May 14, 2021

Team sees Indigenous research as heart work, not hard work

Indigenous Research Support Team set to support Indigenous research 'in a good way'
Tahlisha North Peigan- River
Tahlisha North Peigan

For the Indigenous Research Support Team, it is important to acknowledge those who have led the way.

“At the core, Indigenous research is relational, it is co-creation, and collaboration. It is interwoven into daily life through the sharing of stories, experiences, and knowledges and held in time through collective memory,” says Amber Bedard, manager of the Indigenous Research Support Team. “With this, we honour those who came before, the labour and work done that has provided the opportunity for a team like ours to exist.”

Emerging out of the need to better support research collaborations with and for Indigenous communities, and to further promote Indigenous research enterprise at UCalgary, this small but mighty team within Research Services was formed as a three-year pilot project in 2019.

Research is relational

 “In this work, relationships are everything,” says Alexandra Kanters, Indigenous research ethics and process specialist on the Indigenous Research Support Team. “Indigenous research is all about reciprocity, and a big part of that is ensuring that Indigenous Peoples and communities benefit from the research in a way that’s important to them.”

The team aspires to promote research relationships with Indigenous communities and on Indigenous lands that truly respect and reflect the values, knowledges, and priorities of Indigenous Peoples.

“In order to produce intentional research outputs that authentically represent the heart of this work, a certain level of trust needs to be built between research teams and community stakeholders,” says Shayla Scott, health research co-ordinator, Indigenous Research Support Team. “There is a history of research misrepresenting Indigenous Peoples and communities that contributes to harmful biases and exacerbates the effects of intergenerational trauma. Careful work needs to be done to mend the distrust.”

Doing research 'in a good way'

Within the project, the Indigenous Research Support Team focuses on how research at UCalgary can be approached in a relational way. With this approach, the team considers the following: How can research and institutional processes parallel Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing? How can research honour Indigenous communities, languages, cultures, and worldviews? and What does it mean to be a 'good relative' in research?​

“It’s about upholding our responsibilities to one another; it’s about honoring relationships and demonstrating respect,” says Kimberly Van Patten, research co-ordinator, Indigenous Research Support Team. “If research is truly going to be an act of reconciliation, it must affirm the voices, knowledges, and experiences of Indigenous Peoples.”

What the team does

The Indigenous Research Support Team provides five key areas of support: ​

  1. Serve as an advisory entity for promoting reciprocal, ethical, and community-driven research​
  2. Promote cultural understanding and context at an institutional, national, and global level​
  3. Facilitate meaningful research relationships
  4. Enhance and generate opportunities for more culturally responsive ethics processes, knowledge translation activities, and data/information stewardship
  5. Support current and emerging Indigenous researchers at UCalgary​

The team is composed of two research co-ordinators, an ethics and process specialist, and the team’s manager.

The research co-ordinator roles were designed to contribute to the retention and advancement of Indigenous scholars, assisting with such tasks as grant proposals, manuscript editing, and other research administration duties. The ethics and process specialist advises researchers on best practices and supports for engaging in community-centred research, and assists in the processing of Indigenous-related research ethics applications. The manager oversees the team’s activities and serves as the main point of contact for community.

Soon the team will welcome an Indigenous summer student, who will work on projects related to Indigenous design and communications, including the Elder Protocol Project, which will focus on creating a digital space for cultural teachings and appropriate engagement with Elders, Knowledge Holders, and community partners. 

“None of us ever thought that we would work in research yet here we are, four courageous young women seeking to make change. It is such an honour to be doing this work,” says Van Patten. “Reciprocity truly starts with us. To embody reciprocity as a new team in the institution and to encourage and uplift Indigenous students and emerging scholars.”

For the future

“There are several innate tensions within this work — we must acknowledge the complex legacy of research,” says Bedard. “As a team, we see an opportunity as we navigate these tensions. We want to be a part of the legacy of scholars and researchers that are doing the good work to undo harm and collaborate to create better pathways and processes that bring others alongside and strengthen.”

Currently, the team is working on several projects including the development of an Indigenous research toolkit, available legal supports for communities, seed grants, and inter-cultural learning opportunities for research administrators. The team is also in the process of planning an Indigenous research support conference, the details for which will be shared at a later date.

Interested in hearing more about Indigenous research at UCalgary? Make sure to subscribe to the Indigenous Research Support Team’s newsletter.

Research Support Fund and Incremental Project Grant

The federal government’s Research Support Fund (RSF) assists Canadian post-secondary institutions and their affiliated research hospitals and institutes with the expenses associated with managing the research funded by Tri-Council agencies (CIHR, NSERC, and SSHRC). The Research Support Fund helps the university create an environment where researchers can focus on their research, collaborate with colleagues, and translate their discoveries and innovations. The Incremental Project Grant is a new stream of the RSF that focuses on innovation and commercialization activities, facilities renewal, information resources, and equity, diversity, and inclusion. Read more about how UCalgary uses the Research Support Fund.