Researching and educating with Māori in New Zealand – ethics of care in practice

by Tula Brannelly

This blog is a reflection on how I came to realise that the ethics of care offered a systematic framework for guiding non-oppressive and decolonising practices when I worked with Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand. I was a senior lecturer in mental health at Massey University in Wellington from 2006 – 2015. My initial stance was that as Māori are over represented in mental health services, I would need to learn more about why that was, including how the Māori worldview sits with Western psychiatry, and I needed to understand more about impacts of colonisation and development of approaches that were sensitive to Māori wellbeing. 

Through partnerships, I came to understand the ethics of care as a guide for ethical practice. Whenever I worked with Māori, I interpreted kaupapa (ways of doing) as an ethic of care in practice.

Amohia Boulton and I wrote about kaupapa and ethics of care (see further reading below).  Values such as care (manaakitanga), guardianship (kaitiakitanga) and relationality (whakawhanaungatanga) were evident through formal protocols such as welcomes on the marae (meeting place), in hui (meetings) and through students’ accounts of kaupapa mental health services.

I had previously used an ethic of care as a systematic framework to critique practices of care for people with dementia. In this new context it provided a way of thinking about ethical research practices that valued relationships, intellectual property ownership and care. 

Joan Tronto’s  Moral boundaries: A political argument for an ethic of careand Caring democracy ethic of care suggests a two-pronged approach – the first is to understand marginalisation where it exists, to take responsibility for addressing inequality. The second was the integrity of care that suggests five elements of practice that can review or guide care. They are:

  • Caring about – attentiveness to all in the relationship to understand needs and aspirations
  • Caring for – responsibility for taking action to meet those needs
  • Caregiving – competence to know how to take action and achieve care
  • Care receiving – responsiveness to the people involved to know whether care has been achieved
  • Caring with – solidarity in that the care meets the needs of the marginalised

Positioning indigenous people as ‘the problem’

One of the issues identified in our Footprints in the Sand podcast was the tendency for indigenous peoples to be positioned as ‘the problem’ without the ability to solve challenges. This signifies a Western-centric superiority that positions non-indigenous as having the answers, and thus negates indigenous knowledge and values. Understanding marginalisation through the ethics of care is relational, thereby requiring knowledge of experience, and understanding how people affected by marginalisation see what would work to overcome marginalisation. Taking responsibility takes account of this knowledge to design potential actions.  

The integrity of care, in research terms, may be expressed as attentiveness to the researched community, the researchers and others involved in the research process. Particular attention needs to be paid to the person who is arranging access as they are often a person of the community that is vouching for the researcher to have sensitivity to the community.

The community may want to be part of the research, but not in the way the researcher has planned. In my experience, individual consent forms became meaningless as many whanau (family) members wanted to join in the interview. People may want to guide the research or add something that is not part of the research proposal, and whether this is included may have profound effects on the agreement or willingness to participate. 

Responsibility can be shown in researchers being responsive to the requests of the community, including changes to the proposal or the addition of specific questions and reflexivity to include different perspectives. This would be usual in coproduced research, but maybe less accommodated in other approaches. 

Competence can be tricky. How competent is competent when working with a different worldview than you are used to, with concepts that are not directly translatable to a Western worldview? In the podcast for this project Helen discussed stepping forward and stepping back, and I understand this as being able to step forward and show competence in what is expected of you – your research approach, the questions you are asking and the knowledge you are producing that is valid, well designed and justified.

Stepping back is acknowledging the deficits in your knowledge and being open to instruction and direction, and accepting that from others. I found that some language knowledge to understand some parts of discussion in te reo (Maori language) was helpful, particularly to learn pronunciation. 

Responsiveness is shown by a willingness to revisit and check that what was agreed was achieved and whether any changes are required to how the research is progressing. This requires adequate time to inform people and get feedback, and a willingness to change course. 

Solidarity is shown by centralising the position of the people affected as the start and end point of activity. Solidarity is shown in building trust with people, by understanding and acknowledging experience, by accommodating suggested ways of overcoming challenges and by evaluating outcomes according to the wishes of that community of people. (See The ethics of care and transformational research practices in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Relationships and responsibilities

Central to care ethics are the tenets of relationships and responsibilities in an interdependent complex system. As a person who has benefitted from colonial power (as a UK citizen), it is my responsibility to consider the implications of research that is undertaken and the potential impacts on the communities it affects.

Before we meet, we are already in a relationship formed and shaped by previous connections. We also have the power to shape future connections, but only if the community feels some benefit of the research and sees a value in continuing such partnerships. 


I would like to acknowledge the following people and organisations – particularly Amohia Boulton with whom I have written extensively;  Te Waka Whaiora and Te Roopu Pookai Taaniwhaniwha supported the education of nurses; and Te Rau Puawai was a Massey University workforce initiative so I had a role supporting undergraduate and postgraduate Māori nurses through this programme. 

Further reading

  • Carol Gilligan, 1982, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development
  • Joan Tronto, 1993, Moral boundaries: A political argument for an ethic of care
  • Marian Barnes 2012, Care in Everyday Life
  • Tula Brannelly, 2018, An ethics of care research manifesto, (International Journal of Care and Caring).  
  • Amohia Boulton and Tula Brannelly Care Ethics and Indigenous Values: Political, Personal and Tribal in Barnes, M., Brannelly T, Ward L and Ward N (2015), Ethics of Care. Critical Advances in International Perspective, Policy Press.
  • Tula Brannelly, Amohia Boulton, and Allie Te Hiini, 2013. A Relationship Between the Ethics of Care and Māori Worldview—The Place of Relationality and Care in Maori Mental Health Service Provision. Ethics and Social Welfare.)  

In pursuit of the good life

by Deborah McGregor

The ‘research landscape’, internationally and within Canada, has shifted. Emergent Indigenous research approaches continue to shape broader research initiatives. Indigenous research is based on relationships and relationships require work, commitment, energy, communication and continuous engagement; they do not happen just because we want them to.

The importance of creating ethical space for discussion moves the consideration of Indigenous research forward, rather than perpetuating the binary notion of “Western” versus “Indigenous” research. The binary model, while helpful and necessary in distinguishing the key differences, has limited applicability in terms of addressing the rapidly shifting contextual landscape that calls for innovative approaches to Indigenous research practice.

Indigenous research is often viewed as a novel and recently-conceived research paradigm with the aim of explicitly and actively supporting the self-determination goals of Indigenous peoples. While it may be “new” to academia, engaging in Indigenous inquiry, along with its resultant knowledge production and mobilization, is actually far from new. Indigenous societies, like any autonomous and sovereign nations, required regularly updated knowledge to meet existing and emerging challenges. Indigenous peoples have thus been seeking knowledge to support their existence as peoples and nations for millennia

Indigenous societies framed their research through their own ontological and epistemological foundations and methods. Protocols for seeking knowledge were about establishing relationships and have remained so.  In such a research paradigm, one shares knowledge and remains accountable to that knowledge, rather than extracting or owning it.  Knowledge is grounded in the richly diverse intellectual traditions of Indigenous peoples. This means that there will be a diversity of theoretical frameworks, methods and applications that will reflect the variety of Indigenous traditions.

Moreover, such theories, frameworks and methods are not static: they are continually being revised and continue to evolve.  One is not required to “separate” oneself from the research, but to approach it holistically, with the intellectual, emotional, spiritual and physical aspects of the whole self.

Indigenous modes of inquiry have been undermined, deemed inferior (if recognized at all), and even erased through imperial and colonial practices. 

In her book, Research for Indigenous Survival: Indigenous Research Methodologies in the Behavioural Sciences, Abenaki scholar Lori Lambert observes that if one is not from the community or nation one is engaged with in research (Indigenous or non-), one can never truly understand the stories being told. Researchers in this sense must be open, honest and transparent about their own limitations with themselves and the communities with which they are working.

In this light, the researcher’s goal is not to tell the community’s story, but to empower the community to tell their own story, on their own terms, their own purpose. Self-determination in research means that, ultimately, communities will determine who they participate with in research, and what methods will be employed. Indigenous scholars have advanced Indigenous research theories and methodologies based on their own cultural foundations, full acceptance of Indigenous research paradigms within the academy remains elusive.

One of the barriers to such acceptance is that “unlearning” of Western modes of research seems to be a prerequisite for embracing Indigenous research.

Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in research contexts has yet to be fully explored, although it can be argued that any research involving Indigenous peoples should support Indigenous peoples’ pursuit of self-determination. Article 31(1) of UNDRIP has specific implications for Indigenous research:

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and tradition- al cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions. 

Article 31 (1) UNDRIP

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect, and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports, traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions. (UNGA, 2007)

The concept of negotiating between different knowledge systems is an important aspect of Indigenous research. Indigenous peoples are not rejecting western knowledge systems outright, but are seeking equitable consideration and application of both systems when and where appropriate.  There is no single Indigenous research paradigm approach. Indigenous research is as diverse at the peoples who engage in the process.  

Anishinabek research

The Anishinabek have been actively seeking assistance and knowledge since time immemorial; research for us is therefore not a novel experience. University-based Anishinaabe researchers also seek Minobimaadizwin (good life) as an outcome of their research, although different methods may be used to achieve this goal.  Anishinabek research is a form of reclaiming our stories and knowledge through personal transformation while in the pursuit of knowledge. As Anishinaabek, we have our own worldviews, philosophies, ways of being, and research traditions that account for our relationships and existence in the world. Anishinabek transforms and represents a diversity of ways in which Anishinabek are tackling the challenging, yet transformative, work involved in re-creating our knowledge on our own terms.

Anishinabek research is a 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 relationships and existence in the world. 

The Anishinabek 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.  

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 influence 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.

Ethically, we work to recognize and livethese relationships. In an Indigenous research paradigm, our ethics or conduct always includes the environment (or all of Creation), as well as the spirit world, no matter what the research questions or topic. In Anishinabek research paradigms, our original sources of information are our ancestors, who were real people living their everyday lives, as well as the places that we come from.

Wendy Geniusz, Cree scholar refers to this view of Anishinabek research as biskaabiiyang,or “returning to ourselves”. As Anishinabek, we must engage processes of decolonizing at many levels so as to reclaim, recover and revitalize Anishinabek intellectual, spiritual and ethical traditions, or Anishinaabek-gikendaasowin (knowledge).  

Anishinabek people have always sought knowledge in systematic ways, engaging in protocols that included the proper ethics and conduct for doing so. This is not new. Knowledge is a gift to share for the well-being of the people and is acknowledged by other Anishinaabe scholars as the pursuit of Minobimaadizwin or “the good life”.

Amplifying the voices of Indigenous researchers: an ethical approach to collaboration

by Helen Kara

In most disciplines in the Euro-Western paradigm, research collaboration is usually seen as a straightforwardly good thing. Perhaps this is why there is very little Euro-Western literature on the ethics of collaborative research.

In the Indigenous literature, by contrast, collaboration with Euro-Western researchers is seen as potentially dangerous, probably because Indigenous peoples around the world have experienced various abuses at the hands of researchers in so-called ‘collaborations’. Given this, it is not surprising that the Indigenous literature has more to say about the ethical aspects of collaboration than the Euro-Western literature.

For instance, it is important to take the time to articulate, and learn to understand, each other’s worldviews (Chilisa 2012). And the above examples suggest that research work and the benefits accruing from such work should be shared equally by Euro-Western and Indigenous researchers working together.

What about those Euro-Western researchers who would like to collaborate with Indigenous researchers but can’t travel to work with them? I’m in that position as an independent researcher with no budget for extended overseas assignments. However, occasionally Indigenous researchers come to the UK and give us the opportunity to work with or learn from them here.

Indigenous research paradigm

I was lucky enough to be at the NCRM Research Methods Festival in Bath, England, in 2016 when there was a seminar on post-colonial and Indigenous research methods. The presenters were Professor Bagele Chilisa from Botswana, Professor Helen Moewaka Barnes from New Zealand, and Dr Deborah McGregor from Canada. They taught me that there is an Indigenous research paradigm which stands alone, predates the Euro-Western research paradigm by millennia, and encompasses decolonising methodologies rather than the other way around. 

This one seminar has had a profound influence on my work. I was underway with writing a book on research ethics and my learning from the seminar led me to completely change the book’s direction. I found and read as much literature on Indigenous research as I could, beginning with Professor Chilisa’s excellent book on Indigenous Research Methodologies.

I learned a great deal from this literature. I learned that opinions are divided within Indigenous communities about the rights and wrongs of sharing information in writing. Ila Bussidor, former chief of the Sayisi Dene community from Manitoba in Canada, researched and wrote a book called Night Spirits: the Story of the Relocation of the Sayisi Dene with her friend the journalist and broadcaster Űstűn Bilgen-Reinard. This book tells the story of the Government-forced relocation of the Sayisi Dene in 1956, from their ancestral homelands at Duck Lake to the outskirts of the town of Churchill, and the community’s subsequent disintegration.

From my Euro-Western perspective this is a crucial, hard-hitting, breath-taking book – yet some Sayisi Dene people did not want their story told in writing. Ida Bussidor spoke eloquently about her experience of this:

“When my book came out, there was a big fight and they threw chairs at me. They didn’t want the information out. I never was able to take the pride and success of that book, never.’

(Lambert 2014:177)

Community division

As a fellow author, I felt so much sympathy for Bussidor. As a scholar, I found her story of community division interesting because it is a story rarely told in the literature to date. Yet despite this divided opinion, a growing number of Indigenous researchers and others are publishing writings about their ways of life. 

Those of us who would like to collaborate with Indigenous researchers but are not currently able to travel can benefit from reading these writings. Of course texts can’t teach us everything. Nor would we learn ‘everything’ by spending time with Indigenous peoples; many communities have sacred and/or secret knowledges that they would not share with outsiders (and nor should they be expected, or even asked, to do so) (Kovach 2009;McKemmish et al 2010Koitsiwe 2013Bowman, Francis and Tyndall 2015).

But texts can teach us a lot, and can enable us to collaborate on one level: by acknowledging and citing this literature in our own work, as I am doing here and have done throughout my book on research ethics.

Even at this level of collaboration there is ethical danger. For example, there is the danger of being extractive, i.e. using information provided by Indigenous people for our own benefit and giving nothing back, as countless Euro-Western researchers have already done (Denzin 2005[1]Gaudry 2015). Then there is the danger of recolonising research ethics (Land 2015) by subsuming the Indigenous paradigm within a Euro-Western work (Wilson 2008). 

Recolonising in a different way

I thought long and hard about the ethics of my writing. To me it also felt unethical to ignore this body of literature, as though by doing that I would be recolonising in a different way, i.e. contributing to the erasure of communities and peoples. I felt as though I could be recolonising whichever way I wrote. 

I was glad to find calls in the Indigenous literature for Euro-Western researchers to share, rather than claim, the intellectual space (Smith 2012:202). Then I was helped by an online conversation with Erika Langham from Central Queensland University, a non-Indigenous researcher who works with Indigenous researchers in Australia, who suggested that part of my role in this work is not to replace but to amplify Indigenous voices. And I learned from the Indigenous literature about the need to work carefully and respectfully with that literature.

I was immensely fortunate to receive a review of the final draft of my book from the Indigenous researcher Deborah McGregor, who waived anonymity so that I could ask her questions (and thank her and credit her input in the book, which was not something she asked for but which felt important to do). Professor McGregor, as she now is, pointed out that I should clarify my relationship to Indigenous research. I thought hard about that, and concluded that

‘My relationship with Indigenous research is that of a student, with Indigenous researchers as my teachers; mostly through their writings and occasionally through their talk.’

(Kara 2018:17)

There are other ethical dimensions to this work. For example, since publication of my book, I have been asked several times to speak as an ‘expert’ on Indigenous research. I have declined these invitations because I am not and never will be such an expert. Only an Indigenous researcher can take that position. I am working on finding Indigenous researchers to whom I can pass such invitations; I hope this blog post will help. 

I will continue to do all I can to amplify Indigenous voices in my work and in my life. I’m by no means sure I’ve got all of the answers on the ethical aspects of doing this, but I have at least made some progress in that direction. I’d be delighted to read your reactions and thoughts in the comments.

[1] Denzin, N. K. (2005). Emancipatory discourses and the ethics and politics of interpretation. The Sage handbook of qualitative research3, 933-958.

A UK researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand: ethical practice

by Rosalind Edwards

I spent the UK winter-spring/ANZ summer-autumn of 2014 on a Leverhulme Trust International Academic Fellowship at the University of Otago, with the aims of learning about kaupapa Māori research and carrying out a small project on fathers’ experiences of bringing up ‘mixed’ race children.  This research was not about Māori fathers of mixed children per se, but this is a common situation in Aotearoa New Zealand.  I applied for ethical approval for the project from the ethics committee at my home university, the University of Southampton.  No problems were raised with my application and it was approved as ethical research practice.

Once in Aotearoa New Zealand, having read more deeply and had discussions with Māori and other colleagues about kaupapa Māori research approaches, the ethics of my research became subject to question.  I wondered about my University judging my research practice as ethical when – to my knowledge – none of my thoughtful reviewer colleagues know much about the ANZ context.  I was faced with a strong response from some Māori researchers I met that my project was not ethical; indeed some saw it as replicating colonialising practices.  I am not out of sympathy with this viewpoint: I arrive from the UK, impose a model of (ethical) governance, grab resources (data) that belong to someone else (see later), use them for my own benefit, and then disappear off again.

There are several disjunctures raised in posing my research as colonising and questioning my practice as ethical, including between the nature of knowledge and notions of and bases for ethical practice.

Along with other institutions, my University operates with an assumption that a person’s knowledge and experiences are theirs – that they assess the pros and cons of disclosure and consent (or not) to participate in research as individuals (unless deemed ‘vulnerable’).  This is an individualistic notion of the nature of knowledge.  In contrast, as I understand it, a broad Māori understanding of the nature of knowledge is that it belongs to the collective – the wider family/sub-tribe/tribe.  A researcher does not (just) get consent from the individual to participate in their research because their knowledge about Māori life and experiences is not their individual possession.

I have not seen a UK University ethics form that asks whether or not the applicant for ethical approval has consulted with the population to be studied about carrying out the research and whether or not it is considered by them to be a useful piece of work.  But as I understand it, that is a standard sort of question on ANZ ethics application forms.  So on that governance count alone, while my research had been judged ethical in the UK, it may not be ethical from a governance point of view in ANZ, and it is unethical from a kaupapa Māori sympathetic perspective.

Accountability is a strong element of ethical research practice. As it has been explained to me, the fact that Māori will introduce themselves by elaborating their ancestry and land connections locates them in a web of interconnected relationships and responsibilities.  This makes them accountable to their research subjects in a very different way.  If they act in a way that harms the community, then it is not just their reputation that will suffer, but the whole of their extended family will be involved in that currently and into the future. In contrast, in ‘Western’ models of ethical practice, primary accountability is to professional and institutional codes of practice.  If a researcher acts badly then their University and professional association will see that as a breach of academic/disciplinary regulations, but it is the researcher as an individual who bears the damaged reputation.  The researcher’s accountability to research subjects is limited to the relevant legislation about ownership and use of data. The ‘message’ of the research is not bad behaviour in itself.

So, I am not accountable in a Māori sense.  While I may be held accountable institutionally and professionally, my ‘personal’ connections are not involved.  Thus I may behave ethically according to UK practice, but that does not mean I am behaving ethically in the kaupapa Māori sense.