Indigenous Cultural Competency in Indigenous Research Capacity: Guiding Principles

Australian universities are lagging behind universities in countries such as New Zealand and Canada in their commitment to Indigenous research and culturally sound models and protocols of practice.

Culturally competent research relies on having established mechanisms in place to ensure that research is culturally safe and of benefit to Indigenous peoples and the community from which the research is drawn. It requires the encouragement and practical support of promising Indigenous students and staff to engage in research and develop their research skills, and an institutional recognition that Indigenous research is an important and vital part of the overall research strategy.

On this basis, the Guiding Principle for Indigenous Research Capacity is:

University research should be conducted in a culturally competent way that empowers Indigenous participants and encourages collaboration with Indigenous communities

The following recommendations and examples can assist Australian universities in implementing this Guiding Principle.

Recommendation 1: Create an adequately funded Indigenous Research Strategy to build Indigenous research capacity.

Recommendation 2: Appoint an Indigenous senior executive or Professorial level position to lead and coordinate Indigenous research in areas of institutional strength.

Recommendation 3: Identify Indigenous issues as key research themes within the university

Recommendation 4: Create mechanisms, guidelines and protocols to ensure that Indigenous research and research with Indigenous participants is culturally safe and methodologically sound.

Rationale

The recommendations for Best Practice in Indigenous Cultural Competency in Indigenous Research Capacity are born of the findings of the literature review and influenced by current national and international exemplars of practice.

The available evidence demonstrates that Australian universities are lagging behind universities in countries such as New Zealand and Canada in its commitment to Indigenous research and culturally sound models and protocols of practice.

Culturally competent research relies on having established mechanisms in place to ensure that research is culturally safe and of benefit to Indigenous peoples and the community from which the research is drawn. It requires the encouragement and practical support of promising Indigenous students and staff to engage in research and develop their research skills. An Indigenous research unit or centre provides a key foci for the development of Indigenous research and capacity building. In keeping with a whole-of-institution approach to Indigenous cultural competency and responsibility for producing research which contributes to ‘closing the gap’, Indigenous research should be identified as a key theme within the Operational and Strategic Plans of Faculties, Schools and Research Centres of the university.

The following determinations, recommendations and statements of commitment emerging from the discussions and Vice Chancellors workshop at the Ngapartji Ngapatji ~ Yerra: Stronger Futures Conference (2007) provide sound rationale for the six Guiding Principles for Best Practice in Indigenous Cultural Competency in Indigenous Research whilst highlighting the value of Indigenous research.

‘Indigenous research and Indigenous researchers remain on the margins of the higher education research endeavour. National strategies are…urgently required to prioritise Indigenous research culture…to strengthen, support and enhance Indigenous researchers and research; to substantially increase the number and proportion of Indigenous research post-graduate enrolments and completions; and to grow the sector by increasing the capacity and opportunities for Indigenous researchers…The overall direction sought is to build Indigenous research capacity and establish Indigenous research leadership and infrastructure…[including] establishing high-level positions in each university for the leadership and coordination of Indigenous research’ (Walter;, Maynard, Millroy and Nakata cited in IHEAC 2007 p.18).

‘The beginning point of strengthening Indigenous research culture within the higher education sector is building a critical mass of Indigenous researchers - Developing, fostering and supporting Indigenous research is an underpinning strategy of building Indigenous research capacity…It is necessary to tie the development of Indigenous researchers into broader actions and plans around Indigenous higher education, rather than treating this as a separate issue. …[Strategies need to be in place] to broaden the scope of Indigenous researchers across disciplines and the sector and [address] the risk of losing high potential Indigenous researchers without appropriate development, supervision and mentoring’ (IHEAC 2007 p. 15).

‘The specific needs of early career Indigenous researchers must be recognised. Universities need to build and support Indigenous scholarships within the sector, with a particular focus on the research related career progression of new Indigenous academics. The creation, allocation and/or targeting of a greater number of defined Indigenous research scholarships and the implementation of individual post appointment development plans for new Indigenous academic staff…[are] appropriate strategies’ (IHEAC 2007 19).

[T]he aim is to situate responsibility for Indigenous research development within a position of institutional power. Placing responsibility for the institution’s Indigenous research with a senior Indigenous research appointment acknowledges to the institution, Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers, Indigenous communities and funding bodies universities’ commitment to building and supporting Indigenous research. Such high level recognition of the importance and specific place of Indigenous research also increase the likelihood of community research connections and partnerships across Australia and internationally. High level placement of responsibility also enables Indigenous research to be formally recognised and institutionally embedded in academic research practice. This would include the priorities and precursors of Indigenous research such as: the consideration of Indigenous communities at all levels of the research, especially at setting standards for ethical research practices in Indigenous contexts; the development of cultural and community protocols and practices to guide researchers (Indigenous and non-Indigenous); the significance of research outcomes to benefit Indigenous communities; and the need for researchers to be trained in Indigenous cultural sensitivities and methodologies’ (Walter et al cited in IHEAC 2007 p. 40).

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