and literature,” in order to “grow and develop and articulate Indigenous theories and methodologies’ (129-30). That is one way to respect Indigenous knowledge. Other ways Indigenous researchers can respect Indigenous knowledge include “asserting Indigenous knowledge and methods, acknowledging their genealogy of knowledge, advancing Indigenous perspectives, . . . making strategic decisions and negotiating academic gatekeepers” (130). Those gatekeepers are “the academics who guard the elitism, power and privilege of the academy . . . to maintain their control over knowledge production” (130). According to Absolon, “[e]nacting respectful re-search is imperative to the searchers, who have said that Indigenous knowledge inquiry is rigorous. It simply takes more time, energy and effort to search the ‘Indigenous way’” (131). Another “common tendency of Indigenous searchers” is “[a]cknowledging our teachers and where our knowledge comes from,” or “respecting the genealogy of knowledge” (131). One “aspect of recognizing how and where we learn is in creating space and visibility in our documents for the people who shared their wisdom and knowledge with us. Indigenous searchers discuss the desire to openly acknowledge who they spoke with and who was involved in their search process as an ethic of acknowledging the genealogy of our knowledge” (131). For Absolon, this acknowledgement is part of the oral tradition, and it “affirms our relationships and interdependence with others in our life. We live in relationship and learn from our relationships; this is the genealogy of how we learn and acquire knowledge” (131-32). Confidentiality is relative; there is a need both to honour and protect “those we have learned from,” so while confidentiality may be necessary sometimes, other times it “may not be appropriate” (132).
“Physical and body work” are also Indigenous methodologies; they actualize “the Spirit, heart and mind of the search” (132). “Indigenous methodologies incorporate all aspects of our being and all connect to each other,” Absolon writes, so it’s not surprising that the body is engaged as well (132). “Doing and being creative are operative here,” she continues. “There comes a point in our process when we need to go beyond the writing and move from the cerebral, heart and Spirit into the doing and being. Words alone are not enough in a culture that is experiential, wholistic, land based and connected to all of Creation. Indigenous searchers have enacted a physical element in their searches” (132). Creativity, like Absolon’s tapestry, is one example of the body’s role in Indigenous research; another is physical activity, such as Brian Rice’s retracing of “the journey of the Peacemaker in the oral traditions of the Rotinonshonni” as a methodology when he was writing his PhD dissertation (133). (I’ve read Rice’s dissertation and the book that followed, and his walk is quite inspiring.) Other examples include canoe journeys, painting, and spending time on the land hunting and fishing and trapping (133-34). Sacred ceremonies—sweat lodges and shaking tent ceremonies—are also physical (134). So too is working with Elders (135). “The physical element is also about creating space, change and a supportive committee, being creative and undergoing methodological shapeshifting,” Absolon writes. “Indigenous scholars, without question, are pushing for methodological shifts and astutely assert a need for space” (135). Creating space means, metaphorically, finding different ways to present research; Absolon presents several examples (136-37), including storytelling (137-38). These are not that dissimilar from alternative methods of presenting qualitative research—a point where the two very different methodologies, epistemologies, ontologies, and axiologies may touch.
In the next chapter, Absolon discusses how “[t]he environment of a petal flower affects its life” (139). “Indigenous re-searchers are affected by our environment in the academy,” she writes, noting that they often face “controversy and challenges” asserting their methodologies in what can be an unwelcome space (140). “As Indigenous re-searchers nudge their way toward empowering Indigenous theories and methodologies, ‘old order’ power holders of western forms of knowledge production may become aggravated, irritated, and annoyed,” she continues. Fences are erected, and gatekeepers vigilantly stand guard to maintain the power and privilege of who can know and how this knowledge comes to be” (140). Many researchers are first trained in standard research methodologies, and “[l]etting go of western methodologies opens doors to recognize that other real choices exist” (141). Using Indigenous methodologies “does not mean that we are not objective or rigorous about what we are doing,” Absolon contends (141), and “[d]oing Indigenous methodologies in the academy sometimes means taking the road less travelled and bush whacking it from time to time” (141). Many of the researchers Absolon talked to “expressed frustration and anguish” over their inability to fit their work into standard research frameworks, even though they found some aspects of feminism, phenomenology, critical theory, narrative inquiry and participatory action useful (142).
“Within the western academy, conscious Indigenous re-searchers require two knowledge sets,” Absolon writes. “One knowledge set is grounded in western knowledge paradigms, and the other is grounded in Indigenous cultures and systems of learning. Indigenous searchers constantly have to deal with criticisms about the rigour of Indigenous methodologies” (142). However, “Indigenous methodologies and knowledge are concrete and strong enough to be challenged because they are rigorous and methodical” (143). It is difficult to include Elders on supervisory committees (143). Their participation would be very helpful:
Working with Indigenous methodologies carries substantial responsibility and obligation. Indigenous epistemologies, which are derived from natural and spiritual laws, instigate strong ethical practices in Indigenous knowledge production. The knowledge acquired in any search can be overwhelming and daunting, and Indigenous re-searchers shared their feelings about doing their best to be conscious of their own process, ethics and protocols. (144)
“The most notorious character at the fence is the non-Indigenous gatekeeper,” Absolon continues, who “block our gaining a place of legitimacy, recognition and power within the academy” (144). Their tactics are examples of “neo-colonialism” and the only response for Indigenous researchers is to “keep asserting, integrating and standing up for Indigenous knowledges and methodologies” (144). Dealing with gatekeepers “can be draining, demoralizing, offensive and disrespectful. Strategic researchers move past them, around them, over them and through them and are cautious of the trap they present” (144). “The dominance and authority wielded by non-Indigenous gatekeepers is problematic, and some Indigenous re-searchers have been forced to abandon their searches because of this abuse of power in the academy,” Absolon writes. “The university contradicts itself when it claims to be here to foster new learning and create new knowledge, and yet enforces conformity of approach” (145).
“Indigenous re-searchers . . . were frustrated when pushed by western academics to make their research comparative,” Absolon continues (145). That means being expected “to utilize western theories and then draw comparisons to Indigenous epistemologies, paradigms and methodologies” (145). For Absolon, this expectation is about meeting “the interests of western academics” (145). “To push Indigenous scholars to make comparisons is problematic on two fronts:
- the non-Indigenous gatekeepers don’t have the cultural competency of Indigenous worldviews and knowledge to understand what Indigenous scholars are articulating; and
- comparative analysis becomes a major distraction from the Indigenous intellectual and methodological advancements that are motivating Indigenous re-searchers. (146)
“When Indigenous re-searchers are working from an Indigenous theoretical and methodological standpoint, comparisons are unnecessary,” Absolon writes. “Comparing Indigenous approaches with dominant research approaches is not helpful in this project and can in fact undermine it” (146). In addition, while “[n]on-Indigenous gatekeepers try to steer us in research directions we don’t want to go because they don’t understand or see the significance of what we want to research,” and while these “gatekeepers may see our focus as ‘too personal,’ ‘too emotional’ or ‘too subjective,’” “Indigenous voices across the land are echoing that we must continue to assert our knowledge and power as Indigenous peoples by speaking in our own voices and providing a space for the voices of our people to come forward” (146). Besides,
[n]on-Indigenous academics’ ignorance about Indigenous peoples’ histories, experiences, worldviews, theories and methods is quite restrictive. If you don’t know what you don’t know, it’s difficult to recognize your own level of ignorance. Indigenous searchers are subjected to academics who are not competent on Indigenous matters, yet judge and measure us using western standards. (147)
“The limitations of the academy in these matters means that Indigenous scholars often are pressured to be both a learner and an educator of their supervisors,” Absolon continues (147).
Indigenous researchers “also have personal fences that exist because our lives are busy and full,” Absolon writes (147). They are “academic leaders, community leaders, educators, family members, spouses and parents and experience pressure in all these roles” (147). Research often gets pushed aside because of this pressure, and it therefore takes longer to complete. In addition, “[d]oing Indigenous re-search requires more time with process, relationships, community, reflection, Spirit and protocols. The academy has time limits, the community has time limits, natural and spiritual laws are time specific” (147). The effects of ongoing colonization are also stressful (147). “The journey from the head to the heart is said to be the longest journey a person might take,” Absolon states. “Searches for knowledge using Indigenous methodologies are often Spirit and heart driven. They are not easy journeys” (148). Because Indigenous methodologies “emerge organically as the search process unfolds,” the research process “can be fluid and difficult to articulate. This is not to say that our methodologies cannot be articulated, just that it is challenging” (148).
“All of the re-searchers struggled with the dominant nature of western methodologies,” Absolon writes (148). Standard research methodologies “are after all still cloaked in colonialism—albeit softer forms of colonialism,” and “[f]ew Indigenous re-searchers began by asserting Indigenous methodology” (148). Absolon disagrees with the strategy of including non-Indigenous voices in order for research to be balanced. She writes, “the reverse is not true: euro-theorists have not recorded the need for balance by including the scholarship of Indigenous peoples. Such reasoning also insinuates that our scholarship is imbalanced if we choose not to include the work of euro-theorists” (149). “I consciously privilege Indigenous authors as a political and academic act of validation and goal to ‘lift up’ Indigenous knowledge,” she continues. “My aim is to position Indigenous scholars as voices of authority regarding Indigenous issues” (150).
Indigenous researchers need academic support, particularly from Indigenous faculty members, even from other institutions. “Few Indigenous re-searchers have yet had the benefit of an all-Indigenous committee, and so non-Indigenous allies within the academy play a paramount role,” Absolon states (150). Those non-Indigenous allies “can help keep colonizing methods out of our research,” and in some cases, their research “helps us to understand the institutions we must navigate” (150). In addition, “[c]ommittee members may have the authority to create ‘academic space’ for Indigenous processes and methodologies to emerge” (151). Having that space, she continues, “frees up spiritual, psychological, emotional and mental energy to grow and develop. If we are consumed with defending and arguing, then we are in basic survival mode and not able to grow” (151). Some of the researchers Absolon talked to went through many committee members before they were able to establish a committee that would support their work. On the other hand, “respectful and supportive committee members in positions of power are helpful in navigating the academy’s bureaucratic roadblocks” (151).
According to Absolon, “[a]cademic writing presents challenges for Indigenous re-search contexts for reasons related to language and oral traditions” (152). She identifies four issues:
- academic writing and creating hybrid languages;
- what to include from oral traditions in written text;
- translation of knowledge, concepts and language; and
- representation of knowledge. (152)
A fifth issue could also be added: completing a dissertation in an Indigenous language. “Gatekeepers uphold western forms of academic writing and often force Indigenous scholars to write in a particular manner for the academy, which is often a non-Indigenous audience,” Absolon argues (152). This creates pressure to change the tone of the writing by “‘white-washing’” findings or by fragmenting information “by creating themes and categories, thus forming a reduced and de-contextualized analysis, whereas Indigenous approaches would keep stories and voices within a wholistic context and let the readers make their own conclusions and interpretations” (152). Gatekeepers may also demand that the use of Indigenous methodologies be justified (152).
Indigenous researchers “are careful to not remove certain knowledge and teachings from their context,” Absolon continues, for two reasons: “One is that non-Indigenous academics . . . are not familiar with certain phenomena. Second, non-Indigenous gatekeepers tend to take our critiques of colonialism personally and defensively and urge a rewording to soften the stance” (153-54). Absolon suggests that while her “worldview is Anishinaabe,” her “language is english,” which adds, for her, a layer of complication in articulating that worldview (154). The question of transforming oral culture into writing is another challenge. “Eurocentric thinking perpetuates the belief that something is not valid unless it’s written down,” she writes. “Yet, Indigenous values are reflected in Indigenous languages in oral contexts. The translation of language, content and concepts sometimes requires more explanation and description” (154-55). In addition, while “Indigenous languages are largely descriptive and verb based and reflect a particular worldview, English reflects a european worldview and, at times, is inadequate to articulate Indigenous methodologies, philosophies and concepts” (155). In addition, Absolon suggests, by “transcribing oral traditions into written text . . . living stories that were once heard take on the stillness of the written word” (155). She suggests that “‘bundle words’” need to be created in English that would attempt to carry the connotations of Indigenous words (155). That’s an interesting idea; the morphemes that make up Cree words, for instance, tend to carry meanings that are lost in translation. Nevertheless, the researchers Absolon talked to argue that it is inappropriate to use English to convey “Indigenous worldviews and contexts” (155). Hybrid forms of writing—“Indian english,” Absolon states—may be one way of addressing this challenge; another is to use multiple genres of writing (stories, poetry, personal narratives) (156). “Clearly, as we translate between languages and contexts, we are conscious not to compromise, sacrifice or lose significant knowledge, understandings and teachings,” Absolon continues (156). She notes that the audience of Indigenous research includes family, community, and nation: “We want our work to speak to Indigenous people, not just academics” (156).
“Documenting a knowledge that is active, personal and creative becomes difficult when written text appropriates that voice and freezes that knowledge in a particular time and context,” Absolon writes. “We must be very careful with documenting traditional knowledge because it makes it more accessible to non-Aboriginal peoples for mis-use and mis-representation, which can be damaging to Indigenous peoples” (156-57). Indigenous researchers, then, need to consider what to exclude as well as what to include (157). There is also the issue of being considered an individual expert about knowledge that has been collectively developed by many people: “Many, many people contribute to someone’s knowledge and to cite only the person who wrote about it negates those Elders and teachers who contributed to the knowledge” (158). “A final irony is that we write in isolation about building community, reconnecting and collectively,” Absolon continues. “Writing a dissertation is a lonely exercise, and bringing other voices in helps to break our isolation and build collective consciousness. Integrating Indigenous peoples’ voices into my work was a commitment to acknowledging Indigenous traditions of orality, but in written text” (158-59).
Finally, Absolon addresses what she calls “[t]horny prickly challenges”: “those bits and pieces that are difficult to grasp, need to be left alone, too tricky to touch and leave us feeling uncertain” (159). “Some of the challenges explored are negotiating our dualities, dealing with methodological traps and quantitative methodologies,” she writes (159). Using Indigenous methodologies within an environment that is “constrictive,” like the university, can leave Indigenous researchers “in agony and conflict” (159). “When we live in a world that rejects our humanity and identity, we end up doing odd forms of emotional and mental gymnastics to compensate and cope,” she writes (159). “Reconciling the dualities of our realities cultivates an ambidextrous consciousness, which means being able to productively negotiate two realities/abilities at once” (159-60). “Spirituality in the search process is a considerable challenge as is the question of what to write about when it comes to sacred knowledge,” Absolon continues:
We must be careful what sacred knowledge methods we bring into the academy. We have to be very careful about what we say or write about. There are sacred pathways that can’t be scrutinized by the academy. Indigenous re-searchers query whether or not to include certain Spirits and sacred knowledge because writing about such things can be controversial. Indigenous searchers respond to these issues by making strategic decisions with regard to what to omit and what to include in their descriptions of their research process, and they often exclude references to sacred beings and sacred knowledge of thee spiritual realm. Indigenous re-searchers continue to search for an ethical and strategic balance to acknowledge the Spirit of/in their work. Some check in with their Elders and traditional teachers to achieve this ethical balance. (160-61)
I would think addressing issues related to spirituality would itself be difficult, since universities tend to be resolutely secular and materialistic (in the philosophical sense) places. Perhaps that difficulty is covered in her discussion of non-Indigenous gatekeepers. “[T]here are more ways of knowing than can be categorized within the academy,” Absolon writes. “What we articulate within the academy is only a fraction of the knowledge that exists within Indigenous peoples’ cultures and traditions. Some things can lose their essence when they are documented and decontextualized” (161). Defining sacred knowledge may require assistance and guidance from knowledge keepers and Elders, and they should be consulted before such knowledge is included in an academic text (161).
Another prickly issue is knowledge extraction and appropriation. “For decades non-Indigenous people have done research on and about Indigenous peoples,” Absolon writes. “Today, we encourage collaboration, partnerships and protocol agreements between Indigenous and non-Indigenous re-searchers” (161). But “can only Indigenous people employ Indigenous methodologies? Are methodological groundings of Indigenous worldviews, paradigms, knowledge and experiences accessible only to Indigenous peoples?” (161). “I believe that anyone can employ a wholistic methodology,” Absolon writes. “I also see that specific to Indigenous methodologies are Indigenous peoples’ worldviews, lens, location and experiences” (161). This response is a nice way of saying “no,” I think, since holistic methodology isn’t necessarily synonymous with Indigenous methodology: although Indigenous methodologies are holistic, not all holistic methodologies are Indigenous? Absolon continues:
Indigenous methodologies require situational appropriateness, which means that they can only be actualized when the whole context is relevant. The whole petal flower and its environment create the context for Indigenous re-search methodologies. Non-Indigenous people can employ some shared elements, such as respect, community benefit, relationship building and so on, but might not locate form similar cultural, spiritual, historical, personal or political experiences as an Indigenous methodology would entail. Situational appropriateness then asks the questions: Do you have an Indigenous worldview, history and experiences? Can you position your process in an Indigenous worldview and framework? If you can answer yes to these questions, then perhaps there is situational appropriateness and it is okay to employ Indigenous methodologies. If the answers are no, then perhaps a more general wholistic methodology is in order. (162)
That response makes a lot of sense. I could not answer yes to those questions, so I should avoid pretending that Indigenous methodologies would be available to me. They wouldn’t be, in any case, because as a secular and materialist person, I can’t engage with methodologies that make claims about spirituality. That is just not where I am situated. For me, the notion of “spirit” is, at the most, a metaphor; I can’t accept it as any kind of reality. My religious upbringing has left me that way, and I’m fine with it.
Quantitative methodologies are another issue. They weren’t part of Absolon’s research, because everyone she spoke to was engaging in qualitative research (using Indigenous methodologies, of course). “The use of Indigenous methodologies in quantitative studies is an area for further thinking and discussion,” she writes. “Certainly, Indigenous searchers would benefit from learning about statistical research and its application to particular fields” (163). That’s refreshing; most of the qualitative researchers whose work I’ve read dismiss quantitative research out of hand as positivistic and therefore bad. She suggests that the Indigenous Peoples Health Research Centre in Saskatchewan is one place where issues of Indigenous quantitative research ethics are being discussed.
In her conclusion, Absolon states, “My hope is that this collective knowledge bundle inspires Indigenous re-searchers in their searches and fuels change within the academy and other arenas regarding the presence of Indigenous re-search methodologies” (164). “[T]he pathway to emancipation,” she continues, “is in reclaiming our own ways of knowing, being and doing and that we need to begin with who we are, what we know and where we come from. To get out of the consuming trap of being reactive to colonialism and dominance, Indigenous worldviews ought to be central in Indigenous search processes” (165). “Our emancipation won’t come if we use the colonizing tools of knowledge production,” she writes. “We make our knowledge and methodologies central to our searches and left them as valid choices” (165). The holistic methodologies represented by the metaphor of the flower, she suggests, “move theory into practice, rhetoric into action and visions into reality. They are examples of walking the talk” (166). “This examination of Indigenous search methodologies and experiences by Indigenous scholar provides a sample of realistic possibilities,” she continues. “We can meet both academic and community standards and do work which is relevant to our nations and peoples while making an academic contribution to the development of Indigenous knowledge libraries” (167). The next thing to challenge, she writes, is “the isolation factor of having to do our searches alone” (167). “[J]oint graduate searches would . . . aid in rebuilding communities where knowledge production is once again a collective process” (167). There have been joint PhD dissertations in the U.K., so it’s not impossible, although I don’t understand how collaborative dissertations would work in practice. “I wish to encourage others to join the circle of Indigenous scholars in actualizing and articulating Indigenous ways of knowing into Indigenous ways of searching for knowledge,” Absolon concludes:
Kaandossiwin, this is how we come to know: we prepare, we do ceremony, we journey, we search, we converse, we process, we gather, we harvest, we make meanings, we do, we create, we transform, and we share what we know. Our Spirit walks with us on these journeys. Our ancestors accompany us. Our communities support us and our families hold us up. Last, but definitely not least, we come to know because we have to survive in a world that erodes and encroaches upon us. (168)
“How we come to know is both simple and complex; it is both fluid and concrete; is is both subjective and objective; and it is both rigorous and adaptable,” she writes (168).
Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know is, for the most part, a useful book. It tends to be repetitive (as you may have noticed if you’ve made it all the way to the end of my summary), but that repetition might be connected to the governing metaphor of the circle and to the idea that ideas and practices are interconnected. While I appreciate the description of holistic methods of research, I also understand and agree with Absolon’s contention that since Indigenous methodologies are part and parcel of Indigenous worldviews and experiences. It’s all connected. I’m not a social scientist, and so I don’t have to be consumed with questions about methodology, but I would like to see whether holistic non-Indigenous methodologies exist—or whether they can be invented. And if there’s anything a môniyâw like me can learn from Indigenous methodologies, I would like to learn it. That might mean rereading Margaret Kovach’s book on the subject, or the anthology Indigenous Research: Theories, Practices, and Relationships, edited by Deborah McGregor, Jean-Paul Restoule, and Rochelle Johnston, which is sitting on our kitchen table, waiting for me to pick it up. But I’m not going to fool myself that Indigenous methodologies are free-floating and available to anyone; they’re not.
Absolon, Kathleen E. (Minogiizhigokwe). Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know, Fernwood, 2011.
Kovach, Margaret. Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts, University of Toronto Press, 2010.
McGregor, Deborah, Jean-Paul Restoule, and Rochelle Johnston, eds. Indigenous Research: Theories, Practices, and Relationships, Canadian Scholars Press, 2018.
Wilson, Shawn. Research Is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods, Fernwood, 2008.