Research, Respect and Responsibility: A Critical Review of the Tri-Council Policy Statement in Aboriginal Community-Based Research

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The following paper is a critical review of current literature surrounding ethical research practices in North American (primarily Canadian) Aboriginal communities. Sources cited include academic, government, and communityauthored documents, primarily selected from Ethics in the Context of Research and Indigenous Peoples: A Bibliography (Caine et al. 2004). Key concepts for ethical practices are discussed, with analysis focusing on the implications of these concepts for the critical examination and ongoing development of the 1 998 Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans.


In recent years, increasing awareness has been drawn to the destructive legacy of unethical research practices by outside researchers in Aboriginal communities. Several factors, including a general lack of culturally appropriate ethical standards (Haig-Brown and Archibald 1 996), lack of respect for communities’ cultural beliefs (Norton and Manson 1 996), failure to conduct research that is responsive to community perspectives and needs (Korsmo and Graham 2002), and misappropriation of Indigenous knowledge (Canada 1999) have created an atmosphere of suspicion of researchers among many Aboriginal community members. So widespread is this feeling that, according to Freeman (1993: 1 92), the “biggest single social reality” in many Aboriginal communities “may be a widespread distrust of research or researchers.” At the same time, Aboriginal communities have continued to assert their independent autonomy and authority (Freeman 1 993), increasingly demanding that outside researchers meaningfully “engage the realities of increasing self-determination” (Kaufert et al. 1 999). For many communities, this means that “helicopter” style research (Macaulay 1 994) — which has traditionally failed to take into account community research needs, priorities, consultation, and direction — is no longer acceptable (Korsmo and Graham 2002, Kowalsky et al. 1 996, Scott and Receveur 1 995). Researchers working with Aboriginal communities are therefore increasingly being called to recognize that “all research is implicitly political” (O’Neil et al. 1 993: 229); and to understand, as Menzies (2001: 22) writes, that “to deny the colonial legacy by not adapting our research projects to accommodate Aboriginal concerns is to participate in the colonial project itself.”
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