All research questions and methodologies are grounded in the specificities of people’s world views, and research as an activity occurs ina set of historical, political and social contexts.   But some world views, methodologies and methods are accorded more legitimacy and privileged over others.  Developing equitable Indigenous and non-Indigenous research partnerships means challenging perceptions of the relationship between Indigenous and Western knowledges, and what counts as knowledge and appropriate research practice.

Northern epistemology

Northern epistemology assigns authority uniquely to knowledge production founded in Western social viewpoints and histories of colonialism. The Western academy sets the agenda and constructs the rules by which the world, including the worlds of indigenous peoples, is theorised, investigated and judged.  This dominant system determines what knowledge is, what are legitimate research questions and answers.  It assumes that this version of what counts as knowledge and how it should best be formed applies universally.  This epistemology originates within and sees from the global North point of view.  Yet, the imperial cultural paradigm and social processes of the global North from which claims of abstracted universality spring is rendered invisible.  Indigenous knowledge production methods are subordinated and rendered inferior.

Southern epistemologIES

Southern epistemologies are rooted in the societies and peoples of the global South.  They detach what counts as knowledge, its production and how it is used, from imperialism and challenge power structures.  Southern epistemologies acknowledge diverse and evolving sets of knowledges and intellectual traditions.  Accompanying methodologies are contextualised and non-extractive ways of finding out about the world.  Southern ways of thinking may advance plural conceptual and spiritual approaches to knowledge and ethical processes of inquiry, in order to understand the constellation of oppressions and injustices stemming from colonialism, to identify struggles and resistances to them, and to address social and environmental processes, relations and transformations.

In order create a space for valuing Southern epistemologies in Indigenous and non-Indigenous research partnerships, we need to work at decolonising both research and researchers.

Decolonisation of research and researchers

Decolonising research is about dismantling the distortions and erasures in global Northern epistemologies, methodologies and in positioning of selves, opening up to forms of knowing beyond western modes of research.  Decolonising involves challenging our assumptions, ourselves and our position, and offering alternative ways of understanding the world and relating to Indigenous peoples.  Western trained Indigenous researchers may need to work to define and redefine their knowledge and themselves, to free themselves from the underlying global Northern (academic) culture.  Non-Indigenous researchers should ask hard questions about themselves, their own culture, privilege and accountabilities, and how they will engage with Indigenous knowledges, researchers and peoples.  A shift of perspective is required of those who occupy the dominant space and work within dominant Northern paradigms, to value Indigenous researchers and peoples for their expertises as equal knowers, and to transform representations and knowledge of the world.

Indigenous approaches

The concept of navigating and negotiating between different knowledge systems is an important part of Indigenous research, including connecting with western knowledge systems (which draw on and claim, rather than acknowledge centuries of interchange between Europe and various non-western cultures).  This connection is beyond a superficial ‘add on’ approach that appropriates Indigenous knowledges and consolidates the dominant Northern epistemology.

There is no single Indigenous research paradigm approach.  Indigenous research is as richly diverse as the peoples who engage in the process.  Approaches span qualitative and quantitative research methods, run across a range of academic social, behavioural and natural sciences, and embrace a variety of substantive issues.  While there are differences within and between Indigenous understandings and research approaches, they have in common a foundation in trusting relationships and transparent accountability, and an aim to transform fundamentally the whole nature of the research endeavour.

Here we outline two examples of Indigenous research approaches, each embedded in the world views of the peoples who practice them, drawn from the knowledges within our project team:

Anishinabek research – Deborah McGregor

Anishinabek people have always sought knowledge in systematic ways, engaging in protocols that included the proper ethics and conduct for doing so. Anishinabek research is form of reclaiming our stories and knowledge through personal transformation while in the pursuit of knowledge.  As Anishinabek, we have our own worldviews, philosophies, ways of being, and research traditions that account for our relationship and existence in the world. The Anishinabe researcher’s preoccupation is to learn to engage appropriately in a series of relationships with other beings in Creation to serve our nations now and into the future. The Anishinabek ethical research protocol requires that respect be given to those who have shaped and contributed to our knowledge (community, familial and personal knowledge) and have greatly influenced the approach that we take to research.  For the Anishinabek, cultural protocols require us to acknowledge our personal knowledge sources, just as we would cite sources from the scholarly literature.  Knowledge is a gift to share for the well-being of the people and is acknowledged by other Anishinaabe scholars as the pursuit of Minobimaadizwinor ‘the good life’.

Kaupapa Māori research– Helen Moewaka Barnes

In Aotearoa, Kaupapa Māori theory, covering both methodologies and methods has emerged.  Although there are a range of descriptors for Kaupapa Māori, common elements are being Māori led and controlled, having collective features, being driven by Māori agendas and aspirations, and being transformative. Emphasis is also placed on research processes, relationships and other ethical considerations.  Debates continue as to the definition or parameters of Kaupapa Māori and whether having such boundaries is counter-productive. Without them, Kaupapa Māori can be all things to all people, the ‘essential’ characteristic being that it is about being Māori.  This charge often flies in the face of mainstream expectations and hopes of categorised, defined and delineated disciplines and theories.  To offer such certainty is to offer reassurance and prescribes the research methodology that will presumably follow.  To offer oneself and one’s identity as the theoretical basis is, in ‘western’ eyes to step into the abyss of subjectivity, method and non-science…the unknown.  And yet this is precisely what Māori first ask: who are you; the answers to this give (hopefully) some reassurance and hopes for the research processes that will follow.

 Some resources:

Here is a selection of English-language reading from across the globe as a starting pointfor finding out more about decolonising research, Southern epistemologies and Indigenous methodologies.  There is a treasure trove of other reading available too.

  • Raewyn W. Connell (2007) Southern Theory: Social Science and the Global Dynamics of Knowledge, Polity Press.
  • Shawn Wilson (2008) Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods, Fernwood Publishing.
  • Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2012) (2ndedn) Decolonising Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, Zed Books.
  • Chilisa Bagele (2012) Indigenous Methodologies, Sage.
  • Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2014) Epistemologies of the South: Justice Against Epistemicide, Paradigm.
  • Anna-Lill Drugge (ed.) (2016) Ethics in Indigenous Research: Past Experiences – Future Challenges, Unmeå University
  • Tahu Kukutai and John Taylor (eds) (2016) Indigenous Data Sovereignty: Towards an Agenda,Australian National University
  • Deborah McGregor, John-Paul Restoule and Rochelle Johnson (2018) Indigenous Research: Theories, Practices and Relationships, Canadian Scholars Press.

See also annotated bibliography of books on Indigenous research methods at of Indigenous research journal at

Useful websites include:

Again, this set of websites is just a starting point. We are always pleased to hear about any other relevant resources.