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Building relationships for research in Nunatsiavut
Megan Bailey (MAP Professor) and Rachael Cadman (PhD Student) traveled to Happy Valley/Goose Bay in late April. They were there to attend the Labrador Research Forum, and to meet with research partners to lay the foundations for their upcoming collaborative research in Nunatsiavut.
The week began with meeting potential partners of the project. The partners include the Torngat Wildlife, Plants and Fisheries Secretariat, the Nunatsiavut Government Department of Lands and Natural Resources and members of the communities. The meetings were an opportunity to build relationships and start scoping a project to create a vision for the future of commercial fisheries in Nunatsiavut.
Rather than being specific to a discipline, the Labrador Research Forum is thematically organized around the Labrador region, making the proceedings truly interdisciplinary. This afforded an opportunity to see the wide range of research that is taking place in Labrador, including work in biology, health, social science and library and information sciences.
While all of the research was engaging, one of the major themes that emerged during the conference was on respectful and non-exploitative methods for conducting research in Indigenous spaces.
Conference participants emphasized the importance of doing research that is of benefit to the community. Researchers must approach communities to ask them their needs and priorities for research to ensure that Indigenous perspectives are central to the project. Centering Indigenous perspectives transfers power from the hands of the researcher into the control of the community. This allows the communities to structure the project according to their needs and priorities.
During the Forum, several panels of Inuit researchers, community members and elders pointed out that any researcher coming into the community from the outside should be asking: What does your community need? What do you want to know? The research methods must be highly participatory and iterative to reflect the needs of the community, and that the knowledge and practical benefits arising from research be delivered directly back to the community.
In order to do research that is reflexive, iterative and community-driven, the person collecting information must be embedded in the location of the research. This is true for practical reasons; participatory research should be evaluated and community-reviewed on a regular basis to make sure that it is true to the collective vision. Staying in the community makes this type of back-and-forth communication possible and builds better trust relationships between the researcher and the community. It is also important for the researcher to understand the complexities of a lived, place-based experience within the Indigenous community.
Above all, participants emphasized the need for researchers to maintain a humility that is usually foreign to academics and to settlers – to understand that research is not always needed. Researchers must recognize that they do not know what communities need, or how to address problems they may have. The researcher’s job is to listen, and to understand that their presence is not an intervention in the community, as much as it is capacity building.
The Labrador Research Forum was an enjoyable and humbling experience, and Megan and Rachael are looking forward to what promises to be a productive research project with their new partners in Nunatisavut.
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