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Decolonizing Research Methods

This mornings #teachingstuesday is being offered by Fancy Poitras of Mikisew Cree Nation in Treaty 8 Territory. Fancy shares:

"Last year, I was asked to present at an ethics conference, and I delivered one arguing the necessity of Indigenous Cultural Safety as an ethical framework for health care workers.

As typically happens at academic conferences, attendees provided an evaluation afterward, and I received some feedback, one piece of which I continue to reflect on. And it’s not the kind of response you might think.

Sure, I had “that one person” in the audience who rated the presentation lower seemingly because it didn’t deliver what they wanted (READ: quick and easy answers), but I ignore that because that’s way more about where they are at on their Truth and Reconciliation journey than my need to improve the content. I view this feedback as being someone who may need me to reach out and be an at-the-elbow coach.

No, it’s something far more interesting.

One of the questions asked attendees to indicate if the presenter showed any bias. A handful of attendees responded yes…

…but that the bias I presented from was positive for the learners’ experiences…

For those who ventured to note my bias, they understood that it came from a place of lived experience—be it my own or what’s been shared with me by my Indigenous friends and family. Another person noted that my bias was an asset to the presentation, while a third person indicated that it made the presentation interesting.

I don’t spend a lot of time in academic or research circles these days, but if I harken back to my graduate studies days, I remember that bias was generally viewed as bad. We were warned about it in our courses and how to avoid it in our submissions.

So…why is it a positive or asset here? I realized it’s because some research needs new biases built in.

The breakthrough moment came in the wee small hours of the day while I was laying in bed, listening to my husband snore and fight off my cat’s incessant lobbying for food (much like the majority of my posts and ideas)—Bias in the academic tradition is a colonial construct, and it was consciously or unconsciously pushed as a way to diminish the value of ways of knowing that don’t satisfy colonialist definitions of knowledge. And damn if the next step isn’t realizing that Colonial biases are baked right in to the epistemology in a way that robs learners of understanding and embracing relationality.

insert a Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan “Whoa” here

If you are following me, you see how it becomes necessary to decolonize research methodologies and practices. It’s time to rethink our understanding of bias and how it is taught in social sciences as it relates to race, ethnicity, culture, justice, and understanding of equity.

Think of it as being parallel to the problem of being “colour blind”, sociologically speaking: you know how you are hearing these days that it’s no longer acceptable to be “colour blind”? That’s because colour-blindness leads adherents to be blind to racism and all of the challenges it still presents to people of colour—it erases the ongoing lived experience of people of colour, and lets adherents consciously or unconsciously ignore the daily challenges, microaggressions and barriers people of colour face. You need to see me and see how my non-white identity can lead to things being harder for me in a system designed more for you.

Well, you need to think about bias in the social sciences in a similar way; research epistemologies are biased in favour of a way of knowing that comes from a Eurocentric tradition. It creates the space to make it okay not to see other ways of knowing. It dismisses or downplays other ways of knowing, and you are therefore stuck in the same framework, missing very important perspectives that are being shared from non-white communities.

And now that I’ve had my “a-ha” moment, I will continue to present my bias with the assurance that I’m reaching some people and hopefully moving the dial a little."

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