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True partnerships

The importance of Indigenous community engagement for research


By Jeff Green

As Memorial leads a review of its Research Impacting Indigenous Groups (RIIG) Policy, one of the common questions asked during consultations focuses on agreement in principle (AIP).

Dr. Paul Banahene Adjei, interim associate vice-president (Indigenous research), uses a proverb from Akans of Ghana to explain what AIP means in the RIIG Policy.

Cautionary tale

“The Akan elders say, one does not pluck off feathers from a bird before asking elders to identify it,” he explained during a recent conversation.

Such behaviour, he notes, “is not only disrespectful, but also impossible to get the right answer from elders.”

The Akan proverb is a cautionary tale to researchers against the existing colonial practice where researchers decide on their own what they want to do (research idea), go ahead to secure funds and then approach Indigenous communities expecting them to be research partners.

Such an approach is tantamount to plucking off feathers from a bird and expecting communities to identify it.

AIP basically asks: Have you started such conversations in the research community with community partners?” — Dr. Paul Banahene Adjei

Dr. Adjei says a decolonized interpretation to respectful community engagement is to ensure that Indigenous communities are engaged throughout the research cycle of the research — from the conception of a research idea to the implementation and completion of  the research.

Indigenous communities must be engaged on questions around what is research, who and what in the community will be engaged in the research, when and how the data will be collected, stored, protected, used and shared in partnership and who could have access to the research outcome in accordance with Indigenous priorities.

AIP basically asks: Have you started such conversations in the research community with community partners?” noted Dr. Adjei. “The community needs to see themselves as true partners and we need to decolonize the whole notion of what community engagement means. Indigenous communities need to be part of the conversation from the beginning. As clearly articulated by the Maori people of New Zealand, ‘Nothing about us without us.’”

Dr. Adjei says AIP is a way of holding researchers accountable to their commitments of engaging communities impacted by the research outcomes.

Memorial is currently leading a two-phased consultation plan to review its Research Impacting Indigenous Groups (RIIG) Policy with internal and external stakeholders.

Read more about the process here.

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