Indigenous Research Methodologies

Chilisa, B. (2019). Indigenous Research Methodologies. Sage Publications, Incorporated.

Chapter 1: Situating Knowledge Systems


Before explaining the decolonization of Western research methodologies, I appreciated Chilisa’s defining of the concepts relevant to decolonization.
  • Imperialism: The period of acquisition of overseas colonies by European empires and the creation of a dominant West and subordinate Other. Othering (coined by Spivak) is the process where Western knowledge establishes itself as the norm and displaces other knowledges as inferior. The West itself, as defined by Hall, is not purely geographic: it is “a set of ideas, historical events, and social relationships” (pg. 7).
  • Colonization: The subjugation of one group by another, which historically has been the process of two thirds of the world being invaded and controlled by the West (generally France, Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, the US). She names differing and intertwined forms of colonialism. Political colonialism is the “occupation and external control of the colonies”; scientific colonialism is the “imposition of the colonizers’ ways of knowing … and the control of all knowledge produced in the colonies” (pg. 7). The colonized mind is the adoption of colonialist ideology due to Western knowledge systems, beliefs, behaviors, and racism.
  • Globalization: An extension of colonization where “first-world” Western colonizing countries invest capital into Other, generally “third-world,” previously colonized countries. Multinational corporations focus on acquiring indigenous ideas or resources for profit.
  • Postcolonial: A contested but popular term. Some dislike the term implying colonialism has ended, but others use the term to “include people with diverse and qualitatively different experiences with colonialism” (pg. 9). It is generally used to denote how those who suffered colonialism resist suppression of their knowledge.

Dimensions of Indigenous Researc

Indigenous research: Indigenous for Chilisa is defined as what is non-indigenous to Euro-Western societies, and what is indigenous to those colonized by them. She highlights four dimensions of indigenous research:
  • “It targets a local phenomenon instead of using theory from the West to identify and define a research issue”
  • “It is context-sensitive and creates locally relevant constructs, methods, and theories derived from local experiences and indigenous knowledge”
  • It may combine Western and indigenous theories
  • “Its assumptions about what counts as reality, knowledge, and values in research are informed by an indigenous research paradigm” (pg. 10).

Indigenous research captures:
  • Relationality: Building relationships with communities, stakeholders, and partners during research. Honoring the relationships that people have with land, living, and nonliving.
  • Responsibility: The role of the researcher in pursuing justice, resisting dominant ideologies that silence communities, and contributing to the community.
  • Reverence: Recognizes spirituality and values as important ways of knowing.
  • Respect: Everything in the research process, from start to finish (dissemination), should be community focus. The community has ownership of the data collected. The research should benefit the community.
  • Reflexivity: Researchers reflect on their position and imagine other perspectives.

Decolonization Process

Decolonizing western research practice is the process of conducting research to center those who have suffered long histories of oppression, so that they can communicate their continuously silenced perspectives. This also involved researching how established western disciplines have Othered non-western communities and shaped knowledge about them. It allows the colonized Other, whose own relationships with their cultures and histories, have been shaped by colonization (the colonized mind).

The decolonization process includes:

  1. Rediscovery and Recovery: The colonized rediscover and recover their own culture, history, and identities.
  2. Mourning: The colonized Other mourns the assault on colonized identities and realities which allows for healing and ideally the research would then allow for a positive difference to be made.
  3. Dreaming: The colonized Other can explore their own knowledges and worldviews and imagine other possibilities. Researchers might imagine other ways of doing research.
  4. Commitment: Following dreaming, researchers commit to community development and become political activists aimed at uplifting the colonized voices to improve local material conditions.
  5. Action: Dreams and commitment become strategies of social transformation through participatory research methods that promote “empowerment, inclusive, and respect” for the Colonized other (pg. 14). Action is taken to address community concerns.

Chapter 2: Research Paradigms

Chilisa highlights calls for a new fifth paradigm to add to the existing paradigms (postpositivist, constructivist, transformative, and pragmatic): an indigenous paradigm. Some believe that indigenous research methodologies can not simply align with other paradigms, like transformative methodologies, because they would be subsumed by the dominant Western epistemologies and methodologies. Including an indigenous research paradigm would be focused on “value systems … place, people, past, present, future, the living, and the nonliving” (pg. 20). Held argues for a separate indigenous paradigm because:

  • The four major paradigms and ingenious research “are based on different assumptions about the nature of reality, knowledge, and values”
  • “Indigenous paradigms are universally characterized by axioms that are all relational:
  • “The transformative paradigm is based on a Western worldview, while the indigenous paradigm is rooted in a holistic localized worldview”
  • “The transformative paradigm emerged as a Western research pathway making it unsuitable for radical decolonization” (pg. 20).

Chilisa states that Western knowledge systems and indigenous methodologies can be integrated. Sandoval calls for a “coalitional consciousness” where all work together for change, including the mixture of ideas, knowledge, and theories. Chilisa also notes a scale of indigenizing methodologies, from least indigenized to third-space methodologies. The least indigenous approach applies a universalized Euro-Western lens that pays little attention to decolonizing relationships. The integrative/adaptive approach connects knowledge paradigms but the decolonization intent is explicit. Western and indigenous perspectives are integrated. A predominantly ingidenous framework is derived from ingidenous epistemologies and is viewed as distinct from Western systems of knowledge. Finally, third space methodologies contest and invalidate Western paradigms and interrogate indigenousness using the voices of the most marginalized.

Ways of Knowing

  • Ontology: In an indigenous paradigm, a relational ontology investigates the connections that human beings have with the living and nonliving. Reality is shaped by the view that people are being with many relationships, with the living and nonliving, with earth and the land, with animals and other beings. Indigenous ontology emphasizes an I/we relationship in contrast with Western I/you (individual) narratives. Reality is existing in a set of relationships.
  • Epistemology: In an indegnous epistemology, the questions to not solely revolve around knowledge and truth as provable fact. They also question: “Is belief true knowledge? Or is knowledge on that which can be proven using concrete data?” (pg. 24). A relational epistemology views systems of knowledge as built on relationships. Western epistemologies generally view knowledge as an individual entity where the researcher is an individual searching for knowledge and that knowledge is gained and therefore owned by that individual. An indigenous paradigm instead views knowledge as relational in that it is shared with all of creation (not even just between two people or one community).
  • Axiology: The analysis of values to better understand their meaning, characteristics, origins, purpose, acceptance as knowledge, and influence on daily experience. Relational axiology is built on the four R’s from chapter 1 (relational accountability, respectful representation, reciprocal appropriation, and rights and regulations during the research process).

Chapter 3: Discovery and Rediscovery: Reading and Conducting Research Responsibly

Postcolonial and critical race theories provide methods for critiquing colonialism, imperialism, and globalization.

  • Postcolonial theories are specifically focused on these three concepts and provide frameworks for resisting imposed knowledge systems. It is focused on power and power relations between researchers and participants, and how race intersects with class, gender, age, and ability. A critique of postcolonial theory from indigenous peoples is that it “can easily become a strategy for Western researchers to perpetuate control over research related to indigenous peoples and the colonized Other in general, while at the same time ignoring their concerns and ways of knowing” (pg. 54). Historical exploitation has been used to pathologize poverty, poor health, etc.
  • Critical race theories use race as a tool of analysis to reveal how race functions to systematically disadvantage certain people. It is transformative in its approach in reconsidering “practices, methods, approaches, tools of data collection, and modes of analysis and dissemination … [to] promote justice” (pg. 66). Race-based methodologies include:
  • Challenging dominant ideologies
  • Interdisciplinary approaches
  • Emphasis on experiential knowledge
  • Focusing on race and its intersectionality with other marginalizations
  • “History as the foundation of knowledge, the body of experience, and voice from which to work” (pg. 66)
  • “Rethinking language as a source of knowledge” (pg. 66)

Research Aims

Research aims of postcolonial theory are:

  • Researching back: Historical examinations aimed at “deconstructing how postcolonial subjects have been theorized, produced, and reproduced and reconstructing the present and the future, which carries some hope for the oppressed” (pg. 54-55).
  • Theory-driven: Conduct contextually relevant and theory-driven work. Indigenous perspectives may be adopted to a Euro-Western paradigm, etc.
  • Liberatory and transformative intent: Action research outcomes aimed at benefiting everyday lived realities.

Methodological and Academic Imperialism

Chilisa calls the domination of Euro-Western research “methodological imperialism” and “academic imperialism.” She describes how methodological imperialism, the methodological rules that carry with them Euro-Western assumptions, have been historically resisted by colonized Others. Those being researched have mediated research, even protecting themselves by providing unreliable data. In some parts of Africa, entry to a research site must be granted by the chief.

Academic imperialism defines how the global economy determines who can know, who can create knowledge, and whose knowledge can be bought; how scholarly circles often denigrate alternative ways of knowing. She recommends using Blaut’s theory on the colonizer’s model of the world to analyze misconceptions, prejudices, racism, and stereotypes when reviewing academic work. Specifically, a reader can employ the binaries present in research to find damage-focused assumptions in work.

Chapter 4: Whose Reality Counts? Research Methods in Question

Sameness Error and Exceptionality Myth

The sameness error is to “blur any differences in the researched Other,” also known as universalism. It views Western discourse as universal and flattens difference. Context is often ignored to describe some generic Other, which also views all Othered cultures as the same.

The exceptionality myth “is that things will happen everywhere else except in Africa,” also known as crisis myths (pg. 81). Basically, intervention is necessary or else a crisis will occur in some way in African contexts (e.g., high HIV/AIDs infections and death rates). She argues such myths work to legitimize certain research agendas, which are then quickly funded.

Chapter 5: Postcolonial Indigenous Research Paradigms

Indigenous knowledge (IK) is highly contextual to specific locations, regions, or groups of people (e.g., the deaf community). Euro-Western research is indigenous to the West, and postcolonial indigenous knowledges are indigenous to the specific locales of the colonized. Indigenous knowledges “refers to the traditional norms, social values, and mental constructs that guide, organize, and regulate … ways of living in making sense of the world” (pg. 90). Chilisa writes: “Academic researchers are increasingly called upon to collaborate with IK holders and indigenoys communities to codesign and coframe research problems, co-create a methodological framework that supports the integration of knowledge systems, and jointly co-create solution-oriented knowledge and apply it to address complex problems” (pg. 91).

This chapter discusses two approaches: (1) The indigenization of conventional research; (2) A relational indigenous research paradigm

Indigenization Research Approach

Indigenization refers to a process of critiquing and resisting Euro-Western methodological imperialism and including perspectives and methods from IK. Researchers might combine theories and methodologies from Western approaches with indigenous perspectives. Adair lists the following measures of indigenization:

  • Cultural reference: How the research references and relates to the culture it is conducted in/on.
  • Culture-based justification: Justified by the needs and relevance of the research to the culture.
  • Conceptual bases for research: Conceptual frameworks are based in the culture, rather than universalist Western literature.
  • Methodology: Tailored to the culture being researched. For example, in the local language being used in research instruments.

Features of Relational Ingidenous Research

  • Relational Ontology: The nature of being in the social constructions of realities. In indigenous work, this often takes on an I/We rather than an individualistic I/You approach (depending on the society/culture). This may include relations with the land, relations with others, relations with the dead, relations with spirituality, and relations with animals and non-humans.
  • Relational Epistemologies: Relational forms of knowledge rather than individual descriptions of knowledge common in Euro-Western theories. Focus is on subjects or communities as knowledge bearers. Knowledge is socially constructed through relationships with others, living and nonliving, and the land.
  • Relational Axiology: Dominant research paradigms tend to ignore the role of imperialism, colonization, and globalization; denigrate or dismiss alternative perspectives; utilize methods that promote dominant culture; rely on dominant languages when constructing knowledge; and disseminate ideas that are harmful to historically oppressed groups.

Chapter 6: Decolonizing Evaluation

Evaluation is used to inform outcomes of research and how effective those outcomes are. In decolonial evaluations, one should focus on the contribution of some intervention to the cultural context and contribute to advancing progress in that locale. Historically and traditionally, evaluation has been used to reinforce colonial prejudices and interventions - and often these interventions will fail. Chilisa calls evaluation “the worst instrument of epistemological imperialism” (pg. 117). She argues evaluators must engage with the paradigms informing their methodologies, and approaches and frameworks need to be identified where indigenous perspectives and philosophies are included.

Chilisa highlights the four paradigms evaluation research has been traditionally aligned with: postpositivist, constructivist, pragmatic, and transformative. She argues the selecting a branch on the evaluation approach tree (methods, use, needs and context, values, and/or social justice) should guide the study towards designing an evaluation.

  • Postpositivism and the Methods Branch: Quantitative methods that can measure the worth/merit of an intervention. Evaluation questions are narrowed to constructs that are measurable quantitatively. Diversity of social problems, contexts, and relationships are overridden by quantitative measures.
  • Pragmatism and the Use Branch: Focus is on collecting data useful to defined stakeholders. Mixed methods designs are usually employed.
  • Constructivism and the Value Branch: The value branch is focused on identifying values and perspectives through qualitative methods.
  • Transformative and the Social Justice Branch: The social justice branch promotes the voices of marginalized groups.
  • Postcolonial Indigenous and the Needs and Context Branch: An evaluation approach aimed at identifying who initiated the interventions, the priorities present, and the cultural appropriateness. Questions how multiple forms of inequality and identity overlap in different contexts over time.


Validity is how evaluations are assessed in a cultural context. For an indigenous methodology, Chilisa proposes an indigenous multicultural validity that assesses the quality of interactions among participants during evaluation. She defines the following aspects:

  • Whether people feel the evaluation is relevant to them and their problems.
  • Communication of findings that addresses the prioritizations of the community - relevance and resonance.
  • Culturally appropriate language, methods, and measures.
  • Assessing power through Hauden and Chouinard’s conceptual model:
  • Relational power: Manifesting between evaluation members, stakeholders, community advisors, evaluators, etc.
  • Political power: Political agendas from governments or funders that could impact outcomes.
  • Discursive power: Society discourse on what counts as truth. Certain methods may dominate evaluation research in specific contexts.
  • Historical power: Historical context of community, program, nation, etc. for understanding power dynamics.