Tad at Fieldnotes has a post on “Resources for Researching Aboriginal Issues”:http://www.anthroblog.tadmcilwraith.com/2005/06/23/resources-for-researching-aboriginal-issues/ that I find quite interesting. The second resource that he mentions in his post is a researcher’s handbook by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs called “Stolen Lands, Broken Promises”:http://www.ubcic.bc.ca/Resources/rilq.htm . This is basically a guide for Aboriginal community members who wish to do research on various issues affecting their communities. The various chapters touch on different but related research topics of interest to anthropologists. What particularly caught my attention was chapter 8: “Anthropology Resources”:http://www.ubcic.bc.ca/files/PDF/RILQ2005/CH8_Anthropology.pdf .
Unsurprisingly, the ethnocentric nature of some anthropological research projects is pointed out. In fact, the authors of this handbook are very well aware that the early anthropological project was mostly reflective of Western values that were tied into a colonial project in many ways. For example, the following statement jumped out at me:
Whatever the scope of your project, you will need to make sure you cafefully analyze the material you collect. Anthropological reports were most often produced by outside researchers with distinctly different cultural practices and expectations than the people they studied. They may include important information but they may also reveal more about the beliefs and values of the time and place in which they were created. Often, these studies may meet the standards of academic research but fail to accurately represent Indigenous Peoples and our communities. Consider the biases and limitations in the documents you encounter while extracting the information you need for your research.
To me, this touches on several of the topics we have discussed here on SM recently. More specifically, theory and morality come to mind. I’ve long been ambivalent about the process of theorising about a group of people with the goal of contributing to an overarching “scientific” project, particularly when the people being theorised about have little voice with regards to the theories constructed around them or little concern for the scientific project of theory creation. Therefore, I feel that Aboriginal peoples are justified in their wariness of anthropological research. We cannot deny that many ethnographies have unjustly portrayed Aboriginals and other societies, sometimes to the detriment of fruitful dialogue.
During my own fieldwork in Chisasibi, the comment was made to me that the Cree had felt misrepresented in some previous works and were now quite sceptical of what exactly anthropologists were trying to do. As noble as I felt my intentions were at the time (ie. to help foster inter-cultural communication), in the end my project benefited me much more than the community that hosted me: it got me an M.A. and a subsequent job at a publicly funded college. In the 7 years since my fieldwork, I have not yet even had the opportunity to go back to Chisasibi to give the band council a copy of my thesis as promised. I could mail it . . .but it wouldn’t be the same.
On the other hand, I feel strongly that anthropologists can and should be doing research that both meets the standards of academic research and fulfills a need that Aboriginal communities may have, taking into account their perspectives on self-representation. Of course, this may require changes in the criteria for academic research in the first place.
How are anthropologists supposed to preach cultural relativity if we can’t practice it with regards to cultural differences in the perception of how cross-cultural research should be carried out? This strikes me as a fundamental problem in anthropolical research, a sort of hypocrisy, that continues to plague us in spite of ongoing critiques by the people with whom we deal and to whom we owe our livelihood.