The Co-Create Collaborative 

A Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development Blog Post

March 2024

By: Charleen Fisher, PhD

Gwich’in Introduction

Drin Gwinzii! Shoozhrii Charleen Fisher, PhD oozhii. Beaver, Alaska gwats’an ihlii. Shii Dinjii zhuh oozhii Daazhrąįį. Assistant Professor Department of Alaska Native Studies ts’à’ Rural Development ihlii. 

English Introduction

Good day! My name is Charleen Fisher, PhD. I am from Beaver, Alaska. My native name is Daazhrąįį. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development. 

This DANSRD Blog post shares about the Co-Create Collaborative and the work they do to contribute to and highlight ethical norms for working with Indigenous people in the circumpolar north. The group are like minded individuals who work together when it is important to do so. 

The Co-Create Collaborative is an unstructured group of Indigenous rights holders and Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers who come together to write papers, organize and host workshops and presentations, and meet to share knowledge. I have worked with this group on several projects and will share about them here, please feel free to access the links and cite as you see fit. 

January 2022 (published paper) – Shaping Arctic’s Tomorrow through Indigenous Knowledge Engagement and Knowledge Co-Production

Shaping Arctic’s Tomorrow through Indigenous Knowledge Engagement and Knowledge Co-Production

This Sustainability, 2022, 14(3) 1331 publication is a foundational article that was worked on by researchers in 2021 and published in January of 2022. This paper advocated for co-creation or co-production of knowledge with Indigenous people and non-Indigenous researchers to be a priority and made recommendations for practical steps to be taken.

June 2022 (published paper) – Improving the Relationships between Indigenous rights holders and researchers in the Arctic: an invitation for change in funding and collaboration

Improving the relationships between Indigenous rights holders and researchers in the Arctic: an invitation for change in funding and collaboration – IOPscience

This article recommends strategies for transformative ways to integrate ethical research for meaningful collaboration in the area of research funding. There were 10 co-authors including Indigenous researchers and allies from the circumpolar north and Europe. The paper was published in Environmental Research Letters, Vol 17, No. 6 on June 10, 2022. The introduction was written by advocate Elle Merete Omma and highlights the Sápmi experience. This paper is steeped in helpful references and has a table with clear recommendations to research funders.

July 2022 (workshop) – Gwich’in fur mitten workshop & need for collaboration in research

Gwich’in fur mitten making and the need for collaboration in research

I was lucky enough to participate in a summer workshop in Potsdam, Germany with the Co-Create Collaborative. I held a workshop about identity, sewing, and research from an Indigenous perspective with co-create members and other people affiliated with the Research Institute for Sustainability – Helmholtz-Centre Potsdam (RIFS). I shared a presentation, my sewing and then we worked on a beading project.

November 2022 (presentation) – CRCD Research Speaker Series

CRCD Research Speaker Series: Dr. Charleen Fisher

The UAF College of Rural and Community Development (CRCD) initiated the CRCD Research Speaker Series and I was asked to share. I was joined by Dr. Döring and we spoke about the current co-creation collaborative events of that time.  

August 2022 (published paper) – Shijyaa Haa Research: Reflections on positionality, relationality, and commonality in Arctic research by Charleen Fisher & Nina Nikola Döring

Dr. Döring and I worked on this paper for a couple of years and we were lucky enough to be published in the special issue of Ethical Space: Indigenous Communications Landscapes, Vol. 20, Nos. ⅔. The dialogic style presented a conversation between myself and Dr. Döring discussing our perspectives on co-creation issues and identity.

October 2023 (workshop) – A Week of Exchange: Ethics and Methods in Arctic Transformative Research 

a week of exchange: ethics and methods in arctic transformative research

WEMA III had so many great workshops with over 40 attendees at Oulu University in Oulu, Finland. I co-led a session titled Indigenous Knowledge, Language, and Positionality in Indigenous Research, facilitated by Ellen Marie Jensen (independent researcher) and Sigga-Marja Magga of the Giellagas Institute at the University of Oulu. I was so happy to share about the language work that I am involved in at the Tribal level. I shared the partnership website: and the materials that we work on and then did a hands-on sensory experience making a keychain with moose hide scraps, duck feathers, and glass beads. A report will be made available soon summarizing our workshop.

Upcoming: Co-creation collaborative website! 

Mahsi’ choo or thank you for taking the time to read this Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development Blog post!

DANSRD, Development, and Education: Professor Carroll visits Finland

Beautiful curtains of lights in downtown Helsinki.

We often forget just how unique the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development (DANSRD) is in the world of Indigenous higher education and how fortunate we are to have programs that emphasize Alaska Native and rural student needs and perspectives as learners, researchers, and development practitioners instead of objects of study or top down planning.   Last year I started looking closely at our graduates’ senior and master’s projects and theses to understand what areas DANSRD students are most interested in and why, and with the budget crisis this summer I began also gathering information about the impacts of DANSRD graduates in their communities. So, this fall when I saw the call for papers for the Northern Political Economy Symposium in Rovaniemi, Finland I decided to put some of the work I’d been doing together and submit an abstract.

The author and a friend siting at a restaurant table in front of a window looking out onto a community square in Helsinki.
Irja took this beautiful photo of Hanna and me at a local restaurant. One of my favorite things about being in Finland was that northern foods like reindeer, lingonberries (our lowbush cranberries) and tart northern blueberries were a part of everyday food even at restaurants.

I spent a week in Finland in mid-November, first in Helsinki and then on to Rovaniemi to present at the Northern Political Economy Symposium at the University of Lapland. In Helsinki Saami linguist Irja Seurujärvi-Kari, my excellent host, introduced me to her friends and colleagues, including Hanna Guttorm and Pirjo Virtanen, at the University of Helsinki Indigenous Studies program and we spent a lovely two days visiting and talking about Indigenous issues in Finland. I was able to speak to Professor Virtanen’s Introduction to Indigenous Research Methods class about my teaching and research at UAF and listen to some of their collaborative discussion presentations of different Indigenous research methods from around the world (if I can figure out a way to copy that assignment in a mixed face-to-face and distance class I will, so students be prepared!). I also attended their lecture series on “Sacred Spaces” – starting with presentations on sacred trees in the Amazon and in Estonia.

Sunset in Rovaniemi walking back to the hotel from the University of Lapland.

Then it was off to Rovaniemi for the Symposium. The Symposium theme asked, “What is left of development in the Arctic?’ and called for topics related to the potential (or lack of potential) for sustainable development in the Arctic. My paper, “Development Dilemmas: Rural Development Students Imagining a Sustainable Future in Alaska,”   looked at the projects and theses produced by University of Alaska Fairbanks Rural Development Master of Arts students as a reflection of changing attitudes towards development in rural Alaska. Our students’ work illustrates how the program has helped increase Alaska Native and rural peoples’ ability to participate in dialogues and negotiations about development in rural Alaska, brought Alaska Native perspectives into these development dialogues, and helped students generate self-defined visions of what development means. I think more than anything, attendees at the Symposium were impressed to hear about educational programs focused on Indigenous needs and perspectives and whose graduates (for the MA) are 65% Alaska Native.

The trip reminded me of how special our programs are, but it also reminded me that DANSRD faculty and students have not been very active in sharing and communicating our scholarship with people outside of Alaska and our immediate community and we do not pay enough attention to some of the ideas being developed in other parts of the world. Here are just a few of the interesting people, publications, and ideas from my trip.

  • Irja Seurujärvi-Kari, Pirjo Virtanen, Hanna Guttorm, and their colleagues have a new book on Indigenous research methodologies coming out next year, but in the meantime their Encyclopaedia of Saami Culture is a great resource for learning about Saami people.
  • Symposium keynote speaker Reetta Toivanen of the University of Helsinki discussed the concept of “Arcticism’ (modeled after Said’s “Orientalism’ – the way in which various discourses inform Western perceptions of the Arctic) in her presentation entitled “Whose development are we talking about? European fantasies on the Arctic.’ The term was originally coined in Arctic Discourses (2010), available at Rasmussen Library.

Frontier aesthetics: *Natural sublime to technological sublime. *God-like perspectives, bird-eye camera angles, long shots. *Straight lines, intense colors, high contrast. *Backgrounding of nature, diminution of human agency. *"Arctic: colors - visual freezing of the frontier. Shows colors moving from grays to browns to blues.
“Frontier aesthetics.” Slide from Liubov Timonina’s presentation, November 14, 2019.

  • As many of my students know, I love visual analysis and am still waiting/hoping for a student to do a visual analysis project. The Arctic Institute’s Liubov Timonina’s “Imaging and narrating development in the Arctic: Visual storytelling in times of Capitalocene’ looked at the way images shape conceptions and marketing of oil and gas development in the Yamal Peninsula. Google “Yamal’ and see if you can see the “frontier aesthetic’ she describes. How do these images compare to the images you get when you search for “Prudhoe Bay’?
  • Gerard Duhaime of Université Laval looked at how public policies reproduce or amplify inequalities in his presentation “Market inequalities and the reproduction of unsustainability in Nunavik.’ It made me think about the ways our laws around subsistence also reproduce unsustainability in rural communities. I’m also going to check out Arctic Food Security (2008), edited by Duhaime and Nick Bernard, also available at the Rasmussen Library.
  • We often talk about Canada in my classes on the circumpolar north, but it can be hard to grasp the variability in the Indigenous settlements across the country and how they have responded to colonialism. Philippe Boucher of Concordia University focused on understanding Inuit voices and leadership in “Sustainable development through the Inuit cooperative movement.’
  • In his presentation “’North Plan’ — What’s left for Northern Indigenous communities? Can the North bring its riches back?’ Mathieu Boivin, University of Montreal, looked at how Quebec’s “Plan Nord’ prioritized non-Indigenous peoples in planning and development and its impacts on Indigenous peoples. I enjoyed speaking to Philippe and Mathieu about the Indigenous response to colonialism and Indigenous educational opportunities in Canada.
  • Susanna Pirnes, University of Lapland, presented on “History as a resource in Russian Arctic politics,’ looking at the use of historical imagery to establish Arctic identity. The presentation is from her chapter in Resources, Social, and Cultural Sustainability in the North (2019). The book was edited by Symposium organizer Monica Tennberg, Hanna Lempenin, and Susanna Pirnes, all of the University of Lapland and includes chapters from several presenters at the Symposium.
  • I had a great time talking to Frank Sejersen, of the University of Copenhagen about development and Indigenous approaches and perspectives. His article “Brokers of hope: Extractive industries and the dynamics of future-making in post-colonial Greenland‘ (2019) looks at how mineral extraction relates to ideas of national independence and is available online to UAF students if you sign in through the Rasmussen Library.

Is your research fieldwork or homework? Kamala Visweswaran’s ideas about decolonization, anthropology, and ethnography

Theoretical Musings is an occasional series where I explore some of the significant theoretical foundations and turning points in my academic journey. See the first installment here.

When I ask students to identify their theoretical framework(s) or paradigm(s), they often become what I call intellectually frozen. For many students, theories seem too broad, too abstract, or too academic to be useful and their brains (and typing fingers) become paralyzed. One common misconception they have about theory is that they have to pick just one and follow it. While it is true that some academics and policy makers pick a single theoretical approach and stick with it, most of us are theoretically pluralistic, finding nuggets of insight in many different places. This is particularly important for students who come from different cultural backgrounds with their own cultural paradigms about knowledge and learning. For me, one of those theoretical nuggets was Kamala Visweswaran’s ideas about fieldwork and homework.[i]

When I began my Ph.D. program in anthropology in 1995, I was preparing to join through marriage my intended research community. Within the common paradigms of Western scientific inquiry, this created an obvious and immediate conflict: I had become too close to the community and culture of my study. I was no longer “in the field,’ but “at home.”

Historically, in anthropology “the field’ has been both a location of transformation and a location of separation, a rite of passage through which the student passes, a vessel of concepts, theories, and methods waiting to be filled with cultural grist for the anthropological mill. For the budding anthropological scholar, the field is the location of their transformation from student to practitioner, a transformation marked preferably by physical and mental challenge, with a bit of hazing thrown in.   The field is also a location of knowledge transformation, where so-labeled traditional and cultural knowledge collected by the researcher begins that mystic transformation into academic knowledge in a dissertation or publication. These transformations depend upon and reinforce the field as a location of separation, a place that enhances boundaries between the anthropological self and exotic other, between culture A and culture B, between “cultural” knowledge and “acultural“[ii] knowledge. By becoming a part of my intended field I had at least partially collapsed those boundaries and took my transformation in a potentially unscholarly direction.

I needed to explore my new positionality and place it in context and so began to look at approaches to ethnography and oral history that explored the relationships between researcher and researched in ways that went beyond the traditional Western dichotomy. Fortunately, many feminist and postcolonial anthropologists were already working with and writing about this issue. One of those was Kamala Visweswaran, a cultural anthropologist by training who is now a professor in the Ethnic Studies department at UC San Diego.

Fictions of Feminist Ethnography was Visweswaran’s first book, a collection of essays exploring feminist theory and practice in ethnography. While her discussion of the potential nature and textual forms of feminist ethnography was useful, it was her theorizing about the nature of fieldwork and homework that gave me a piece of theoretical foundation that I use to this day: Viswesaran linked the decolonization of anthropology with the notion of homework,  an “anthropology in reverse’ that speaks “from the place one is located’ (1994, 104).

I have argued for the convergence of two distinct epistemological shifts, one where gender ceases to hold the center of feminist theory, and one where the field fails to hold the center of anthropology.   One shift signals the failure of feminist thinking, and the other, the failure of ethnography.   Both shifts, I believe, mark decolonization as an active, ongoing process — incomplete, and certainly not one to be memorialized as past historical moment…if I have strategically theorized home in order to unearth the hegemonic “field’ of feminist anthropology, I also recognize that field and home are dependent, not mutually exclusive, terms, and that the lines between fieldwork and homework are not always distinct (1994, 113).

As this quote illustrates, her arguments were highly theoretical – broad, somewhat abstract, and academic — but her core notion, that research from a place of belonging (or partial belonging) was not just a legitimate, but a necessary anthropological endeavor, helped me understand my place and has continued to help me as I work with students who are doing their own homework of some kind.

So, for your research or project, in what ways are you doing homework? In what ways are you doing fieldwork? Does it help you to think about your research as homework instead of fieldwork? Do you think it would help you explain your work to others? If so, you have a little piece of theory that supports your approach to your own work and places you within an academic tradition. Congratulations!

Next up in Theoretical Musings:

This particular theoretical idea deals with positionality — the ways in which our culture, gender, class, ethnicity, and locations in time and place influence how we understand the world. It falls under epistemology, the branch of philosophy that is concerned with theories of knowledge. In terms of research paradigms, epistemology looks at the nature of the relationship between the knower and what can be known. Establishing an understanding of your relationship to your research is important, but it (usually) will not be the only theoretical perspective you need for your work. For example, you might need to decide whether to focus on “needs’ or “assets’ for a community development project and find a framework that explains and organizes your approach. For our next installment I will look at two different types of assets based theoretical approaches, Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach and Cordelia Flora and Jan Flora’s Community Capitals Framework.

[i] Twenty-four years later her ideas still resonate within feminist anthropology circles, as this 2018 post in Anthropology News attests.

[ii] As Western academic knowledge is often presumed to be.

Fictions of Feminist Ethnography can be read online by UAF students through the Rasmussen Library website.

Visweswaran, Kamala. 1994. Fictions of Feminist Ethnography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Listening with your ears and your eyes and your heart

I think that sometimes we listen better when we have to struggle to understand. I know that for myself, one of the reasons I am drawn to cross-cultural life is that combination of sharing a perspective, but coming at it from very different traditions, and having to focus intently on creating shared understanding and meaning. I had an especially powerful experience in this kind of communicating at the Ethnography and Education Symposium in El Paso.

As mentioned previously (see here for our first post and here for Professor Pat’s post on her experiences) In September I went with professors Diane Benson and Pat Sekaquaptewa to the 14th Inter-American Symposium on Ethnography and Education in El Paso, Texas and across the border in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. One of the unique aspects of this symposium is that it is conducted in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Spanish was probably the most common language at the conference; most presentations were in Spanish and the majority of participants spoke Spanish and/or were bilingual or trilingual. While I am fairly proficient in English (we hope!), I know nothing of Spanish or Portuguese so depended on the conference organizers and the kindness of fellow participants to translate.

This worked out wonderfully! In fact, I felt that I sometimes got more out of the Spanish and Portuguese presentations than the English presentations because I was focused so intently on understanding. I found that I could understand some of the Spanish and Portuguese, especially if they were talking about familiar issues and ideas, which they usually were. I could understand the written word a little better and many presenters included the text of their presentations in their PowerPoint slides. I know text heavy PowerPoints are not recommended, but in this case, they were incredibly helpful. Finally, conference organizers and fellow participants were willing to whisper translations to me and other non-Spanish or Portuguese-speaking people, providing a triangulated learning environment where I listened to the spoken word, read the written word, and listened to the translation simultaneously. It was an intensely invigorating learning environment. Indeed, throughout the symposium, I reflected that, while people didn’t speak my language, they spoke my language: la pedagogía crítica, la educacíon holística, descolonizar, epistemología, la autobiographfía critíca, la indignación, el amor…this is the language of my heart.

One of the unexpected themes of the conference was the role of “love’ in education and crossing and living in border spaces. In her keynote entitled “Lengua, aprendizaje y amor: Lo que los jóvenes transculturales, transnacionales y translingüísticos nos pueden enseñar‘ (Language, learning and love: what young transcultural, transnational and translinguistics can teach us), Professor Marjorie Faulstich Orellana discussed her work with children and the role of love as a motivator for learning. She looked at the ways borders, physical, cultural, and linguistic, are built and patrolled and how such boundaries interfere with our ability to enter relationships with openness and to gain understanding. She spoke of the artificial divide between the heart and the mind and the ways academia and other institutions privilege the brain over our hearts and our bodies. She spoke of bringing “love,’ that foundation of human connection, back into what we do and how we do it.

Her discussion ignited a conversation about power, positionality, and the appropriation of discourse over the remainder of the symposium. How can and why should people outside of the power structure respond with love? How can we open up spaces for love in academic settings and how do we protect people for whom the vulnerability of love is a very real risk to their lives and careers? What can you do when, as in Argentina, the government appropriates the discourse of love and uses it against you?

These questions and more wended their way through the conference and continue even now. Just today, Professor Orellana sent a post conference reflection on her talk and experience and shared blog posts where she continues to explore the concept of love in education. I recommend you check out her posts “Talking about love in a time of vitriole” and   “Why love? Some reflections on splitting and healing.”

As for me, I’ve been thinking about the role of love in the research of my students. How can I help them center love in their research? How can I help them articulate their love in a way that honors their cultures and experiences and yet meets their goals within the academy as well? How can I create a space in the academy for them to take the risks necessary to not just acknowledge their love, but openly ground their research in love? Every semester I hope to make the border spaces in my classes broader; to allow my students to re-contextualize knowledge and build their own path to a decolonized education.   This brings me back to that cross-cultural life, that life on the border where we struggle to create shared understanding and meaning.   That border space we occupy together.

“Professor S’s Reflections on Her Presentation at the Conference in El Paso, Texas this September” by DANSRD Professor Pat Sekaquaptewa

The title of the conference was the “14th Inter-American Symposium on Ethnographic Research in Education.’  Initially, I was trying to figure out how “ethnography’ or “the study and systematic recording of human cultures,’ primarily through oral histories, mattered in my own home community and what I could take away from this experience to teach Alaska Native students.   However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the experience in my own tribe, the Hopi Tribe in Arizona, was less one of our own people doing oral histories on our own community, and more a long and famous history of outsiders, especially anthropologists, doing traditional anthropological fieldwork in our communities.
The early anthropologist (think 1800’s)  were intrusive and disrespectful, but the later anthropologists and ethnographers, like Mischa Titiev, Peter Whitely, and Justin Richland, have had a beneficial and even symbiotic relationship with Hopi and Tewa families and communities.   As many of you know, I serve as a tribal appellate justice for my tribe.   The Hopi Appellate Courts are often called upon to decide questions of Hopi constitutional and custom law – this has often included referring to the very careful documentation of Mischa Titiev on the Village of Old Oraibi in the 1930’s, in addition to the introduction of traditional expert witnesses testimony from the villages.   Later, Peter Whitely worked with the Village of Bacavi to undertake his own academic research, but he also committed his time to research and write a second book on the history of the village at the request of the village.   Finally, anthropologist and lawyer, Justin Richland, also a dear friend and colleague of mine, sits as a fellow tribal justice on the Hopi Appellate Court, and also assists with the research and funding needs of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office.   Consequently, I have really come to value both the training, skills, and work of my non-Hopi colleagues.   They work with us on our priorities and we get great things done together.
All that said, one of the main threads of the El Paso conference was this idea of “(De)Coloniality.’  This concept comes from the work of Walter Mignolo and is described in his article “Geopolitics of Sensing and Knowing, On (De)Coloniality, Border Thinking, and Epistemic Disobedience.’  In order for me to make sense of the concept of decoloniality, I had to tether it to real life experience, and for me that took the form of judging on the Hopi high court.
Ultimately, applying Mignolo’s definitions to this experience immediately raised troubling possibilities.   First, he defines “decoloniality’ and “border thinking/sensing/doing’ as an assertion that western democracy and socialism are not the only two models to orient our thinking and doing, but the communal is another option.   At first, I am down with this — what is more communal than the Hopi matrilineages and village life.   Then Mignolo defines his “border epistemology.’  He talks about delinking from, in our case capitalism and political economy, and suggests that we go to “the reservoir of the ways of life and modes of thinking that have been disqualified by Christian theology since the Renaissance.’  I think, o.k., can do, the Hopi clans have been doing their own thing for 10,000 years or so, we still live on our aboriginal homelands, and most Hopis when I was a kid were still fluent in Hopi, the ceremonies still go and there is still a strong sense of Hopi worldview, duties and obligations, and values.   I read on.   Then Mignolo says “There are two choices once you delink, you either accept the humiliation of being inferior to those who decided that you are inferior or you assimilate, and to assimilate means that you accepted your inferiority and [that you are] resigned to playing the game that is not yours, but that has been imposed upon you.’  I think whaatt??? … I spent years losing my Hopi accent, getting good grades, struggled through 4 plus years of culture shock and barely passing grades at Stanford, nearly killed myself getting through law school at Berkley, and now he is telling me NOT to assimilate???   What about my entire tribe that adopted the U.S. government’s boilerplate tribal constitution in 1936 and which has set up an elected tribal council with a western style adversarial tribal court system, with its written tribal codes and court opinions?   Not to mention Indian boarding schools.   And I am a tribal judge reinforcing this system – working with the colonizing anthropologists!   Sure, the system may have once been imposed, but now they are our institutions and we are in control of them — we are in the driver’s seat.   Then, I read the Mignolo’s third option — “border thinking.’  And I wonder, is that what we are doing at Hopi border thinking?
To hear my answer, you should attend our re-presentations at DANSRD later this semester — TBD.   My revised presentation title is: “Dialogues (Other’s Research & Judicial Deliberations) & Decoloniality — with a question mark — in the Native Homelands (Others’ Borderlands) & Implications for Teaching Native Students.’  I really hope to see you there!

So what’s all this talk about research anyways? by DANSRD/TM faculty Jessica Black

What comes to mind when you think of research? Surveys? Women and men in safari hats traveling remote parts of the planet, studying the “other’? Researchers staring at people, animals, or any other phenomenon jotting down notes with perplexed expressions? Or do you think of yourself, working alongside your community, brainstorming ideas for positive change? Do you think of creating new approaches and innovative interventions to tackle vexing problems? For example, do you think of cultural practices as possible interventions to expand well-being in your community? There are many approaches to research and research can be a powerful way to create meaningful change in communities. Also, research can be a lot of fun!

Let’s be honest, there was a time I felt that research was boring and actually never gave it much thought. I only wanted a job that would pay me a decent salary to live the life I wanted to live. However this all changed about ten years ago when I returned to school to work towards my PhD and it is there that I realized the value of research, how I might be able to make a meaningful impact as an Indigenous researcher, how fun research can be, and how there are new [at that time] approaches to research that placed communities at the helm of research initiatives and projects. This new paradigm, community-based participatory research (CBPR), encouraged researchers to partner with community members, organizations, and other researchers in an equitable ways, where all partners contributed expertise and shared in decision-making regarding the research (Israel, B.A., Schulz, A.J., Parker, E.A., & Becker, A.B., 1998). Novel idea, right?!? So why did it take us so long to get here?

Historically, much of the research conducted in Indigenous communities was let’s say immoral research and community-based participatory research (CBPR) was not the mode of operating. Overall, there was very much a colonial mentality when it came to researching and helping Indigenous people; outsiders claimed to know what was best for Indigenous people and carried out their research accordingly. A lot of the research that involved Indigenous people was conducted on them and not with them. According to Smith (2012) “research is probably one of the dirtiest words in the Indigenous world’s vocabulary (Smith, 2012)…as European colonizers set the standard for what is “right’, their research findings compared Indigenous societies against European standards and deemed Indigenous societies as backwards’ (Denzin et al., 2008). This colonial legacy of research has left a very bad taste in many Indigenous people and communities’ mouths and we [as researchers] are still clawing our way back from these early memories and impacts.

Research has since come a long way and while the days of conducting bad research are not entirely over they are quickly fading out as newer research paradigms are taking hold and changing the face of research in Indigenous communities. For one, many researchers are returning to their home communities or regions to conduct research initiated or desired by their communities. This has been my experience with research and with every research experience I learn so much; things I could do differently, aspects that worked, and Indigenous methodologies that I had not previously thought of and may use in future projects. So how did I go from not thinking about research to considering myself an Indigenous scholar you might ask? Let me rewind.

My journey towards becoming a researcher started ten years ago. I started a PhD program and while I knew getting a PhD would entail some research I was not aware the breadth and depth that research could cover. During my PhD I was exposed to various courses that covered a variety of approaches and methods one could use when conducting research. For example, one could use qualitative (i.e., primarily exploratory research) or quantitative (i.e., numbers or statistics to quantify a problem) and once the decision was made to conduct qualitative, quantitative, or a mix of both methods (i.e., mixed-methods research) to answer a research question, there were a variety of methods within each larger approach (e.g., quantitative) that I could use to help answer my research question. Confused? Not to worry, after my first year of courses my head was spinning. Qualitative? Quantitative? Mixed-methods? Yet I soon realized that 1) I needed to use methods that could help me answer my research question and 2) I needed to use methods that would be accepted by and have relevancy in the communities I worked with.

Thus, I quickly realized that the questions I wanted to answer for my PhD would best be answered using qualitative methods. I used the methods of semi-structured interviews, observations, and photographs to answer my questions. These methods allowed me to sit down, have a cup of coffee or tea with my participants, and listen to them as they told me stories about their lives. These methods allowed me to travel with my participants out in the boat, observing the way they lived their life, and learn from the knowledge they demonstrated through everyday actions and living. These methods allowed me to conduct research in a respectful and culturally appropriate way. I felt good conducting research. Sometimes I had to ask myself “is this really research?’ because it was so much fun and didn’t align with what I always had imagined research should be.

Conducting research as part of my job has given me meaning and purpose. The research projects I am engaged in align with my values and the values of the communities I work with. For example, one of the projects I am engaged in works alongside Alaska Native communities to identify traditional fish and wildlife management practices as traditionally practiced and will use this information to influence current management practices and decisions. Another research project I work on documents the strengths and resilience that lie within Alaska Native communities with the intent that these strength and resilience factors will help to prevent suicide.

I have come to realize that research is important; it can be conducted in culturally relevant ways, and can positively impact a community if done correctly, that is alongside a community. I have come love research; research inspires me to work harder, so that I can make meaningful change in this world and move forward initiatives that start at the community level. I wake-up each day, looking forward to my job, and what the day will bring, knowing that though my work I am working to change lives for the better and that makes me proud to call myself an Indigenous researcher.