Indigenous research and place-based knowledge

Reading Deborah McGregor, Jean-Paul Restoule and Rochelle Johnston’s edited book on Indigenous research, I came across this amazing quote about the nature of knowledge:

“Knowledge is bigger than we are, something we can uncover only a part of. It was here before we were: ‘Knowledge is received or gifted from all living things and from the spirit world’ (Wilson & Restoule, 2010, p. 33).”

Johnston, Restoule & McGregor, 2018, p. 7

The authors write that knowledge has its own being; it is its own entity. Knowledge exists independently of humans and can be accessed by humans through deep relationships with place – with particular places on the Earth, including all of the living things within them.

Thinking deeply about Indigenous epistemologies – Indigenous understandings of what knowledge is and where it comes from – is an important part of engaging with Indigenous knowledges, and I am grateful for this book.

Age-Friendly Cities and Older Indigenous People: An Exploratory Study

Cities around the world are developing Age-Friendly Communities plans, following the World Health Organization’s guidelines. We recently had a conversation with ten older First Nations and Métis women in the city of Prince George, Canada, comparing the expressed needs of these women with two age-friendly action plans: that of the city of Prince George, and that of the Northern Health Authority. Findings indicate four main areas of concern for these women: availability of health care services; accessibility and affordability of programs and services; special roles of Indigenous older people; and experiences of racism and discrimination. There are many areas of synergy between the needs expressed by the women and the two action plans; however, certain key areas are missing from the action plans; in particular, specific strategies for attending to the needs of Indigenous and other older populations that are often marginalized in health care and in age-friendly planning.

Community presentations

Community presentations of the research are an opportunity to hear about the results of the research and to give feedback or ask questions.

They are happening Monday, February 19 (1:00-2:30pm) and 20 (5:00-6:30pm) at the Prince George Native Friendship Centre.

If you can’t make it out, stay tuned for brochures available on this site for download and feel free to get in touch with me.

Visiting Prince George

I will be in Prince George from January 16-21, 2018. This is a planning visit for community presentations in February. Find me at the Friendship Centre or get in touch for more information.

Definitions of colonialism

In doing research for a class I’m teaching this summer, I realized that the definitions of colonialism that come up in a Google search are somewhat lacking in perspective. I thought I would add a couple more.


“An enduring relationship of domination and mode of dispossession, usually (or at least initially) between an Indigenous (or enslaved) majority and a minority of interlopers (colonizers), who… pursue their own interests, and exercise power through a mixture of coercion, persuasion, conflict and collaboration.” (From the Dictionary of Human Geography, 2009, p. 94)

“Settler colonialism… strives for the dissolution of native societies… it erects a new colonial society on the expropriated land base—as I put it, settler colonizers come to stay: invasion is a structure not an event.” (From Wolfe, 2006, p. 388)

Indigenous community resurgence

In this study, I was interested in looking at what Indigenous health organizations do in urban communities, above and beyond providing health services. These organizations clearly have a role in providing community support, and I wondered if this support might translate into political representation or link to broader political struggles.

I chose the terminology of rights in order to get at this concept, and asked people in interviews and focus groups, —

“Do you feel that your rights are respected in Prince George, in terms of health care services?”

People often said no.

“Indigenous rights” is a colonial term, referencing the Constitution Act and several court decisions over the past forty years.

Focusing on the concept of Indigenous rights has been controversial, with many scholars arguing that “rights” and “recognition” are not actually that useful for Indigenous peoples in Canada. Many of these scholars use the term “resurgence” instead.

Resurgence describes the ways in which Indigenous communities are undertaking political, cultural and legal rebuilding. Resurgence takes place without the intervention of the Canadian state; it is led, supported, and achieved by Indigenous peoples and Indigenous communities.

The role of Indigenous-led health and social service organizations might not be promoting Indigenous rights and recognition through the government – but to provide spaces and mechanisms through which Indigenous community resurgence can be supported in the city.

Visiting Prince George

I will be in Prince George March 20-24. You can reach me at (778)764-1081 with any questions or for more information.

Sadly, our dear friend Leonard Ward passed away last Sunday night. He was a highly respected and loved Elder who worked so hard for the community. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Space and Power

Sitting by the window in the library one day, I overheard a sleeping man being woken and in hostile tones being asked to show his student or membership card. He couldn’t, and so was escorted out. At the time I was reading about power and oppression in the guise of colonialism.

The overheard encounter made me think about where I was and who I am – or, maybe more importantly, who I am perceived to be. No one came over to me and asked to see my ID card. Mind you, I wasn’t sleeping. But why is sleeping in a warm place with comfortable couches such an act of transgression? This in turn made me think about place.

Much has been written about doing research “in the field” – about the spaces of research that are out there, in the real world. We read about community engagement, about forming research partnerships and drawing up research agreements and how to conduct yourself as ethically as possible. We read about researchers’ daily struggles with community-based research, whether “cross-cultural” or within one’s own culture. But what about the quiet spaces – the public, private, or policed spaces – that we occupy on a daily basis in preparation to meet the “real world”? I spend more time in my office and in libraries than I will ever spend “in the field.”

These are protected spaces, where I am sheltered from the people I do research with. Where I am encouraged to think, reflect, and engage in dialogue with other academics – exclusively. Where people without a membership card are asked none too politely to leave. What kind of impact does this have on the research that I do?