In Canada, social science research is paying increasing attention to Indigenous issues. However, much of this research remains based on existing primary and secondary sources and/or does not engage Indigenous peoples in the research process. Even among studies that include human research participants, Indigenous community participation is often limited to the minimum required by Tri-Council policies. Fewer studies involve deeper involvement of Indigenous communities in research. To the extent that involvement in social science research builds research capacity and promotes research sovereignty, social science researchers should be encouraged to deepen the participation of Indigenous communities in their research. This stimulus should go beyond ethical requirements and include financial and career incentives for Indigenous participatory research.
When Indigenous communities participate in or lead social science research or when research teams include at least one Indigenous researcher, studies are more likely to include Indigenous epistemological perspectives (or world views) and participatory evidence sources and methods of analysis. While we cannot speak directly to whether increased participation increases the use of Indigenous approaches or whether such approaches foster increased participation, the association is clear. Social science researchers studying Indigenous issues in Canada should be trained in Indigenous perspectives and encouraged to incorporate Indigenous participation in their studies, especially when such studies are grounded in mainstream disciplinary approaches and methods.
Many studies include only minimal participation by Indigenous communities, and a small minority of studies appear to not even meet minimums required by Tri-Council policies. However, we also found that published studies are often mute on their ethics approvals and processes, making it difficult to determine what role (if any) Indigenous communities played in the research. Researchers should be transparent and report their ethics approvals and processes, and editors and publishers should encourage and support such transparency.
Almost half of the 500 journal articles we reviewed on Indigenous issues in Canada over the last decade appeared in just ten journals, and nearly 20% of articles were distributed across disciplinary journals that published no other work on this topic. On the one hand, the concentration in a small number of journals reflects a rich community and space of scholarly dialogue. On the other hand, this pattern also suggests that research on this topic has not found similar space in mainstream, international journals, which are often privileged by hiring and promotion committees in universities. Gatekeepers, like article reviewers and journal editors, should recognize the value of participatory research that includes Indigenous perspectives, and university policies should recognize epistemological and methodological biases in mainstream, disciplinary publications and should ensure that Indigenous scholars and research is not devalued or disadvantaged.
Overall, we document a rich but very small body of scholarship that embraces Indigenous world views and participatory research practices within the social sciences. However, we also find significant room for improvement. Universities should foster equitable knowledge exchange between social scientists and Indigenous communities, including around issues of epistemology and methodology. Equitable exchange includes expanding the role of Indigenous scholars and communities inside and throughout the university, not just the expansion of Indigenous programs.