Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People

I had the opportunity to read a book over the summer that my mom had let me borrow. Surprisingly, parts of this book is also being used in some of my women’s studies courses. This is my first time taking a women’s studies course but this is not the first time I have practiced feminism or worked with feminist theories. I like to identify myself as an Indigenous feminist which happened recently (around the beginning of my first year of university). In college, I resisted the term feminism because there was nothing within “mainstream” feminism that I could relate to as an Indigenous person/woman.

This book is a really interesting book and for me, it was empowering. This book was written by Linda Tuhiwai Smith, an Indigenous woman herself. In the beginning of the book, she sets out the tone of the book and her position in relation to writing it, and also her position in relation to talking about research. It is empowering because she writes from her voice as if she is speaking to you from one Indigenous woman to another. This is not to say that those who are not Indigenous women should not read it or that they won’t gain anything from reading this book. That is in fact the opposite.

She spends a great deal of time talking about colonialism, imperialism and how it is intricately connected to the Enlightenment era. As an Indigenous person, I never felt comfortable with the Enlightenment era but I could never figure out why. Briefly speaking, Smith discusses how the Enlightenment era had from challenging the systems of the time (religion/king & queen) to create more opposing systems. In that, the Enlightenment era created time, space, and the Other. The creation of time, space, and the Other is important to Colonialism and Imperialism (for what seems like obvious reasons to me as an Indigenous person but I could never explain so easily until I read this book) because it starts to document history as seen through the eyes of the Colonizer and that the search for truth had to be met with discovery of lands and the creation of the Other in order to conquer those lands.

After writing about the history of how Western research is related to imperialism and colonialism, Smith goes onto talk about other forms of colonization. I recommend that other types of feminists read this book as well because I feel as an Indigenous feminist, my voice and my experiences which are also a collective experience can sometimes be silenced by the voices of other more privileged feminists especially those who come from a white, middle to upper class, heterosexual, Christian, educated background. Smith talks about how in various Indigenous cultures women are seen equal to men and she talks about how both groups work together with their male counterparts; males are not always oppressive.

She ends the book of discussing various types of Indigenous research and how research can avoid being oppressive and colonizing to Indigenous peoples. Unfortunately, some of these practices are not always accepted by all institutions universally. Smith concludes her book on various critiques of Western research, discusses feminist analyses, and the validity and extension of knowledge (ie-whose knowledge is it once the research is done and Indigenous knowledge belongs to Indigenous peoples).

Overall this book is a must read for anyone involved in feminism, research, or would like to be empowered by the voice of another Indigenous speaking to you as an Indigenous person. This is a book that speaks to examples of lived experiences of Indigenous peoples and how research can be oppressive and colonizing. In my new journey of obtaining a minor in women’s studies and for the first time having decolonization conceptualized for me in an institutionalized manner, all I have to say is that for Indigenous peoples, decolonization is nothing new; we’ve been attempting to decolonize since colonization.

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