Connecting to Community through Research Ethics: Learning from Indigenous Peoples' Experiences

Globethics was proud to be a gold sponsor of the 2023 Online Conference of the Canadian Association of Research Ethics Boards (CAREB-ACCER) held from 6 to 8 June 2023. 

The conference theme Impact and Effect: Connecting to Community through Research Ethics was engaged largely through the lens of the Indigenous experience of and approach to research. Globethics is committed to lifting up and learning from the experience and wisdom of Indigenous peoples around the world. We appreciated the opportunity for this timely conversation and look forward to continued and deepened exchange and partnership with CAREB-ACCER and the scholars and communities it represents.

Having represented Globethics at the virtual event alongside members of the team, Academic Committee member and Canadian J. Dorcas Gordon has written a reflection on learnings gathered and suggestions for how they may enrich and inform Globethics and its network members.

Reflections on the CAREB-ACCER Conference: Impact and Effect: Connecting to Community through Research Ethics

Many issues were brought to the fore by the keynote addresses and the workshops that I attended, which focused on the work of the Research Ethics Board to ensure the ethical integrity of research with and among Canadian Indigenous Peoples. I see these to have significance for Globethics considering its new strategic vision, especially the centrality of the value-based statements embedded in this plan.[1]

What I am setting out is not to be considered definitive but rather personal insights on what I heard that I suggest might be helpful to Globethics as it continues to "equip individuals and institutions for ethical thinking, decision-making and action through higher education policy engagement from cross-cultural and global perspectives".[2] These include the following:

1. Ethical standards must emphasize inner or self-work, focusing on emotional competencies. In other words, research ethics boards need to develop standards that are value-based, standards that would honor ethically the research produced. Such standards at the very least would require the researcher to understand who they are and their place in the universe.

2. Ethical standards must highlight the interconnectedness of land-based knowledge, a knowledge that proceeds from the land to the community to the people. In short, ethics must acknowledge indigenous ways of knowing, requiring relationality in research practice. Questions such as who am I, what are my obligations, does the method I have chosen support my place, my obligations?

3. Ethical standards must incorporate community engagement throughout the research project. For research with Indigenous Peoples, this partnership must begin with the preparation stage through which researchers learn by immersing themselves in a particular community, learning relationally about those they are working with and their context. The research method is to be developed in conversation with the community with the research activities continuing that partnership. The community is also fully involved in the analysis and interpretation of the results as well as having an equal role in determining how and to whom the results will be disseminated. The Indigenous Research Level of Engagement Tool (IRLET), based on the Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research, sets out criteria and scores that could be used by research ethics boards to determine the level of authentic community engagement in any research project.

4. Ethical standards must set out community engagement in such a way as to prioritize the issue of underrepresentation in research, fostering a partnership that is equal in presence and power.

5. Research ethics are not abstract or objective, separate from how one lives one’s life, but a continuation of the values that an individual lives each day.

6. Research ethics boards need to go beyond requirements for human subject research. For Indigenous Peoples, there is no separation between human subjects, the land, animals, and plants. All require standards for appropriate research activity.

7. Research ethics boards might define research as a creative practice, a way of blending together the scientific method and the arts. In other words, research standards should situate the arts as equally authentic as science in academic research.

Here my thoughts turned to a book by Mark L. Taylor, The Theological and the Political: On the Weight of the World (Fortress Press, 2011). In a similar distinction between science and art, Taylor distinguishes between theology and the theological, the former reflecting a framework of dogmatics setting out at the beginning  what should be inside or outside learning. The theological he situates as the place of the arts, the field of imagination, which has the potential to open a research field to the unexpected. Taylor reflects that the theological, found in the arts – paintings, music, poetry, dance – has more power to create new knowledge than theology.

8. Research ethics boards could use the findings of equity, diversity, and inclusivity research (EDI) to question and revise the process of the academic review of scholarly research. This would mean asking questions about what one participant called the overprioritizing of the peer review process and the underprioritizing of new partnerships and ways of thinking.

These observations on what I heard are personal reflections of a Canadian scholar embedded in the Calls to Action of a Truth and Reconciliation process that is slowly unfolding in Canadian academic life. The more we become aware of the violence, the marginalization, and the land theft perpetrated by our settler colonialism, the more we understand the position of Indigenous Peoples’ demand that research ethics boards explore more deeply every facet of their work, which includes the construction, the acquisition and the production of knowledge and to develop standards in conversation with communities of learning, particularly those that have been underrepresented in terms of both presence and power in academic life.

J. Dorcas Gordon
Globethics Academic Committee Member

[1] The plan includes four major organizational priorities, which are oriented towards enabling and promoting ethical leadership through higher education and global engagement. These are Global Engagement, Transformative Impact, Resource Development and Empowering Communication. See Ethical Leadership through Higher Education and Global Engagement: Strategy 2023-2027, p.24.

[2] Globethics Mission Statement.

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