First Nations and Métis

Research in Saskatchewan:

5 R's of Indigenous Research


We sat down with three Saskatchewan NEIHR Principal Investigators to talk about the five R’s of Indigenous research and why they are significant for researchers, and First Nations and Métis people in Saskatchewan. The insights shared by the following First Nations, Métis, and allied researchers are meant as a guide to help researchers start to think about important aspects of co-creating research projects with First Nations and Métis communities in Saskatchewan.

If you are interested in doing research with First Nations or Métis communities in Saskatchewan, or Indigenous communities elsewhere, it is crucial that you, the researcher, first consider your approach. Research with community partners is complex, and there are lots of factors to consider to help ensure that your work is ethical and safe for both community members and researchers. This Q & A with SK-NEIHR's experienced and community-engaged researchers gives insight into how to approach research with First Nations and Métis communities in Saskatchewan.   

Who are you, where are you from, and what is your relationship to the SK-NEIHR?

“I’m Carrie LaVallie, a third-generation settler from Saskatoon. I am a PI on the NEIHR.”

"My name is wapiska kiniw / White Eagle / Jaris Swidrovich. I am status First Nations from Yellow Quill First Nation (Treaty 4, SK) and Ukrainian and have spent most of my life in Saskatoon (Treaty 6 / Métis Homelands, SK), although I am currently living in Tkaronto (Treaty 13, Toronto, ON). I am a pharmacist and Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto and I am one of the Principal Investigators with the Saskatchewan NEIHR.”

Heather Foulds, I’m Métis, from Bresaylor and Langmeade, Saskatchewan, and I am currently a Principal Investigator with the Saskatchewan NEIHR.”


What does Respect mean for those looking to participate in Indigenous research?

Carrie: In general, the term respect means valuing the other person’s opinion, behaviour, or belief, even if I disagree with it. Within research, it goes much deeper than merely valuing; it means holding a belief that together, we are co-creating new knowledge. Together, we are sharing ourselves, making connections, and using all ways of knowing to move something forward. Respect is therefore shown first by holding the belief that we are relationship. That what everyone has to say is important. Then, it is honouring that relationship through gift-giving. When someone honours the other person’s input, knowledge, or time, that someone should offer a token of appreciation to the other person. This might be done through a small offering (swag, tobacco, food), something that the person needs (gas money, gift certificate, etc.), or something larger such as an honorarium.

Jaris: Although respect means many things, what stands out for me is inclusivity and honouring protocol, ceremony, and practices.

Heather: The underlying tenant is relationality. Within the relationship you have you are working together. A crucial component of the relationship is equal partnership; I am respecting who I am working with as an equal partner, not treating them as someone within a hierarchical power dynamic.


In First Nations research and/or Métis research, how do you make research Relevant to First Nations or Métis communities?

Carrie: The call for research should come from the community, tapping into cultural catalysts, or from an expression of need through other research, analysis, or public desire. The researcher should be open to allowing the research to move in the direction that is needed. Relevance is listening to the participants, stakeholders, and community in co-creating knowledge that is of benefit for community members and researchers. Academics tend to choose research that suits their needs as opposed to those of the participants. Relevance is moving past research for the sake of research and constructing research that has meaning to everyone.

Jaris: Research is only relevant to First Nations and/or Métis communities if the research question and the research itself is led by or co-created with the community.

Heather: Making research relevant to First Nations and Métis communities comes back to that element of relationality: if research is guided by what community members want, it will be relevant and useful to them. This is a key consideration, because what I think may not be useful to the community, so taking direction from the community you are working with is very important. For example, with a jigging project I did, I sent out a survey inquiring what community was interested in. I thought they might be interested in jigging’s impact on cholesterol, but their input told me that they were more interested in jigging’s connection to things like balance and memory.


In Indigenous research, what is the Responsibility of the researcher in the researcher-community dynamic?

Carrie: When one believes that we are all connected, that we are relationship (not in relationship, but as relationship) then there is an ownership of ensuring what is done is respectful, relevant, and reciprocal. This goes beyond the duty of completing the research. Once the research is finished, the researcher remains accountable for what is presented, how participants were treated, and what might come next for the work needed. Researchers in academic circles grapple with the debate of whether research is only challenging or supporting theories or whether research should also be purposeful. Responsibility within a community dynamic is the duty to ensure the research is also useful, and those relationships are taken care of past the end of the study. Additionally, researchers are responsible for answering the call from the ancestors and cultural catalysts to move research forward. Three generations before, three generations after. Five generations before, five generations after. Seven generations before, seven generations after. These words have meaning about responsibility.

Jaris: I think that in the researcher-community dynamic, the researcher is co-responsible for ensuring that this dynamic remains in place from beginning to end (if there is an end!). I don’t believe in any sense of hierarchy in this relationship and, therefore, see all responsibilities as shared.

Heather: I have an extra layer of responsibility to my community, so I have to make sure that what I am doing is what’s best for the community and not just my career and research, taking direction from community and being responsible in making sure that the community is able to benefit from the research.


How do researchers incorporate Reciprocity into their work with First Nations, Métis, and other Indigenous communities?

Carrie: Reciprocity is often difficult for researchers who do not embrace that we are all connected. Academic researchers are typically taught that they are an elite group, that they are “the experts.” That they are seeking “truth” and should not fall prey to becoming one with the participants. When the researcher believes that we are all relationship, that we respect all ways of knowing, that we have a responsibility to the participants, and that the work is relevant, then it is easy to demonstrate reciprocity. Reciprocity is believing that both the researcher and the participants are sharing knowledge, co-creating new knowledge, and learning from each other. The researcher is learning about the participants, the concepts under study, and, most importantly, themselves. There is a give and take, a sharing of exploration and curiosity. The researcher can no longer come in and take the information. They experience and receive information and an understanding of the phenomena under study as well.

Jaris: Indigenous research is not possible without reciprocity. Not only must participants and communities be remunerated for their time and investment, but the participants and communities should receive benefit from the research. In other words, the research should not harm Indigenous participants or communities.

Heather: A collaborative approach naturally builds in reciprocity. Pursuing a project that’s valuable and useful to the community and circling back and sharing with community in appropriate ways is all part of reciprocity. Ultimately, reciprocity is engrained in the relationship because of the ways in which the researcher is working with the community.


Relationship is the fifth R in Indigenous research why is it important, and how is it included?

Carrie: I would argue that Indigenous Research is founded upon Relationship. Within Relationship, there are 5 Rs that one must follow – Respect, Reciprocity, Responsibility, Relevance, and Reflexivity. Reflexivity is exploring how the researcher has changed because of the research done. How is the researcher different because of what they experienced through the process? Including the researcher in the analysis as opposed to keeping them as unbiased observers supports the notion that we are all relationship. Relationship is important because an ontology that we are all connected, and epistemology that there are multiple ways of knowing that are locally based and steeped in figurative language, creates the basis for co-constructing new knowledge together. Relationship is all we are.

Jaris: Relationships are foundational to everything, including Indigenous research. Relationships are important in research to ensure co-creation and avoid paternalism in the research design, practice, and dissemination. If there is no relationship between the researcher(s) and the person, people, and/or community(ies) “being researched,” then it is not Indigenous research.

Heather: Having a relationship is the seed that everything starts from. You have to know who you’re working with; you have to know who your partner is; you have to be able to communicate and work together. The relationship is the foundation on which everything is built.

For more information on conducting community-based research, see the blogs and webinars on the SK-NEIHR website.

Fore more information on the Saskatchewan NEIHR'S available knowledge translation and community support funding, click here.