Can non-Native researchers conduct Native research?

The presence of non-indigenous scholars in indigenous research has long generated controversy in the social, political, and academic arenas. In this regard, numerous arguments have been made to elaborate on the nature of study done on indigenous tribes and the detrimental effects that many non-indigenous researchers subject the aboriginals to (Guillemin et al., 2016). Mistrust, resistance, and hostility have resulted from these ethnic atrocities, which also include exploitation and social disdain as well as the theft of indigenous knowledge and beliefs (Geia et al., 2013). Such advancements raise the question of whether it is appropriate to permit non-indigenous scholars to conduct indigenous research. In exploring this debatable issue, some key terms need to be understood as used in the context of indigenous research. Indigenous research is the structured inquiry that involves indigenous people either as partners or investigators in an attempt to extract knowledge about the indigenous population. Prior informed consent is the permission granted by these indigenous people in full knowledge of the impending benefits and risks. The sovereignty and autonomy of the aboriginal communities to influence these research on them should be respected, and colonisation undertones in the research should be mitigated upon (Goulding et al., 2016). Besides, for the non-indigenous researchers to objectively research these circumstances, they ought to abide by a code of ethical conduct in the associations and experimentation during the research. Additionally, the decolonisation of knowledge and duly administration of intellectual property laws is vital to the proper conduct of indigenous research by non-indigenous researchers (Hill & May 2013).

Non-indigenous researchers should be allowed to undertake indigenous research. However, there are ethical contentions and measures they need to consider before they do the studies. The researchers should desist from acts that may or seem to colonialise, pathologise, or oppress indigenous populations. In Australia, the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (AATSIC) serves to protect the indigenous groups and regulate research on them. In their address during the 2003 forum, the issue of protection of cultural knowledge was raised. A contention on the right to ownership and control of cultural knowledge by the indigenous communities was raised through the chairperson’s paper titled the "Indigenous Research: What’s It About?" The social outcomes of research conducted by ethically insensitive non-indigenous people were seen to perpetuate ethnocentrism and western prejudice. In this light, it is essential for non-indigenous researchers to avoid specific research norms perpetuated by the western paradigms and try to stay open for the new knowledge (Stefanelli et al., 2017).

The guidelines for ethically acceptable research by non-indigenous researchers should contain aspects of the revised research models, which include the active involvement of the indigenous people in the design as well as the execution and final evaluation of research to ascertain the significance of the finding to the aboriginal communities. To achieve this, coordinating organisations controlled by indigenous communities should ensure there are consultations and involvement of the people during the undertaking of the research. Non-indigenous researchers should also be subjected to surveillance while undertaking their research to make sure that it is a need-driven research approach instead of the more popular investigator-driven approach lacking mutual benefit, respect, and reciprocity. Non-indigenous researchers undertaking indigenous research should also adopt an efficient mechanism for the dissemination of research findings (Lavallée & Leslie, 2016).

Cultural protocols, ethics, and appropriate research methodologies should be adhered to by non-indigenous researchers who aim to carry out objective indigenous research (Kovach, 2015). In this way, cultural sensitivity is essential in an attempt to increase knowledge decolonisation and prevent resistance. Prior, free and informed consent should be sought beforehand to ascertain sovereignty and compliance to intellectual property laws which have been broken by western researchers for a long time (Mertens, Cram, & Chilisa, 2013). Therefore, in exploiting the contentious fields of indigenous research, non-indigenous researchers should exercise compliance to legislation and socially acceptable conduct that envisages multicultural tolerance and regard for minority ethnic groups.

Non-indigenous researchers should also endeavour to exhibit objectivity in their research to avoid ethnic prejudice that breeds lingering mistrust and racism. Indigenous research offers a better research tool than the mainstream westernised conventional knowledge systems which are not adequately adaptable to indigenous settings. This kind of research is culturally safe and is anchored on the main pillars promoting better indigenous research by non-indigenous researchers. The principles of political integrity and emancipatory resistance privileges indigenous voices and encourages participation (Smith, 2013).

The control of data and information gotten from the conducted research should not be solely on the researcher but should also be credited to the community. The inclusion of indigenous people in the consultations and supervision, as well as other forms of involvement, not only gives them access to the generated information but also empowers them to do their research and deal with any cultural bias that a non-indigenous researcher may bring to the field. According to intellectual property laws developed in Australia and other parts of the world, cultural expressions and knowledge are guarded. It is, however, the responsibility of the researcher to ensure compliance, especially when researching humans (Mertens et al., 2013).

According to the scientific research, the western research paradigm has an uncomfortable relationship with indigenous research (Koster et al., 2012). This is so due to the western ethnocentric bias in representing the indigenous view of the world. Whereas such research is marred with colonial undertones, a non-indigenous researcher ought to exercise due respect for the people and be open to learning instead of investigating through Eurocentric paradigms. The need for self-determination for any human society is a basic need that should be accorded to the people.

The non-indigenous researcher should avoid cultural insensitivities and overexploitation of indigenous subjects through the use of inappropriate methodologies. The indigenous people should be considered equals and accorded utmost consideration of their perspectives and views. The emphasis on negative aspects in the research pathologises the people and degrades indigenous people. Therefore, the tendency to exhibit western prejudice by many outsiders can be a major impediment in undertaking a successful aboriginal research (Smith, 2013).

The establishment of agreements between the indigenous people and the researchers also prevents exploitation through enhancement of participation, indigenous interpretation, and ownership of information. Matters of acquiring passive consent are also controlled to improve the monitoring and participation. In this way, the common assertion here in Australia, stating that the indigenous research has imposed no positive impact on the target communities, can be remedied. The western ideology of misrepresenting the needs of the indigenous people is, in this case, replaced by the acceptable procedures, capable of delivering benefits to the subjects of research (Stefanelli et al., 2017). Therefore, the Australian research policy should be complemented by the active participation of the indigenous communities.

To promote inclusivity, system-oriented training should be administered to researchers undertaking these research to actualise the desired reforms. The ethical principles, as well as core values and standards established in this process, should not be countered by either the individual researchers or existing government policies. This cements the lasting partnerships between communities, organisations, and government while preventing community marginalisation as well as the eradication of colonial culture in the academic field (Stefanelli et al., 2017).

Lastly, an important factor is the need for cultural safety when conducting research. The non-indigenous researchers should not tamper with the communities' cultural norms. Instead, they should undergo an attitudinal change towards cultural diversity. The power imbalances between the research participants and the scholar should be recognised and respected to ensure cultural safety and better discourse (Lavallée & Leslie, 2016). This improves the regard for indigenous worldviews and acknowledges the need for self-determination in the process of human development.

In conclusion, no-indigenous scholars can and should be allowed to conduct indigenous research. However, due diligence and adherence to developed ethical codes of conduct should be exercised. In this way, the association of scholarly research with institutionalised racism and ethnocentrism can be wiped out. This goal gives high regard to cultural integrity and self-determination, which are essential to the development of any society. Additionally, the participation in research would be enhanced, which results in greater gains not only to the indigenous communities but also to the researcher.


Geia, L. K., Hayes, B., & Usher, K. (2013). Yarning/Aboriginal storytelling: towards an understanding of an Indigenous perspective and its implications for research practice. Contemporary nurse, 46(1), 13-17.

Goulding, D., Steels, B., & McGarty, C. (2016). A cross-cultural research experience: developing an appropriate methodology that respectfully incorporates both Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge systems. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 39(5), 783-801.

Guillemin, M., Gillam, L., Barnard, E., Stewart, P., Walker, H., & Rosenthal, D. (2016). “We’re checking them out”: Indigenous and non-Indigenous research participants’ accounts of deciding to be involved in research. International journal for equity in health, 15(1), 8.

Hill, R., & May, S. (2013). Non-indigenous researchers in indigenous language education: Ethical implications.

Koster, R., Baccar, K., & Lemelin, R. H. (2012). Moving from research ON, to research WITH and FOR Indigenous communities: A critical reflection on community‐based participatory research. The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe canadien, 56(2), 195-210.

Kovach, M. (2015). Emerging from the margins: Indigenous methodologies. Research as resistance: revisiting critical, Indigenous, and anti-oppressive approaches, 43.

Lavallée, L. F., & Leslie, L. A. (2016). The Ethics of University and Indigenous Research Partnerships. In University Partnerships for International Development (pp. 157-172). Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Mertens, D. M., Cram, F., & Chilisa, B. (Eds.). (2013). Indigenous pathways into social research: Voices of a new generation. Left Coast Press.

Smith, L. T. (2013). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books Ltd..

Stefanelli, R., Castleden, H., Cunsolo, A., Martin, D., Harper, S. L., & Hart, C. (2017). Canadian and Australian researchers' perspectives on promising practices for implementing indigenous and Western knowledge systems in water research and management. Water Policy, wp2017181.

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