Section 2: Ways to Indigenize Research

The Importance of Indigenous Language and Intent

In British Columbia and across all of North America, Indigenous languages continue to be endangered – some critically endangered, meaning they may be lost within the next generation. As a result, many communities view language revitalization as a top priority in various planning and research processes.

Researchers who want to incorporate an Indigenous language into their project need to ensure they are guided by the Indigenous community that speaks the language. As language conveys Indigenous culture, the more a researcher knows and understands the language of the community, the better the chances of creating a trusting relationship with community members. It is helpful to know that different communities that speak the same language will have dialect differences. There can also be different writing systems (orthographies) that are used by each language family or group. In some cases, a language family or group may use one or two different orthographies; for example, among Kwaḱwala and Liḱwala speakers (the same language family), two systems are used. Many (but not all) Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw communities use the U’mista orthography (an orthography created by the community) for Kwaḱwala learning resources; however, Liḱwala speakers use the International Phonetic Alphabet (an orthography created by Western linguists) when creating language learning resources. The First Peoples’ Cultural Council shares information about the diversity of Indigenous languages spoken across the province and highlights current language revitalization projects. The nuance of how a language is written and conveyed will be important in your research, especially if it is going to be shared with language keepers and teachers.

It is important to ensure a traditional language is used only with the direct involvement, permission, and guidance of the community. As referenced in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, Indigenous languages belong to the communities and should be used only if those communities approve of their use. This addresses protocol around the use of an Indigenous language. It is also important to have a community’s involvement, because translation of research ideas from English to an Indigenous language is not always a straightforward matter of translating words and phrases, but rather a process of ensuring ideas and worldviews are reflected in the choice of words.

In terms of individual commitment, researchers should also consider seeking direction from a fluent speaker to learn an appropriate greeting and farewell. This will demonstrate their commitment to learning and respecting protocols and help to build a trusting relationship.


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Pulling Together: A Guide for Researchers, Hiłḵ̓ala Copyright © 2021 by Dianne Biin; Deborah Canada; John Chenoweth; and Lou-ann Neel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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