Visual & Narrative Methods in Indigenous Research

Categories: Creative Methods, Focus Series, Multimodal, Other, Qualitative

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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.

As part of our February focus on Indigenous and Intercultural Research, we are offering a series of articles from SAGE Journals. These articles explore the use of qualitative narrative and visual methods in Indigenous research. For additional resources, see this post, Art and Indigenous Research with additional articles on arts-based methods.

The Gaataa’aabing Visual Research Method: A Culturally Safe Anishinaabek Transformation of Photovoice (Bennett et al., 2019)

Open access journal.

Abstract. Photovoice is a community-based participatory visual research method often described as accessible to vulnerable or marginalized groups and culturally appropriate for research with Indigenous peoples. Academic researchers report adapting the photovoice method to the sociocultural context of Indigenous participants and communities with whom they are working. However, detailed descriptions on cultural frameworks for transforming photovoice in order for it to better reflect Indigenous methodologies are lacking, and descriptions of outcomes that occur as a result of photovoice are rare. We address the paucity of published methodological details on the participant-directed Indigenization of photovoice. We conducted 13 visual research group sessions with participants from three First Nations communities in Northern Ontario, Canada. Our intent was to privilege the voice of participants in a mindful exploration aimed at cocreating a transformation of the photovoice method, in order to meet participants’ cultural values. Gaataa’aabing is the Indigenized, culturally safe visual research method created through this process. Gaataa’aabing represents an Indigenous approach to visual research methods and a renewed commitment to engage Indigenous participants in meaningful and productive ways, from the design of research questions and the Indigenization of research methods, to knowledge translation and relevant policy change. Although Gaataa’aabing was developed in collaboration with Anishinaabek people in Ontario, Canada, its principles will, we hope, resonate with many Indigenous groups due to the method’s focus on (1) integration of cultural values of the respective Indigenous community(ies) with whom researchers are collaborating and (2) placing focus on concrete community outcomes as a requirement of the research process.

Explicating Positionality: A Journey of Dialogical and Reflexive Storytelling (Carter, Lapum, Lavallée, & Martin, 2014)

Abstract. Qualitative researchers must be aware of and explicit about their social background as well as political and ideological assumptions. To facilitate this awareness, we believe that researchers need to begin with their own story as they seek to understand the stories of others. Taking into account the vulnerable act of storytelling, it is salient to consider how to share personal narratives in an authentic way within academic settings. In this article, we share our process and reflections of engaging in reflexive and dialogical storytelling. The focus of the article is the re-storying of one researcher’s experience as she and her research team explore her emotions and positionality prior to conducting research on First Nations men’s narratives of identity. We integrate a series of methodological lessons concerning reflexivity throughout the re-storying.

Biographical Collage as a Tool in Inuit Community-Based Participatory Research and Capacity Development (Dutton et al., 2019)

Abstract. As a method in arts-based qualitative research, the collage technique has been previously utilized for data generation, elicitation, analysis, and presentation of results. Collage has also been used as a self-reflective, development exercise within community-based research due to its abstract and creative self-exploratory style. Although previously used in research with a variety of populations, there is limited evidence of applying the collage technique with First Nation, Inuit, or Métis peoples, even though many other arts-based methods, such as photovoice, have been used. This article describes the use of biographical collage as part of a community-based research project in a northern Canadian Inuit community. The technique was used as an exercise for building leadership capacity, as an elicitation technique in cross-cultural qualitative interviews, and as a decolonizing process in community-based participatory research. With the description of an in-depth example, this article showcases many benefits of using the collage technique when engaging in cross-cultural community-based research with Inuit.

Stories Rather than Surveys: A Journey of Discovery and Emancipation (Kendall, Marshall, & Barlow, 2013)

Abstract. Empirical research, which has traditionally been privileged in Western health disciplines, has left notable gaps in the implementation of health interventions for Indigenous people and in the knowledge of and respect for Indigenous ways of knowing, both locally and globally. This article emphasizes the notion of pluralism in health research, and the responsibility of non-Indigenous researchers to collaborate respectfully and at a personal level with Indigenous people. It explores the value of unexpected forms of knowledge, and the need to recognize the stories and narratives of research participants as valuable in themselves, rather than as something to be dissected or reinterpreted out of context. Through the exploration of one data collection experience, we show how research collaboration, negotiation, and respect can transcend the boundaries between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, researchers and non-researchers, those with and without disabilities, and between countries.

Working with Indigenous Elders in Narrative Inquiry: Reflections and Key Considerations (Lessard et al., 2020) [Note: The article is open access through this link, until March 15.)

Find in your academic library.

Abstract. The Canadian research context shifted with the adoption of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its focus on considerations of Indigenous peoples. Drawing on multiple years of working together, this article explores the experiences of members of a research team that includes Indigenous Elders. The authors revisit three significant research encounters: engaging in teachings of “silent walking,” engaging in teachings through the processes of drum making with youth, and engaging in teachings on the importance of language. Three important considerations for working in research teams with Elders are the importance of continuing to find ways to be in relation, to live reciprocity beyond the rhetoric often associated with Indigenous research, and to see our work as marked by mutuality.

Spaces & Places: Understanding Sense of Belonging and Cultural Engagement Among Indigenous Youth (Snow, 2018)

Abstract. Indigenous youth continue to live with a socioeconomic and political legacy of colonization and marginalization, confronted by environments harmful to their psychosocial development. Resource strained communities may compound these experiences and outcomes for many youth. Increasingly, research points to the mitigating effects of resilience for youth exposed to contextual risks. Resilience is however dependent on both personal capacities and the availability of relevant resources within families, schools, and communities. Meaningful connection to community together with cultural continuity are important contributors to resilience. However, without critical examination of the conditions that support such youth engagement, attempts at fostering these connections may be largely unsuccessful. Spaces & Places explored the cultural continuity and civic engagement of Indigenous youth living in three communities of Atlantic Canada. Using an interactive, transactional theory of resilience, we explored how youth interact with community resources, and how these interactions impact connections with their community and culture. Participatory qualitative image-based methods were used to explore the availability of spaces and how they establish a sense of belonging to community and culture for youth. We used video capture of a day-in-the-life of participants with photo elicitation in reflective interviews, within a Participatory Action Research framework. Youth and community partners actively participated in the research process, including data analysis and knowledge mobilisation.


Bennett, B., Maar, M., Manitowabi, D., Moeke-Pickering, T., Trudeau-Peltier, D., & Trudeau, S. (2019). The Gaataa’aabing visual research method: A culturally safe Anishinaabek transformation of photovoice. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 18, 1609406919851635. doi:10.1177/1609406919851635

Carter, C., Lapum, J. L., Lavallée, L. F., & Martin, L. S. (2014). Explicating positionality: A Journey of dialogical and reflexive storytelling. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 13(1), 362-376. doi:10.1177/160940691401300118

Dutton, S., Davison, C. M., Malla, M., Bartels, S., Collier, K., Plamondon, K., & Purkey, E. (2019). Biographical collage as a tool in Inuit community-based participatory research and capacity development. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 18, 1609406919877307. doi:10.1177/1609406919877307

Kendall, E., Marshall, C. A., & Barlow, L. (2013). Stories rather than surveys: A journey of discovery and emancipation. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 12(1), 258-271. doi:10.1177/160940691301200112

Lessard, S., Kootenay, I., Whiskeyjack, F., Chung, S., Clandinin, J., & Caine, V. (2020). Working With Indigenous elders in narrative inquiry: Reflections and key considerations. Qualitative Inquiry, 1077800419898498. doi:10.1177/1077800419898498

Snow, K. (2018). What does being a settler ally in research mean? A graduate students experience learning from and working within indigenous research paradigms. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 17(1), 1609406918770485. doi:10.1177/1609406918770485

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