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‘Do the right thing’

Good intentions, surprising moments: Indigenous research policy review

Research

By Jeff Green

Comments for Memorial’s revised Research Impacting Indigenous Groups (RIIG) draft policy are being accepted until the end of 2023.

A draft was released for open review and feedback earlier this fall. The document is available here.

Dr. Paul Banahene Adjei, a Black man in his early 50s, leans on a reflective wall while smiling.
Dr. Paul Banahene Adjei, associate vice-president (Indigenous research).
Photo: RICH BLENKINSOPP

Part of a two-phased approach to review the policy for de-colonization and responsible research, this second phase seeks feedback to refine the policy and inform related processes.

The review is being led by Dr. Paul Banahene Adjei, associate vice-president (Indigenous research), at Memorial.

The Gazette spoke with Dr. Adjei to learn about the consultations and why it is important to review the policy.

JG: How did phase one of the consultations go?

PA: It was really positive. People were frank and shared their experiences.

They also told us why they thought it was important to update the policy.

As part of our first phase, we met with external groups, including Indigenous communities in the province and groups internal here at Memorial.

Design featuring blue, green, red, yellow and orange colours along with the words We are listening Indigenous research policy review

These people took the time to meet with us, share their ideas and submit comments.

We heard multiple perspectives and learned about expectations for an Indigenous research policy.

JG: What happened after you collected this feedback?

PA: Two distinct groups, the RIIG policy working group and an informal Indigenous advisory group, helped us reflect on the feedback.

There was deliberate and careful consideration of all of the feedback, and we looked at how to incorporate changes for the revised draft that’s now available for comments.

These groups have been there with us, discussed changes and helped us weave together all of the feedback to ensure Indigenous-based research can happen in a responsible way.

We reflected on every comment and suggestion in the revision and, where we couldn’t include feedback in the revision, we needed a justified rationale for why it was left out.

JG: Why was it important for Memorial to do this policy review?

PA: When Memorial introduced the RIIG policy in June 2020, we were innovators in the sense that we were the first university to have such a policy in Canada.

So, we were operating with no point of reference in the Canadian context.

It felt like, to use the words of Dr. Kathy de Jong from the School of Social Work, “we were flying a plane while still building it.”

Except this time, we were flying it through a storm; the storm being, of course, the COVID pandemic.

“It is a policy that . . . provides clarity about what is expected of researchers when engaging in Indigenous research.”

Even though we had this new policy, we were not able to do the necessary education and training due to the many challenges caused by the pandemic.

We also knew that the RIIG policy was unique and different and that we’d have to revisit it roughly 18 months after its initial launch.

We are not looking for the perfect policy, but a policy that can encourage and enable Indigenous research in a respectful way.

It is a policy that’s actionable and provides clarity about what is expected of researchers when engaging in Indigenous research.

With our revised draft, we’re clarifying things such as the policy’s principles, scope and definition of Indigenous research.

This includes changing the title of the policy to Research Involving Indigenous Groups, replacing the original Research Impacting Indigenous Groups.

JG: Has there been a meaningful moment during the consultations?

PA: There’s a desire among researchers to do the right thing but sometimes they don’t know the best way to do it.

In many ways, this is something positive to take from the consultation process. Our researchers want to take the right steps at the right times.

We know many Indigenous communities are forming better relationships with researchers, and vice versa, because of the policy.

Our researchers are our ambassadors and they represent Memorial in our communities.

Through the RIIG policy, we want to improve relationship building.

The policy helps us take actionable steps in reconciliation. But beyond the impact of the policy on improving Indigenous relations, it also makes a better researcher.

JG: What’s the next step?

PA: Over the next several weeks, we will continue to receive feedback on the revised draft.

We are listening and want to hear from our stakeholders. We will incorporate edits.

In phase two, we are meeting with members of the university and wider communities, allowing them to review the draft policy.

Ultimately, the policy will be brought to the President’s Executive Council, Senate and the Board of Regents for final approval.

I thank everyone who has helped shape the initial policy, who championed the policy and really pushed the university in this new direction.

JG: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

PA: There is a saying among my people that “those who forget the language of gratitude can never be at peace with happiness.”

This is why I need to thank a few people who have supported the journey up to this point.

“My African elders have a saying, “A big head is only heavy if the neck carrying it is weak.”

First, I’d like to say a special thank you to Dr. Max Liboiron, the inaugural associate vice-president (Indigenous research) for starting this important work; Violet Ford, the former associate vice-president (Indigenous research) for holding the fort and keeping the policy alive until the revision date.

Second, I thank President Neil Bose; Dr. Tana Allen, vice-president (research); Catharyn Andersen, vice-president (Indigenous); and members of the President Executive Council, who played a key supporting role in the revision.

Third, I thank members of the working group, the Indigenous advisory group and the staff of the Office of Vice-President (Research) for helping with the process.

Finally, I thank Indigenous chiefs, elders and Indigenous community partners, vice-presidents, deans, directors, MUNFA executives, faculty, staff and administrators at Grenfell, Labrador and St. John’s campuses for hosting me as well as offering constructive feedback for the revisions.

My African elders have a saying, “A big head is only heavy if the neck carrying it is weak.”

The task of revising the policy became less heavy because of the support these individuals provided. I am forever grateful.

Dr. Adjei will host a final brown bag session of the RIIG policy consultations on Wednesday, Dec. 6, from 12-1 p.m., in room IIC-3001, Bruneau Centre for Research and Innovation, St. John’s campus or online via Webex.

In-person attendance is limited. To RSVP, or request the login instructions, please email by Dec. 4.


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