Epistemological Questions in Indigenous Research

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All month you can read original posts, interviews with authors and experts, and open access resources. Sign up for the Indigenous and Intercultural Research: Issues, Ethics, and Methods webinar, February 27.

We are exploring Indigenous and Intercultural Research on MethodSpace this month. (See the entire series here.)  As part of our February focus on Indigenous and Intercultural Research, we are offering a series of articles from SAGE Journals.

This collection of articles explores ways that researchers mesh, balance, or keep separate, Indigenous ways of learning and knowing and Western epistemologies. Stretch outside your own field to read these multidisciplinary research examples.


Barnes, H. M., Gunn, T. R., Barnes, A. M., Muriwai, E., Wetherell, M., & McCreanor, T. (2017). Feeling and spirit: developing an Indigenous Wairua approach to research. Qualitative Research, 17(3), 313–325 (Note: The article is open access until March 15 using this link.)

Wairua, a Maori (indigenous peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand) concept, somewhat restrictively translated as spirit or spirituality, resonates with many indigenous peoples globally. While spirit is recognised as an important human dimension, the denigration of non-western spiritual understandings means that indigenous peoples often choose to remain silent. Transferring these concerns to research approaches, we edit our voices, with a view to what we think will count as knowledge and what we choose to share with academic audiences. This article discusses the challenges we face when we enter into conversations about wairua and how this might be approached in research. With reference to emerging social science innovations in affect and emotion, the article draws on audio visual recordings of people’s experiences of significant national days in Aotearoa New Zealand. Issues of analysis and representation are explored, along with the potential of these methods to explicate feelings, emotions and spirit.

Karki, K. K. (2016). Walking the complexities between two worlds: A personal story of epistemological tensions in knowledge production. Qualitative Social Work, 15(5–6), 628–639. https://doi.org/10.1177/1473325016652678 (Note: The article is open access until March 15 using this link.)

Abstract. In this article, I tell the autoethnographic stories of epistemological tensions emerging from my entanglement with Indigenous and Western ways of knowing in my journey towards my doctoral research in social work. I link these tensions to broader socio-political and historical tensions that tie together the West and the Global South. I highlight the sharp contrasts and contradictions as well as the nuanced contestations in the production of knowledge. I follow a chronological order to organize my narratives into four parts. In the first part, I describe my experiences of walking in two worlds. In the second part, I explore how I knew what I knew, depicting my indigenous ways of knowing. In the third part, I examine Western ways of knowing, depicting the subjugation of my indigenous ways of knowing. In the final part, I address the hybrid ways of knowing that I embody by walking in many worlds.

Massey, A., & Kirk, R. (2015). Bridging Indigenous and Western Sciences: Research Methodologies for Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine Systems. SAGE Open. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244015597726 

Emergent research methodologies congruent with Indigenous knowledge and worldviews are providing access to insights from traditional, complementary, and alternative medicine, including Indigenous healing systems. Tension is evident for researchers balancing representation of Indigenous realities with expectation to conform to the conventionality and rationality of “acceptable” Western science–based research protocols. Where past research pursuits have been limited by polarized views of legitimacy and validity, Western science and Indigenous science are now converging as equally valid notions of science to guide emergent research practices such as Kaupapa Māori. This narrative synthesis explores complex relations between epistemology, methodology, and practice. It aims to contribute to the transfer of knowledge between Indigenous and Western scientific paradigms.

Peltier, C. (2018). An Application of Two-Eyed Seeing: Indigenous Research Methods With Participatory Action Research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406918812346

Abstract. In this time of reconciliation, Indigenous researchers-in-relation are sharing research paradigms and approaches that align with Indigenous worldviews. This article shares an interpretation of the Mi’kmaw concept of Two-Eyed Seeing as the synthesis of Indigenous methodology and participatory action research situated within an Indigenous paradigm of relevant, reciprocal, respectful, and responsible research. Two-Eyed Seeing is discussed as a guiding approach for researchers offering Indigenous voices and ways of knowing as a means to shift existing qualitative research paradigms. The author offers practical considerations for conducting research with Indigenous peoples in a “good and authentic way.” Through the co-creation of knowledge with Indigenous communities, a collective story was produced as a wellness teaching tool to foster the transfer of knowledge in a meaningful way.

Tecun (Daniel Hernandez), A., Hafoka, ‘Inoke, ‘Ulu‘ave, L., & ‘Ulu‘ave-Hafoka, M. (2018). Talanoa: Tongan epistemology and Indigenous research method. (Note: This article is open access until March 15 using this  link.)

Abstract. Story dialogue known as Talanoa is increasingly finding its place as a Pacific research method. The authors situate talanoa as an Indigenous concept of relationally mindful critical oratory. Approaching talanoa from mostly a Tongan lens, it is argued that it can contribute to broader discussions of Indigenous research methods and epistemology. The authors address the Talanoa literature that has defined it as an open or informal discussion, and respond to questions that have emerged from challenges in implementing it practically in academic research. Indigenous Oceanic thought is used to interpret Talanoa as a mediation between relations of Mana (potency), Tapu (sacred/restrictions), and Noa (equilibrium), which is a gap in the Talanoa literature. Talanoa is grounded as a continuum of Indigenous knowledge production and wisdom present from the past that is adaptable to research settings. Centring Moana (Oceanic) epistemology in Talanoa challenges dominant research methods to adapt to Indigenous paradigms, rather than attempting to Indigenize a Western one.

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