In the history of Indigenous peoples here and abroad, research has often lead to the outright theft of knowledge and/or sacred objects, and even of human remains. It has sometimes also expressed contemptuous and even racist attitudes. Research has often served the interests of colonization and discriminatory policies in various countries. For these reasons, Indigenous peoples have reflected on ways to decolonize research and thus use it to bring about change in line with improving the well being of their peoples and taking charge of their future.

In the province of Quebec, two key publications discuss research ethics: one published by the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador and the other by Quebec Native Women (refer to the Reference List).

Three research ethics issues will be discussed here: consent, confidentiality and healing.

Who is consulted? Who provides consent?

When setting out to do research, should the band council always be consulted? Is it enough to consult it? What should you do if the band council refuses? Should you consult or obtain consent from other groups in the community? How do you obtain consent from research participants?

There is a difference between consultation and giving information. Consultation goes beyond giving information and it involves a more active role from the person or organization being consulted. Basically, in a consultation there is an openness to modify the initial project, which is not the case when strictly giving information. Free and informed means consultation occurs only after full disclosure of all information relating to the project was given and no pressure was applied to obtain a decision leaning one way or the other. However, this does not imply a total commitment, for instance to complete a project or research should a disagreement arise. A commitment is made to accommodate.
Consent implies agreement, approval. It is  more binding than consultation. It is also free and informed.

Consent is not obtained once and for all: “The person must know the researcher’s objectives before committing to the project. This means the participant should be able to give informed consent at each stage of the project. It is not enough to get permission at the beginning, to file it away and then forget about it. Finally, measures must be taken to protect the anonymity of individuals and the confidentiality of the information transmitted.”1

Factors to consider: it might be helpful to refer to the consent form template from the Protocol of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador and assess if it is possible to use. If it is not applicable to the context of a given research project, you will have to reflect on the best way to obtain consent. This can vary from community to community. You will also have to write a consent form adapted to the reality of the proposed project.

[1]  Jean-Pierre Deslauriers, Recherche qualitative, guide pratique, Mc Graw Hill, 1991

What is confidentiality in a community setting?

What should be shared and what should not be shared? Interview participants usually prefer that their opinions not be attributed to them, that is, that no one knows they were the ones who said those words. How can information be shared while maintaining the confidentiality of the people who communicated it and who do not want to be identified? In a small community, confidentiality can be a real challenge because everyone knows each other and rumours spread quickly. This is especially an issue with group interviews. So how can potential problems be prevented?
With regards to the information gathered, once processed, what should you do with it? If the different interviews, meetings or sharing circles are recorded, should tapes or video that could make possible the identification of a person or people be destroyed? Does the consent obtained at the outset extend all the way to dissemination? How should you proceed if you would like to publish testimonies?

There are no easy answers to these questions. Even though the texts discussed in the next heading are helpful, a discussion concerning the specific situation in each community and for each research project remains crucial (for methodologies, refer to the section specifically dealing with confidentiality).

The Research Protocol by the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador and the Guidelines for Research with Aboriginal Women by Quebec Native Women (QNW).

OCAP (Ownership, Control, Access and Possession) are the principles developed by Indigenous peoples and integrated into the Research Protocol by the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador and into the Guidelines for Research with Aboriginal Women by Quebec Native Women (QNW). The QNW “Guidelines” are adapted to the reality of women, they state the various steps that should be included in all research and provide a checklist of question to verify before undertaking anything. They are in accordance with the Indigenous principles set out previously (refer to the section on Indigenous Principles).

These principles apply to all research conducted in Indigenous communities. But should ownership of data, control of data or of research, access to data and its possession go to band councils, Quebec Native Women or to the community’s women’s groups?

Women are at the centre of your project. They are the key players and must be regarded as such at every step. The information gathered is the collective intellectual property of women working for women’s rights. But what about other community bodies?

Factors to consider: carefully read both the QNW Guidelines and the OCAP principles adapted to women. Consider the steps and the proposed verification checklist.

Healing and Spirituality

Often during a research project, for example while conducting interviews, individual or collective wounds can resurface. These can come from personal experiences or were caused more generally by a history of collective discrimination and colonization, or from experiences of discrimination and/or violence lived individually by participants.
It is the responsibility of the researcher to ensure people are not left alone with their pain. This does not mean the team has to directly take charge of everything. But a strategy must be in place to ensure that the experience of women expressing their reality be enriching and liberating rather than painful and depressing. It is important that different means be made available to make this possible.

Spiritually can be an effective way to face this kind of situation and set in motion a healing process. The approach should be comprehensive and holistic: it is therefore recommended to end all reflection with healing practices to come full circle and close the wounds that may have opened. The discussion should also end with positive words gathered from the information confided by the participants.

It might be important to contact beforehand health and social services resources in the community.

Factors to consider: consider and anticipate the possible wounds that could reopen during interviews or group meetings. Consider the different strategies possible depending on the communities.

Fully understand the principles of ownership, control, access and possession, and ensure they are all fully integrated into the research process;

Obtain the consent of participants and of relevant authorities;
Maintain people’s confidentiality while being transparent with the research and results;

Maintain confidentiality beyond the research’s completion (data destruction), while ensuring that authorities and all participants have control over and ownership of results;

Ensure the research does not reopen wounds without first having a strategy in place for healing.