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Whose land is it anyway?

Consultations ongoing for Indigenous research policy review


By Jeff Green

It has become common practice to begin events at Memorial with a land acknowledgment.

Dr. Paul Banahene Adjei smiles as he leans against a rail. He wears a maroon-coloured shirt with gold coloured stripes.
Dr. Paul Banahene Adjei is interim associate vice-president (Indigenous research) at Memorial.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Recognizing land is sacred to Indigenous Peoples, and Memorial is actively trying to determine how research can respectfully take place on lands traditionally belonging to diverse Indigenous groups.

That is where the university’s Research Impacting Indigenous Groups (RIIG) Policy comes into play.

Groundbreaking policy

Approved by Senate on June 9, 2020, and the Board of Regents on July 9, 2020, the policy is based on extensive consultations conducted in 2018 and 2019.

It is an invitation to look at research in Indigenous communities with a different lens and approach.

“Everything with an Indigenous community begins and ends with relationship.” — Dr. Paul Banahene Adjei

It is a call to shift from the existing colonial practice where researchers enter into Indigenous communities without prior relations and take whatever they want without following Indigenous protocols of engagement.

RIIG is a groundbreaking policy for Memorial with the intent and commitment of ensuring that all research impacting Indigenous communities, cultures and lands be grounded in ethical and respectful conduct.

“If the RIIG Policy is to be summed up in three words, it will be relationship, relationship, relationship,” said Dr. Paul Banahene Adjei, interim associate vice-president (Indigenous research).

It sounds simplistic, but for Dr. Adjei, “everything with an Indigenous community begins and ends with relationship.”

This explains why the policy insists researchers make respectful community engagement the central pillar of all research impacting Indigenous groups and to pay particular attention to Indigenous protocols of engagement.

Community consultations ongoing

The RIIG Policy has been in operation for the last 24 months.

However, given that it is one of a kind in Canada, it was decided at the formation stage the policy would be subjected to review after 18 months.

Dr. Adjei describes the whole process as “building a plane while still flying it because we are after the improvement — and not after the perfection — of the policy.”

Since June, he has been leading a two-phased consultation plan, meeting with targeted internal and external stakeholders to gather input and ideas, with plenty of the same in store for the rest of the fall.

“We are coming back to the drawing board and reflecting on how Memorial’s policy is impacting researchers and community partners.”

He has met with some Indigenous leaders on the West Coast; members of the Nunatsiavut Government in Nain; and community and government leaders in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

“We want everybody to see and hear themselves within the policy.” — Dr. Paul Banahene Adjei

Internally, Dr. Adjei consulted with executives of the Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association; grant facilitators; and employees within units such as Science, Business Administration, Humanities and Social Sciences, Graduate Studies, Pharmacy and the Interdisciplinary Committee on Ethics in Human Research and at the Marine Institute and Grenfell Campus.

He assembled an internal working group to review input received during phase one of the consultations and to revise the policy accordingly.

“The general feedback so far is how can we focus on the original intent and spirit of the policy, that is, enabling and facilitating respectful community engagement in all aspects of research impacting Indigenous groups?”

Decolonized approach

Dr. Adjei says there has been a fair bit of conversation and questions focused on something called agreement in principle (AIP).

AIP basically asks: Have you started such conversations in the research community with community partners?”

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

Read more about agreement in principle here.

Further feedback

Phase two of the consultation process will provide an opportunity for more internal and external stakeholders to review the final draft policy documents before it is brought to the President’s Advisory Team, Senate and the Board of Regents for approval.

Open consultations will occur during phase two.

A specific schedule will be developed at the conclusion of the revision process.

“For the policy to achieve its desired outcome, every stakeholder needs to have a voice,” Dr. Adjei said. “We want everybody to see and hear themselves within the policy.”

“I will be travelling to the communities on the West Coast and Labrador again to hear from them and their ideas.”

Members of the university community and external stakeholders are invited to review the current policy.

Comments can be submitted via email. The current policy will remain in place until a revised one is approved.

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