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Indigenist Ethnography

My journey to Chisasibi and doctoral studies happened by way of Nemaska, where, after completing my MA, I lived and worked for three years. In 2005 I was hired by the Nemaska Band to help build a case for an alternative to the Rupert River diversion, a 800 MW hydroelectric project, and study the socio-cultural components of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). I accompanied the group of concerned Nemaska members and supporters from other Cree communities in their various strategies to make their case such as a 100km snowshoe walk, submissions to the EIA panels, interventions at the Annual General Assembly, and even traditional ceremonies. When the gates were finally closed on November 9, 2009 I wondered how embodied and subjective experiences of resource development can be expressed in a way that articulates dissidence and still preserves, if not harmonious, at least cordial social relationships. As my friend Bertie Whapachee explains below, the implications for challenging the established ‘official’ orthodoxy can very well be destabilizing. By insisting on a Cree split, the Nation’s negotiating power can be jeopardised. By exposing their personal stories of resistance, Cree individuals may lose some friends and make new enemies.

While I set out to explore what Cree youth can teach about development decisions in Eeyou Istchee I constantly worried that my research intervention will foster increased local tensions, a potential impact that was unacceptable. We often forget (or fail to acknowledge) that researchers are not abstract ‘things’; they are individuals with specific life experiences who belong to particular, cultural, social, economic and political worlds. In addition to the academic ethos, these personal experiences and characteristics bring a set of biases, purposes, and assumptions that influence the interpersonal encounters of research, the framing of research questions and the final products. The intervention in the lives of others should thus be guided by the understanding that research is essentially a constellation of relationships that are intimate and dynamic. Hence, for knowledge production to be genuine these relationships should be characterized by care, sensitivity and respect.

Indigenous scholar Shawn Wilson defines “research by and for Aboriginal peoples” as a “ceremony that brings relationships together” through a commitment to relational accountability and engaged scholarship. Relational accountability’ includes at the same time an aspiration for social justice ‘in the world at large’ and sharing of authority in the intimate encounter of the interview or “sharing the power going into these new connections”. Engaged scholarship in Indigenous contexts leads to developing long-term community-based collaborative research that foregrounds local knowledges and responds to community priorities. Such approach is always evolving and unpredictable requiring, what psychologist Henry Greenspan (2015) calls ‘creative improvisation’ to make possible the “hard work of working hard together” (p, 156).

In establishing an Indigenist research paradigm based on commitment to self-reflexivity and self-transformation, as well as on solidarity that has decolonization as ‘common interest’, the values that underline this research were co-developed with the Chisasibi collaborators: the Chisasibi Miyupimaatisiun (Wellness) Committee and the Nishiiyuu Department; in particular Larry House, Eddie Pash, William Bearskin, Mary Louise Snowboy, Linda Bearskin, Karen Napash and Sam W. Gull. These values are:

Practically this has meant that I paid attention to the youth's reflections on identity and empowerment which emphasized the intersection between complex healing discourses and Indigenous autonomy at home. Thus, following the co-defined Indigenist ethnography, I opted to take a strength based approach, placing emphasis on the mechanisms, processes, skills and knowledge that community members already employ and nurture; in this case reframing my research to explore the concept of healing as means for decolonization.

reference References

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12. Wilson, S. (2009). Research Is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods. Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing.