Working with Indigenous Communities

0) Many of these principles can be applied elsewhere: take special precautions with ALL vulnerable populations, always consider local needs in your research design, etc.

1) Understanding the concept of "non-state society" is important.

2) Oldest research paradigms was to treat them as "objects of inquiry." Later "Cultural preservation" (aka "Salvation anthropology") was also rejected:

• During colonialism, authenticity used as excuse to jail "bad natives" who did not stay on "reservations," "bantustans", etc.

• Cultural preservation was used in South Africa as excuse for apartheid (Adam Kuper). See also "The Gods Must be Crazy but the Producers Know Exactly what they are doing."

• Static "authenticity" used to discredit indigenous civil rights movements, land claims, contemporary artists, etc.

3) Respect is the "primary law" for many indigneous groups. Sometimes indigenous informants start with a holocaust story: listen; be patient.

4) Do your homework: its not their job to teach you things you can learn by studying. Conversely, don't claim expertise above their own.

5) Take care with terminology: "Navajo Nation" not "Navajo Tribe." But "Navajo" means "enemy"--in their language they are "Diné". Never use "tribe" in Africa (rather use "society" or "culture" or "civilization"). When in doubt, ask!

6) We can conduct research in ways that contribute to indigneous needs and rights through careful collaboration: work with people who are recognized in the community (eg via educational or other institutions); hire an interpreter or student aid if you can afford it.

Additional Information:

Research Ethics with Indigenous Groups (AAG)

The Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Chronology

Indigenous Peoples and International Human Rights (bibliography)

Back to Ron Eglash home page