Research Methods as a Situated Response:
Towards a First Nations' Methodology

Mary Hermes
Assistant Professor of Educational Studies
February 26, 1997


Carleton College
Educational Studies Department
Northfield, MN 55057
507/646-4022 - Fax: 507/646-5615 -


Looking back at my dissertation, now a full year after it is all said and done, I am still trying to sort out exactly where the "methods" are. It reminds me of the split I identified in my research as stifling: the content/methods split in educational practice. Why would I dissect what I teach from how I teach it? Why would a worksheet on ricing replace going ricing? When only content is implicated in curriculum, the question of culturally relevant curriculum becomes severely limited. It is as if the way you have done something (e.g. teach or research) should be extracted from what you did or, for that matter, why you did it. So that it can be replicated? or mass produced? These categories do not make sense to me. And so I write this article, this "piece," or slice of my research, with methods as a focus, but, moreover, to complicate through example how much the "way" of doing research was inextricable from the research and its context and cultural locations.

My intention in going to the Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwe reservation was not to do research. Being of mixed heritage (Lakota, Chinese and White), I had many personal as well as professional reasons for wanting to "go back" to the reservation. (Going back means touching a place of the past and the future that belongs to all of us detribalized, adopted out, colonized and made-not-to-feel-at-home people. 'Going back' means remembering to touch the places that bring us together. 'Going back' means I am not from there, the way someone raised there is, means I will never be a part of that community in that same way, but it also means no better and no worse.)

I originally went to student teach, then to teach, then to stay, and in the process of all this, wrote a dissertation. This article is an attempt to continue the reflective element that was so much a part of the original work. It is a reflective retrospection on my methodology. The ways in which I did the research, the "methods," were not clearly delineated before I started the work. Instead, the goal of exploring a problem which was relevant to the community, in a way which was responsive to that particular context, guided my work. Now, a year after the entire dissertation process is done, and situated away from the community, I believe the "methods" still refuse a single category or any other formula which may make them a recipe for research. What I can do more comfortably is point to academic research traditions and Ojibwe traditions, which I believe were influential. Being a Native person, of mixed racial and cultural heritage, I cannot so easily point to what of my own thinking and ways of knowing comes from where. At this point, I believe a more salient task is to articulate the struggles.

I went to LCO straight from graduate school. Steeped in cultural studies and curriculum theory, the juxtaposition of theories with teaching practice made me shift my research questions in ways which I believe were responsive to the community I was becoming a member of. It forced me to create a research methodology which was inspired by a number of traditions (ranging from traditional Ojibwe culture to the culture of UW Madison's graduate school) but not clearly derived from any of them. I constructed the "methods" of this research project as a response to some of the problems associated with the question of developing a locally based curriculum, as well as the historically negative reputation of research in Indian Country at large. Necessarily, my "response" was one deeply influenced by culture, or more appropriately, I would say, was itself a site of cultural production.

Throughout the text of the dissertation I use a multiplicity of voices: my own reflective notes (in italics), the words of other community members, Elders, and students, as well as other writers to represent the community involvement that I (being the sole author) was taking individual credit for. Due to space limitation, in this article I will imitate that format only by drawing on my own narrative voice (italics).

How was theory generated (a deeper methods question)?

Back and forth between discussions, practice, observation, reading and writing, theories emerged in ways similar to the "recursive" process that Doll suggests as a model for curriculum (1993). That is to say, the writing of the text did not simply reflect practice or theory, but the "method" was one of continually recycling thought/
action/reflection/writing in ways which pointed to new theoretical directions. Since one direction of the dissertation project was to generate theory (as opposed to fixed answers), the methods question became: how was theory generated? The short answer is that in this case theory was, or became, empirically grounded through the practice of the research (Lather, 1991).

Every now and then my idealism gets stomped on. Internal colonization, distrust, dysfunctionalism, fighting against that legitimacy which is perceived as coming only from the White man's system....Harsh reality. Bitter feelings. Turning cynical, again.......Sometimes I find refuge in theory, in an understanding that is not aimed at blaming an individual or anyone, but looks at history, generations, and the expression of an entire way of being which expects and accepts struggle.

I think the project was a test of accountability for theory, or maybe a test of accountability for me. Could I make sense of theory in the context of life, not just the context of an argument? Could I put what I learned in graduate school to work? In my entry to the "Holmes Directory of Minority Scholars, 1991," I wrote:

I refuse to separate the "theory" from the "practice" and so I find myself in the middle of trying to figure out what curriculum is relevant while tanning hides and collecting wild is messy and confusing but I am learning more here on the reservation than I would have asked for.......

I believe the place of theory in methods/research is an important question because it exposes a common-sense assumption about methods: Methods are categorically distinct from theory. They are disinterested tools for extracting information, ways of doing (not ways of thinking about) that are implicitly a one-way interaction. In my research project theory intersected with methods continuously. Methods were not held as a constant but rather were continually changing. Given the nature of my research problem, I felt that the methods acted as a situated response. It is the specific nature of that response to which I now turn my attention.



Addressing exploitative research methods

Gleaned from readings by Native scholars, (see LaFromboise, 1987, for example) as well as through the oral traditions of the Indian "community" (meaning the grape vine, the oral tradition of Indian Country), there seems to be a growing Native-oriented, or First Nations, ethic for doing research in our own, Native American communities (Christenson, personal communication, National Indian Education Association, 1994). My sense of this "ethic" is that the emphasis shifts from "research for research's sake" (or perhaps for the sake of "knowledge in the abstract") to research which serves some specific purpose or need of the community with in which it is situated.

I believe this ethic is at least in part a response to the historical circumstances of being colonized. Specifically, I understand some articulated ethic by Native peoples as resistant to the dynamic of colonial relationships of exploitation being replicated under the guise of "research." Narayan writes about the clearly defined roles of "self" (anthropologist) and "other" (Native) as an implicit part of the historical context of anthropology-a paradigm which cannot accommodate the "Native anthropologist" (1993). The exploitative role of anthropologist within Native communities has long been critiqued and at times undermined by Native peoples through oral traditions as well as written ones (see Deloria, 1969; LaFromboise, 1983; and Maynard, 1974; for example). At this point many anthropologists, especially critical ethnographers, have become aware of this history and dynamic and have become more reflective of their positions and ethics accordingly (see Clifford, 1988, for example). However, Anthropology's sister discipline archeology has not been so well behaved. And the battle to re-orient her research methods according to the ethics of her "subjects" still rages, often ending up in the courts.

As a Native American, research ethic arises and is articulated against a colonial relationship, it also arises for Native self-determination in education (Reyhner, 1981). Since the Indian Education Act of 1972, 122 tribal-controlled colleges have been established and 66 tribal-controlled elementary or high schools (At Risk Task Force Report, 1991). A general mission of all of these schools is to serve various and particular Native American populations in ways which are culturally relevant. Through my work at Lac Courte Orielles, I believe this process of making schools culturally relevant, or culture-based, begins with a community-based, tribal-oriented definition of what a school is. As a part of the colonial legacy of boarding schools, all of the tribal schools, at least in part, have adopted a Western European-based model of a school "structure." Yet the idea of developing a "culture-based school" is a common goal, and the means to this goal are consistently in flux. Lipka (1993) writes:

The colonial legacy of schooling in indigenous context has been amply an imposed system of education that views indigenous language and culture as barriers to Western schooling. Communities...want educational solutions that constructively respond to the dilemma of being both Indian and modern; such solutions however, have remained elusive (p. 73).

The task of responding to this "dilemma," the task of Indian education, is enormous and the need for research on a variety of topics is urgent, including documenting and analyzing bias in educational testing, research on indigenous languages, development of "inclusive" (of all races of people) texts, generational effects of boarding schools and alcoholism, more research on learning styles and teaching methods, and inherent bias in school structures, to name a few. A well-artic-ulated "ethic" which legitimates community generated research questions and culturally appropriate research behaviors and holds researchers accountable to these standards would displace the current system of research projects that are accountable only to institutions of higher education or funding sources. Such an ethic would undercut imposed structures of power that continue to define Indian education through language and practices that carry the legacies of colonialism. In this way, much more community involvement and participation would become a necessary part of the process of research. This seems well within the grasp of Native communities as sovereign nations to achieve. Tribal governing boards, for example, could issue codes of ethics for researchers to adhere to, or lists of research needs, or questions the community considers priorities.

Coinciding with this emerging ethic and sense of purpose in Indian community based research is the agenda of the academy -to fulfill the requirements to satisfy the degree of Ph.D. Along with this purpose comes yet another sense of protocol and expectations, a different set of research needs and a different ordering of priorities. And so I am left with the sense of a duality. I have organized my thoughts around the demands of meeting the needs of two distinct purposes, two distinct audiences, only rarely overlapping.


Situating Myself within the Research.........A Not-God Trick

The war is not between Indian and White, but between that which honors life and that which does not. It is fought within ourselves as well as within the world (Hampton, 1991, p. 296).

What is the purpose for doing this project anyway? To get a Ph.D., to get a job at a college, to take the time and put the thoughts with the experiences and the voices of community people and do some foundation work for cultural curriculum development that includes community building, as part of the vision, part of the process, a part of the way the school changes and becomes a community-cultural center. That's my vision.

Situating myself in the text of the dissertation as not the expert was an important goal for me. The idea was not to make sweeping generalizations about Indian education, nor to position myself as "expert," especially in terms of assuming that I could speak for the entire "community. This would be untrue to my experience and antithetical to the idea of community building as I understand it. My "expertise" (really my contribution) was not in terms of years of experience living in this community. The term that Uma Narayan uses, "epistemic privilege," is helpful in naming the authority that comes from living and breathing an oppression, as opposed to understanding the oppression from an "outsider" or perhaps historical or theoretical way (1988). I wanted to problematize the perceived role of "outside expertise" through the writing of this text. I was both an "outsider" (though not an expert) and an "insider" (though not with years and years of lived experience here). In fact, these very terms, "insider" and "outsider," and the research paradigm they are derived from, began to break down in a situation as complex as mine.

..we might...view each anthropologist in terms of shifting identifications amid a field of interpenetrating communities and power relations. The loci along which we are aligned with or set apart from those whom we study are multiple and in flux....what we must focus our attention on is the quality of relations with the people we seek to represent in our texts...(Narayan, 1993, p. 672).

For this reason, to be very clear and conscious of my position (shifting, flexible and dependent on context) within the school/community and within the text becomes another aspect of how I conducted research.

What it's like to suddenly become "Auntie" to 300 kids and know that in three years I'll have to write something about them, something which does not betray that trust and relation-ship.... What it's like to be a "mixed blood" in 1995 and in every community I live in feel that that is either "exotic" or somewhat looked down on (I heard a song about a HALF BREED on the radio just today), not quite "authentic," never quite completely respected...... And then what it's like to work at a tribal school where the real, the earth-shaking work is all about identity; finding a space and a place for yourself in the fast changing world without getting caught in the crossfire of tribal politics. What it's like to try ever so hard to fully, intelligently comprehend all this, while still maintaining the freedom and dignity to laugh, cry, sometimes not understand -and feel it all.




When I started to limit "my" research problem to the very most narrow definition, I realized the burning question (Haig- Brown, 1990) was the question I took from the community: The nagging question of how to develop a curriculum which was relevant to Ojibwe culture within the confines of a tribal school. Twenty years ago when Native students walked out of the public school in Hayward, Wisconsin, discriminated against but not beaten, this was the same question they carried with them. "Where is our school? Where is our knowledge? Can't we learn this inside of a school that is really ours?" Revisiting this question, I began to see how easily it could sprawl out of control-questions of culture and curriculum alone threatening to extend beyond the borders of this one tiny research project. The context surrounding this question (meaning the historical and cultural context of this school, of this research, and of the research traditions I brought with me from the university ) all informed the choices I made concerning the research. Since I did not own the question (the community did), the question of curriculum and community continually centered the project and, in this sense, made it an "activist" (Fine, 1994) research project. Whatever I could find out about the problem would also have to be channeled back into the community.


Curriculum and Community

The work of developing culture-based curriculum involves much more than changing this or that content or teaching method. After living and working at LCO, I think of curriculum as a process, an opportunity to draw community together around children and rebuild healthy relationships within the community. Community building and cultural revitalization are as much a part of finding a way of teaching that is centered in "Native" culture as are teaching methods or curriculum content. Various creative processes, which invite people (students, Elders and other adults) to join in and be a part of the teaching and learning, change curriculum in very deep and in culture specific ways. Breaking down a common myth here, that "someone else" (outside of the community) knows what's important to teach, or that a stamp of legitimization from an outside source is necessary to make a good teacher, is a part of unraveling the internal colonization of tribal schooling, part of changing a foreign model of schooling into one that is based in the ongoing process of constructing and reconstructing Ojibwe culture.

I picture the question of culture-based curriculum as being at the center of a web of interconnected problems and concerns having to do with Ojibwe culture, genocide and schooling. I will explore some of the points of this web that I find most relevant in my research and methods. One administrator described the curriculum work in this way: "..... some working definition of what such a culture-based curriculum might be, how it could be taught, how it could be implemented, and all of the gray areas that fall in between" (Don Wiessen, Administrator, Spring 1995, personal communication). "Curriculum" in this broad sense extends to include all of the learning/teaching experiences at the school. Coupled with the word "culture," it extends to all the life interactions on the entire reservation.



Now, in order to return to the methods question, I will simply describe some of the things I did and how these were very conscious answers to some of the specific problems of culture-based curriculum at this specific place and time.

Gathering Stories.......Community Visions

I conducted many formal and informal interviews over a period of three years. The first formal set was done with teachers in the beginning of my first year there as "cultural curriculum director." Just as broad and ambiguous as the title sounds, the main question interviewees often asked me was, "What is your job anyway?" Sometimes perceived as administration but, I believe, more often as associated with teaching, I interviewed 30 teachers and staff at the school. In these conversations I asked teachers some general questions about Ojibwe culture-based curriculum, but the format was very open and followed any direction they set. The second set was done at the beginning of my third year and involved 30 parents, students, Elders, teachers and community members at large. In these interviews I asked to hear about people's dreams for the school, and sometimes heard about how their dreams had been stomped on.

In the face of an oftentimes pervasive feeling of hopelessness, I had to ask about hopes and dreams. In purposefully wanting to build dreams and visions for the community and school, I asked to hear them, to record them and to tell them. What are the dreams of community members ? Of the school community? How have they changed over time? Where do they come from? How do they connect or diverge? What are some examples of how they are being lived out? What are some road blocks to their ever being tried out? Through gathering stories and visions, I hoped to strengthening the vision of the school as a part of the community. Further, it was my hope that the interviews be utilized as a reference for curriculum development at the school.

I refer to "community" in a broad sense, as the school community includes both persons from the reservation community and outside of it. Although the school is situated on the reserve and serves approximately 100% Indian children (as self-identified), many of the teaching faculty are non-Indian and live outside of the reservation in nearby towns. So the school community includes a wide diversity of people, people whose dreams and visions for the school should not be excluded. This relationship between school and community is what I was aiming to strengthen through the act of gathering a diverse sampling of dreams and visions.

In some cases I found the interviewing process to be merely a way of blocking off some time and space for a conversation that was on-going. Once I had found the time to sit with an interviewee it was not usually necessary to formally "ask" questions. The topic of culture-based curriculum was "in the air" but oftentimes not discussed due to the urgent nature of other issues. At times, the interview was an "excuse" to engage folks in some long conversations about the school.

At times, Elders thought individual interviews were redundant, saying that my past three years of working with them was an "asking" of what they thought of the school. This gave me permission to acknowledge some ideas which I was being overly cautious about presuming (for example, the idea among Elders that Indian identity and sobriety are priorities). So instead of sitting down with a tape recorder and asking questions, I often would merely "check in" with various sources to confirm my assumptions about their visions and hopes for school change. With teachers, on the other hand, or people I knew only in a professional setting, in-depth interviews provided a good tool for listening to their views more carefully.

At times during the research process, interviews and discussions were reflected back to the community in very direct ways. I circulated copies of my "proposal" among the most interested staff members and asked for comments. I gave transcribed interviews back to participants (second set) and had subsequent conversations where participants could clarify anything they perceived as ambiguous. I used interviews as curriculum and reading material in a class I taught for staff. I deposited several interview copies with administrators and the curriculum committee and a complete copy of the dissertation in the school library, inviting teachers and staff to use the information in their classes or in their continued curriculum efforts.


In my first semester at the school, I was a student teacher and graduate student at the same time. Although this did interesting things for my identity as a student teacher (see Britzman, 1987), it also gave me an entree to observe classes in a way which was familiar and comfortable to most teachers. From these observations and conversations which followed, I was invited into many hands-on instances of curricula development. Teaching examples included in the text of the research were generally initiated by teachers who invited me into their rooms. By developing relationships with teachers in a variety of ways, I never clearly fit into any one particular category-just a researcher or teacher or community member, for example. Analogous to developing relationships with students in multiple contexts, this seemed to strengthen my position as a researcher with a bias and a purpose. I feel it clearly points to a methodology which involves more reciprocity than a person solely coming to "research" a classroom.


In my desire "not to be the expert," I am extremely aware of the cultural traditions which position the Elders as teachers and authorities. In seeking to honor life and wisdom in researching (Archibald, 1996), it seemed obvious to me that the first source to consult was the Elders. Also conscious of the legacy of exploitation which has continued under the guise of research, I felt it morally and spiritually necessary to develop the qualities of submission and reciprocity in my relationships with Elders. In my first year at the Ojibwe school, I was part of a community-tribal college-school collaborative group which started up the Elders Council for the explicit purpose of bringing Elders together and inviting them into our schools. Through this work I often asked Elders about "curriculum" and got a variety of responses. My "method" or way of asking in these cases was guided more by cultural protocols than a particular methodology. I was grateful and listened to whatever I was told, and never consciously tried to guide discussion or interrupt with questions. Even the "formal" interviews I conducted after three years of working with Elders took on these forms of narrative or storytelling.


Teaching was another role I played in the community, one which informed my theory and research on many levels. There was a teacher shortage and a desire to recruit more Indian teachers, and so after one semester of student teaching there, I was offered a job. In my various teaching positions over the next three years, I was given the opportunity to translate theory into practice and experiment with curriculum. Feedback from students was (of course) immediate and constant. Teaching was probably the one act which strengthened my relationships with community members the most; through students I was invited into many families. To veteran teachers, I was a "new teacher" and occupied a much different position than a "Ph.D. candidate."

Constructing a Text

How I created a text to represent a multi-dimensional process now called "my research," seems very appropriately called a "method." Is it a method of writing, as opposed to a method of research? It occurs to me that oftentimes the text of a research project comes to be thought of as the research itself, instead of a representation of the research. I had a very deliberate way of constructing a text, which in the end yielded information and theory while also serving a political purpose (to support change at the school). For these reasons, it seems that the way in which I constructed the text (see Fine, 1995) was also a method of doing research.

I distinguish my writing as different from a sort of "docu-mentary" style, which purportedly is written in an objective fashion, meant to simply report facts, findings, and an analysis of the results without bias. A text of this nature may gloss over the subjective position of the "researcher" and usually aspires to position him/her as one collecting information from the outside, not as one explicitly and simultaneously working for change within the same context under study, the "inside."

Through relating personal experiences, practices and narratives (including quotes at length from community member's interviews), I hoped to be able to write in a style that expresses abstract, logical, and theoretical lines of thoughts while it also validates as knowledge the expressive and emotional gestures which often outline the details of personal stories and community struggles over the meanings of "school." Contradictions and complexities, "gray" areas, external boundaries and internal contradictions-all a part of the reality of a tribal school-present as much a part of the fabric of a school and community as any theoretical or philosophical guiding statement.

The model I used for writing was inspired by a model of editing a video tape (Bordowitz, 1988). By taking different but related "clips" of writing-stories as told by myself or others, analytical writings and quotes, and examples of practices at the school-and creating a montage in a way not dissimilar to editing a tape (sometimes smooth transitions, sometimes jarring juxtapositions), I hoped to capture some of the detail and complexity of the voices that exist around the competing ideas of "school." Further, Bordowitz's video production model is most compelling in that it brings together different perspectives, side by side, without resolving tensions or making sweeping generalizations. Here again is an "activist" (Fine, 1994) aspect of my research: It is an attempt to bring together different perspectives, different voices, in hopes of forming an imaginary meeting ground among them. The dissertation is an attempt to honor not only written academic discourse around Indian education but the community dialogue as well (see Urion, 1991). Some quotes may follow or support each other, others in their juxtaposition will point to some of the incongruities and differences that exist in various discourses around the problems of Indian education. Last, I included a strong element of narrative in writing, in hopes that some of the ideas expressed in the text will not only be available to an academic elite familiar with "educationese" but parents, students, professors and Elders who have an interest in education.



In this section I will briefly describe how some recognized educational research methods served as models and inspiration for this method. I will also point out places where I feel that my work diverged. And finally, I want to emphasize places where these traditions intersected with ideas gleaned from First Nations researchers or traditions.

The post positivistic methodological traditions I will discuss are critical ethnography, narrative inquiry and activist research. These are broad, interdisciplinary methodologies, and I will not attempt to review all the educational research which links them, desirable as such research would be. Rather, I want to focus my discussion on the ideas I found most useful in validating, legitimizing and/or inspiring my methodology as a situated response.

Critical ethnography

Apart from the obvious sort of "being there and participating" (participant observation), from critical ethnography I borrowed the important concept of "praxis" (Lather, 1991).

Critical ethnography is research which provides opportunity for the study participant to engage in dialectical interactions of action and reflection-praxis-in relation to both the research and their situations, thereby transforming those situations....(Haig-Brown, 1996).

I believe that being in this particular community as a researcher (among other things) opened up venues of communication and reflection which had not previously existed for this community. Further, the conversations that took place were implicitly and explicitly about transforming the school. In a school setting where life's urgencies were a daily part of the unofficial curriculum, taking time for these conversations seemed like a necessary luxury. Working in the school together provided avenues for "action" that might emerge from group discussions or researcher/teacher reflections. One clear illustration of this is from the class I conducted for teachers. After reading and discussing some of the research from the school, teachers all developed their own culturally relevant curriculum projects, or at least "directions" for projects.

Perhaps I did not strictly adhere to a critical ethnographic approach because the goal of my research was not to "understand" or interpret Ojibwe culture in any broad ethnographic sense. Trueba (1989) writes this about ethnography within educational research:

The main purpose of ethnographic research is to interpret the meaning of behavior by providing its appropriate social and cultural context.

The goal of my research was to use method and theory to explore an educational problem in a way in which the concept of culture was fluid. Relationships grounded in Ojibwe culture produced knowledge, methods and curriculum, which was a part of this research project, but my research was not intended to use an understanding of culture to interpret behaviors.

Ideas of power and respect were very helpful in legitimizing my thoughts on First Nations ethics,

Critical ethnography in a First Nations context resists hierarch-ical power relations between study participants, including the principal researcher, and focuses on ethics sensitive to and respectful of the participants and their contexts (Haig-Brown, 1996).

I believe I challenged the idea of a rigid hierarchy of power by building relationships that had multiple dimensions or, perhaps, just in recognizing this multiplicity. For example, in Elders meetings, at moments I was the "organizer" or facilitator and could control the agenda, but when it was time to eat I was just as easily a "waitress" or, at the meeting's end, a "driver." In many social contexts with the Elders I was simply a "young person" or a "helper." So, although I set the meeting dates or held the tape recorder in an interview, these positions of "power" could quickly vanish in a different setting. I believe this interpretation of "power relations" is a different one than a "power-blind" approach to research. That is to say, since I was the Ph.D. candidate, there were always certain economic and social privileges tied to my being a researcher that were not currently available to many of those who participated in the research. As already mentioned, I continually tried to involve community members in all levels of the project, to recognize my position as "not the expert," and to problematize the positions of power I did occupy. However, at some point I had to recognize that I did occupy them, even if I tried not to reinscribe them.


Narrative inquiry and oral traditions

Ideas from narrative inquiry informed my work on many levels. Specifically, this approach gave me permission to insert my voice directly into the text (see Williams, Anzaldua, hooks, for example). This was important to my project in order to explore the insights situated positioning of a researcher can yield. That is to say, just as I was specific about the context of the school and community, my voice and bias also was a part of the context and was explicitly included for this reason. Second, I found validation to the idea that it was important to include a multiplicity of voices from the community directly in the text as well (in addition to including long quotes within the text, eighteen full interviews were included in the appendix).

Practitioners have experienced themselves without voice in the research process and may find it difficult to feel empowered to tell their stories. They have been made to feel less than equal (Connelly, 1990).

The idea that "stories" are open to an infinite variety of interpretations, or especially to meanings which are not obvious ("ethnographic allegory" Clifford, 1986), was very appealing to me. This seems to intersect with some Native American ideas about story telling (Tayfoya, 1990; Archibald, Sheridan, and Jerry Smith- personal communication). In this particular Ojibwe tribal context, traditional stories were given much authority as teaching tools. In my research, however, I did not "ask" for stories (as someone using a narrative inquiry approach might). I asked questions and behaved in a way which often evoked stories as responses. I received theses stories as gifts, feeling respected as a learner and as a person who could be entrusted to make sense of the stories myself. My first set of protocols for receiving stories were from Ojibwe traditions; perhaps in this sense my methods diverged from narrative inquiry. For example, I would not write down or record "wintertime," or traditional, stories and knew it would be disrespectful to ask for permission. Usually, I did not record any stories given to me by Elders unless instructed to do so. On certain occasions, if I felt I wanted to use what was said in the text, I would ask to later transcribe "what I heard," for this purpose. In many ways the seriousness, respect and authority given to stories in my "methods" and in Ojbiwe traditions is divergent from that of narrative inquiry. Stories as "myth" or "folklore" conjures up connotations with which I would take issue.


Activist Research

The emerging "ethic" around doing research as a Native person in Native communities was a starting point for developing a commu-nity-based research project. I define a "community-based" research project as one which revolves around the perceived needs of the community rather than one which is dictated by academic protocol or traditions. I understand the idea of community-based research as a way of devoting time, attention, thought and sometimes actions to areas which are defined as problematic by the community itself.

This ethic is similar to the "community grounding" efforts of participatory research, work which comes out of a Freirian school of thought (Kidd, 1974). This approach to research requires a constant back and forth between the research group and the community of origin. Topics for research are generated around community needs, as perceived by community members. Another approach which grounds research in community is called "activist research" (Fine, 1994, Tierney, 1994). The idea which I find useful from this methodology is that the researcher's objective is to work towards some stated change within the community.

Activists research unearths, interrupts and opens new frames for intellectual political theory and practice....a move to activism occurs when research fractures the very ideologies that justify power inequalities (Fine,1994).

In my case, I am supporting the efforts of the tribal school to continue making changes to an Ojibwe culture-based curriculum.

In grounding my research in what I perceived to be a community need, I make no claims to an unbiased or "objective" methodology. I hold a vision for the school which involves the (Native) community and the school community coming together and working towards the goal of building a school which is strong academically and culturally-whatever this means as determined by these "communities"-and through the process of creating culturally specific curriculum. I surrender the "privileges" of trying to maintain and prove an "objective" position in this project to one which places me as an "activist" within the community, that is, a person working for change. The implication for this project is that it then contains a performative aspect-my objectives, biases, emotions and creativity are all a part of this project. This written expression of the work was created with the school/community audience in mind, with the hope of supporting change-more specifically, supporting a paradigm shift in the curriculum from one currently based on a "modernist" paradigm to one which is based on Ojibwe relationships, culture and values.


I have come to see creating culture-based curriculum as a "process in motion," much like I see First Nations research methods as a situated response. My research was driven by the question of culturally-based curriculum development, including all of the forms and shapes this question took throughout the writing of the dissertation. At the outset of this project I could not anticipate what steps I would need to take in order to explore these questions-some of the questions came about during the research, not before it. What I did articulate at the beginning of the research project was a sense of an emerging research ethic within Indian Country for Native peoples to conduct research in our own communities. I would like to revisit this ethic and articulate the methods which came about, in part, as a response to it. I do this in the spirit of wanting to contribute ideas about research ethics and methods to an ongoing discussion, not to define a new methodology.

Earlier, I wrote about going against, or contradicting, the history of being exploited by research processes. The contradiction to this history has been a starting point for my methodology: Relationships of reciprocity replace relationships of exploitation. Here I draw from Carl Urion's (1990) idea of a First Nation's discourse of learning. Most importantly, the idea of reciprocity and mutual respect in the teacher/learning relationship is emulated in my research methodology. This meant that the people I "interviewed" or gathered stories from were involved in an on-going, two-way, exchange with me. These were people with whom I had some kind of relationship before the formal "interview." The interviews drew on a common interest (the school, and the children there) and were intended to strengthen an existing relationship for the purpose of community building around the school, not to create a new or "artificial" relationship solely for the purpose of extracting information.

I am thinking of the time I went to "interview" Lucy. She was quite happy to have me visiting, but when I started to ask her "What should be taught at the school?" she told me that in the past three years of working with the Elders I had been asking that question. The question was not new, and I had already been given the answers, in so many different ways. We spent our time sipping coffee and I listened to other stories that day. I was a little surprised, and somewhat delighted. It made me feel as if I had been doing , and asking , what I had wanted to all along, and that that was understood.

The relationships, of reciprocity and respect, ordered the methods. This made my research a "process" which cannot be replicated but which is situated within the particular relationships among myself and other community members. This brings up a second point in my methodology, one which responds to Robert Allen Warrior's call to be intellectually sovereign,

If our struggle is anything, it is the struggle for sovereignty, and if sovereignty is anything, it is a way of life. That way of life is not a matter of defining a political ideology or having a detached discussion about the unifying structures and essences of American Indian traditions. It is a decision-a decision we make in our minds, in our hearts, and in our bodies-to be sovereign and to find out what that means in the process (Warrior, p. 123, 1995).

What I have done in my research is to constantly amend the process as responses from the community informed what I was doing.

In my interactions with the Elders I would ask a direct question about the meaning of culture-based curriculum or curriculum for the La Courte Orielles Schools, for example, and oftentimes the response I got was not an "answer" but rather a story about the boarding schools. This is how the chapter on boarding schools came about. I interpreted their stories to my questions as a way of telling me that the boarding school stories were an important piece of the puzzle of curriculum and schooling at the tribal school today.

I was concerned with researching a question which originated from the community, while also being acutely attuned to their responses. I wanted to know how these responses might be incorporated and again reorient the research process. After hearing a half dozen stories about boarding school experiences, for examples, I began to ask for these stories in my interviews and ask myself how to organize the dissertation around them.

I tried to approach this research in ways that strengthened existing relationships of reciprocity, community relationships. My writing came from a process of being a part of discussions, listening to stories, and reflecting back on practices. This all happened within the context of being a part of the community I was writing about. I believe that going back and forth between stories, practices and writings helped me to keep research grounded in the concerns of the community. Further, this research is only one moment in the process; teaching practices, school reform and many more stories are to follow.



The problem of "culture-based curriculum," as clearly as I could see it, was a multi-layered one. It was a problem embedded in a context of a culture in the midst of surviving colonization, a problem which attempted to use two of the tools of colonialism (schooling and research) in a way directly opposite of how they had been used historically. And last, it was a problem of identity. The research problem was to explore what becomes possible in terms of curriculum when culture and identity are thought of as fluid, not fixed, concepts.

Over the course of time, the problem came into focus for me, as did the response. It is only after a year of "being done" that I can reflect back and summarize in one paragraph what the problem was. And so is it true with methods. I approached the research methods as something which could change over the course of the research. To start !!![At the beginning] my only guide was that what I did and how I did it were "situated responses," specific to the culture, the problem and the dynamics of the particular context. One other guiding principle emerged over time: Be in the community as a community member first and a researcher second. In this way the community itself influenced and shaped the methods. The relationships I enjoyed in the community were not designed just to extract information or to exploit an "insider" perspective. The work I did was based on mutual respect and reciprocity, as a person who was deeply invested in studying a problem but not willing to prioritize this over the relationships created in the process. This meant that I had multiple responsibilities (not just to a university or a "committee") and relationships with people that had a variety of dimensions. Within this context, "methods" took on new meanings; methods were no longer simply tools for taking or discovering something. As textbook and tradition took a backseat to ethics and responsibility, methods began to feel like a holistic process rather than one fragment, or one procedure, apart from a whole.

Maybe going back really means going back and forth, for me, for now. So publishing something on methods is not so much "selling out" as it is paving a way for other scholars/community members like myself. Feeling yet another version of a dualistic and fatalistic choice emerging-smart or pretty; Indian or raceless; scholar or community member-I rush to object! It must be time to evolve beyond impossible choices for women and people of color in the academy.

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End Notes