Section 2: Ways to Indigenize Research

Ways to Plan a Collaborative and Respectful Research Project

Post-secondary Indigenous educators Dianne Biin (Tsilhqot’in) and Lou-ann Neel (Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw) designed the community planning tool SPECIALTYPATHLIST during their years as Indigenous community developers and researchers to help with developing programs, projects, policies, and events. This checklist focuses on interconnections and builds project and approach relevancy by helping researchers consider all aspects that may be affected by a project.

SPECIALTYPATHLIST was developed over decades of working in and with First Nations communities, agencies, and organizations across British Columbia. It supports Indigenous community development, arts revitalization, and residential school healing through cultural practice. This planning tool is more in-depth and relational than a business STEEP analysis (social, technological, economical, environmental, and political) or an appreciative inquiry SOAR approach (strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results). This tool enables Indigenous voice to be involved in the research design, data gathering, and dissemination of results.

In 2000, Neel and Biin used SPECIALTYPATHLIST for a multi-funder action research and training project that lasted over two years. Knowledgeable in the Ways of Song began as an idea to digitize archival collections of songs from the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw peoples. The project became more complex when many community members said they were having difficulties accessing archival recordings to revitalize.

What started out as a simple idea to digitize songs became a multi-layered process involving training community members how to recover, restore, and re-record songs from one family’s collection. SPECIALTYPATHLIST helped researchers determine the depth of this project during the planning stage. The researchers explored how digitizing can be a model for Indigenous family recovery, revitalization, and skills development. They worked with youth, master singers who were fluent language speakers, Elders, archivists, recording studios, and MIDI music technicians to restore two songs back to a family.

Once the model was tested, community members who had been trained were able to support their families in restoring songs. The reciprocity, generosity, respect, and relevance of the project was realized only by using SPECIALTYPATHLIST.

SPECIALTYPATHLIST is an acronym for the following aspects a researcher should consider when undertaking a research project within an Indigenous community:

  • Social
  • Political/Physical/Policy/Partnerships/Protocol
  • Economic/Emotional/Educational/Elder
  • Cultural/Community/Children
  • Intellectual
  • Artistic/Academic/Administrative
  • Linguistic/Language
  • Traditions/Traditional
  • Youth
  • Philosophical/Principles/Parental
  • Accountability/Accessibility
  • Technology/Technological
  • Heritage/Health/Holistic/Honour
  • Legislative/Legal
  • Integrity/Infant
  • Spiritual
  • Theory/Theoretical

The following diagrams demonstrate how to use this planning tool to initiate dialogue with various members of a community and acknowledge how land and place affect the design and delivery of a project. In Figure 2.2, consultations and conversations are not hierarchical but instead organic in the process of determining the depth and relevance of a project. Figure 2.3 shows the benefits and impacts of a project beyond the initial scope of the project. While these categories change in importance, they provide a basis for ways to solidify your research idea and intention.

Note: If you are not using the online version of this guide, you can find the annotated diagrams information (Figure 2.2, Figure 2.3) in Appendix B.

Figure 2.2: Consultations and conversations using SPECIALTYPATHLIST within a community to determine project parameters and influences. This diagram can be viewed in Appendix B.

Figure 2.3: Using SPECIALTYPATHLIST as a Dialogue Tool with Community Authorities. This diagram can be viewed in Appendix B.

SPECIALTYPATHLIST has many benefits, including:

  • It helps you check your assumptions about what the research will do.
  • It helps identify the resources you have and the resources you might discover.
  • It helps you determine if your intention for doing the project or research is actually meeting a need.
  • It begins to build a research partnership plan.

Media Attributions

  • Figure 2.2: Consultations and conversations using SPECIALTYPATHLIST within a community to determine project parameters and influences by L. Neel and D. Biin is used under a CC BY 4.0 Licence.
  • Figure 2.3: Using SPECIALTYPATHLIST as a Dialogue Tool with Community Authorities by L. Neel and D. Biin is used under a CC BY 4.0 Licence.


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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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