“A time comes when silence is a betrayal.” — Rev. Martin Luther King
Research is a fine delicate balance when it comes to the education, health & wellness, environment, and spirituality of Indigenous people. From an Indigenous worldview they are all connected and we have struggled with forced assimilation and cultural genocide that diminished our truth as we know it.
As Indigenous people reclaim their histories through ceremonies, language immersion, oral history, and research the truth of colonization is that in today’s modern society, it has also created the opportunity for healing among our People. Today as modern “savages” in our “heathen” or “pagan” ways, there are Indigenous people who are questioning how our society became disconnected and view religion differently than say 150 years ago. Although colonization has forced its way into our culture, relative to place and location, there are Indigenous people around the world who believe in the ancestral ways of knowing.
Culturally speaking, Indigenous people have creation stories that tell the origins of their respective communities that is often times woven into a song or dance and is connected to ceremony. The reality and truth behind this ancestral knowledge can not be defined, nor can it be pegged into a box or paradigm that is of colonized origin. It is Indigenous and stands on the pillars and foundation of language, ceremony, communication, and a kinship system that can not be found in a book, library, or archives among photos, wax recordings, or film.
Based on this fact, it is important to recognize that Indigenous people are also re-writing their histories and re-telling their stories. The re-written histories and stories that need to be included in textbooks and shared in family talking circles is necessary in order for Indigenous youth to begin comprehending beyond conception that their rightful place in their community is exactly where their ancestors lived and made a home.
As Indigenous people, we have creation stories that place us in our universe that a non Native may read and question without a cultural comprehension. Using organized religion as an example, the conceptual thoughts or beliefs that humans were created when Adam and Eve met and later procreated in the heavenly garden is based on the premise that the world, let alone the Indigenous universe did not exist until humans were created. Organized religion spread this belief for centuries and continued through genocide of cultures, including Indigenous people of the America’s. For Indigenous people of the America’s, colonialism is the bane of our existence when taking into consideration how we have battled generational trauma within our reservation communities, capitalism at the expense and destruction of the environment, the education of our most precious people (our youth), and the health and welfare of all our people.
When we stand aside and say nothing, and accept the destruction of our culture, our way of life, and our ancestral ways of knowing, we have essentially given up. As adults, when we don’t question or seek answers we are passive participants. Recently, I had the opportunity to witness and hear a 16 year old girl state she felt no spirit in a church, but felt the presence of spirits in a ceremony. As I listened to the young girl, I knew she had been impressed by something greater than I could ever share about Indigenous culture, and in fact, had experienced her culture and ancestral right. Another example of this resurgence is in the southwest where the Dine/Hopi water rights settlement protest occurred. Young people from those Indigenous communities questioned authorities asking what will be left for their future and stated they had every right to speak up, just because they weren’t old enough to vote did not mean they were not going to speak out against and protest the water rights settlement.
As Indigenous youth are courageously standing up and questioning why they are excluded, denied, and or left out say for example in textbooks, which may seem minute, their input is valuable and more than important, they are our future. I encourage parents, teachers, administrators, and anyone who works with Indigenous youth to challenge them to learn their culture but more importantly to also ask AND answer why it’s important to know their culture.
As a young scholar, a newby on the block with ideas which are more than likely nothing new, I find it important to ask why and share that Indigenous people need to question how research is conducted. The inquisitiveness holds accountable traditional researchers who in turn become a part of that trickle down effect. Questions from Indigenous members of a community that require a deconstruction of a colonized form of education, health, religion, and community concept become more than just a question, it becomes deconstruction which is also the birth of decolonization.
With the deconstruction of traditional research which is conducted by Indigenous scholars today, researchers who work on any type of research within Indigenous community are required to submit IRB’s and work with Indigenous communities collaboratively. How research has been conducted is changing and the face of research has become more representative of the Indigenous people.
My inquisitive nature has opened the flood gates on how I will proceed for my own program requirements. Granted I am a member of the Nimiipuu Nation, I am also a student of a Research 1 institution and in order to fulfill my program and graduation requirements, I must also follow university guidelines. In my opinion this is the catch 22 of the academy as an Indigenous researcher. Suffice to say, that is something that can be negotiated.
In closing, as an Indigenous researcher, I do believe it is important to stand up and speak up and not be silent when research on/about Indigenous people is entirely conducted by non Indigenous people. Not only is that a misrepresentation, it is a prime example of how the research paradigm has not changed. What I have learned in the few years as a doctoral student is, 1.) I am not here to be “liked” 2.) I am not here for the approval of the academy, I am here to question, more importantly rewrite what’s become the status quo of research when it comes to Indigenous people.