Research guidelines

Research guidelines for the research


The First Peoples Working Group (FPWG)’s initiative to draft guidelines for the Institut nordique du Québec is in keeping with ongoing efforts to decolonize research. Since the 1960s, Indigenous Peoples worldwide have been calling for the protection of their intellectual property rights and for researchers to adopt practices that incorporate a greater appreciation for ethics. For over 20 years, Indigenous initiatives in Canada have emerged in response to research needs expressed by Indigenous Peoples. This movement came about in the wake of the publication of the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples report, which includes a section on research principles. 

In Canada, major advances have been made to lay the groundwork so that scientific research is governed by research protocols, guidelines, agreements, accords, and respectful practices. The mission FPWG is working to fulfill is closely tied to this movement. It also reflects one of the goals of Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, namely, to support and promote research by, for, and with Aboriginal Peoples. By drafting these guidelines, FPWG seeks to ensure that research in the North is conducted in a manner that is both respectful of Indigenous Peoples and of benefit to them. 

These guidelines are also part of a broader movement to democratize, among other things, research, education, and training in which the participation of Indigenous Peoples is essential. Indigenous Peoples must not only be consulted during the various stages of research; they must also be able to take ownership of the research, in order to ensure the activities are mindful of the territory. As noted by Schnarch in his work on research principles, “By regaining control of institutions and processes that impact them, communities build hope for a healthy future”.


In the view of FPWG members, it is essential that Indigenous Peoples in the North be not only consulted during research, but that they also be involved in discussions and decision making prior to such research. Their knowledge must be sufficiently taken into consideration by researchers and students. Indigenous Peoples have centuries-old knowledge, and, depending on the type of knowledge in question, are open to sharing it through fair and equitable accords and agreements that ensure the protection of their unique heritage of knowledge. However, as they have pointed out, this knowledge belongs to them, as do decisions regarding which knowledge they choose to share and how it will be shared. 

The research guidelines presented herein are aimed at researchers and students associated with the INQ who are likely to work north of the 49th parallel, in Northern Quebec. This document can also serve as a good practices guide for any researcher interested in the North, in Canada and elsewhere. In other words, it is a reference document for northern research that constitutes one of the many research tools available for consultation.


Prior to the drafting of this discussion paper, a non-exhaustive review was conducted of the literature dealing with Indigenous and Northern research, and an in-depth analysis was done on the documents produced by various Indigenous bodies. 

For the sake of consistency with the principles of co-construction of knowledge with Indigenous Peoples, a draft of this paper was presented at the Forum on Research Needs in the North organized by the FPWG in March 2017. The forum provided an opportunity to consult Indigenous Peoples concerned and to validate the content of the guidelines. The discussion paper was also submitted for consultation online. The final version of the paper is available in English and French. 

Downloadable version

The complete downloadable version of the research guidelines is available below. This version contains all the information presented in the website, as well as bibliographical references and appendices offering complementary information.

Research Guidelines

Context of Research in the North

Research and Indigenous Peoples

For many years, research in an Indigenous context was carried out primarily by non-Indigenous researchers, who set the conditions for it. Historically, research was conducted in a colonial manner, without the collaboration of the peoples concerned, and without any validation or feedback on the results once the studies were complete. This explains why, in recent decades, Indigenous Peoples have criticized these methods, noting the lack of benefits for them. In fact, Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, along with others, were pioneers when it came to establishing research ethics standards. As Nagy mentions, “Thus in Canada it is now impossible for scientists to undertake research projects without the proper consultations, permissions, and collaborations with the communities involved.” However, this Canadian approach has not been unanimously accepted. Some European researchers are against the adoption of an ethics charter specific to social science research in the Arctic. It is also worth mentioning that

[…] Researchers in some fields, notably in natural sciences, are not used to dealing with human beings, and do not know how to react when Indigenous Peoples tell them they were created as stewards of Mother Earth, and that as a result it is up to them to decide how research on the land, the animals, and the plants must be defined.

The key focus in this context is on drafting, implementing, using, and institutionalizing research protocols in Indigenous ethics. 

A number of Indigenous Peoples and organizations have developed research protocols that help provide a framework for research in Indigenous settings and ensure compliance with research ethics standards. These tools address the concerns raised by Indigenous groups with regard to research conducted in their communities.

It is also essential to take into account the notion of “collective knowledge” (most often applicable in an Indigenous context), not solely that referred to as “individual knowledge,” which is more often applied in a non-Indigenous context. Furthermore, in an Indigenous context, it is important to make a distinction between “common knowledge,” i.e., that generally available to all; “family knowledge,” which circulates and is transmitted within families and between relatives; and “private or secret knowledge” that is known only to a handful of people. Finally, in affirming that Inuit knowledge is being respected, it is not enough to simply write terms in Inuktitut or in another language. 

FPWG: Defining the North

Coming up with a definition of the North is a challenge. INQ defines the North (or rather, the Norths) in relation to the 49th parallel. Four Indigenous nations—the Cree, Inuit, Naskapi and Innu—live in these northern regions, an area of over 1.2 million km2, or 72% of Quebec’s total land mass. They share the territory with the Atikamekw and the Anicinabek, who have family territories there. This definition reflects that of the Government of Quebec. 

But government and institutional definitions of the North do not necessarily coincide with those of the Indigenous Peoples, for whom the territory is shared among different nations, with varying degree of political or administrative boundaries. As a result, decolonizing research requires that considerable thought be given to the notions of customary law and traditional territory. FPWG therefore suggests that in drafting these guidelines, there be a reflection on defining the North, and that researchers establish, as part of their project and together with the Indigenous Peoples concerned, a common definition of the territory where the research is to be conducted. 

Principles of Research Ethics

Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession of Research Processes and Data

The principles of ownership, control, access, and possession of research processes and data (OCAP®)— including results—must be considered the very basis of research with Indigenous Peoples. The First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Research Protocol defines in detail these four principles, and aids researchers by posing clear questions that enable them to check whether these principles are being respected. 


Certain fundamental values rooted in Indigenous cultures must be taken into consideration in the research process. Researchers, students, and organizations must demonstrate their commitment to these values in their work. These values are respect, equity, reciprocity, equality, and transparency. 

  • Respect is more in the lines of acknowledgement and appreciation of differences […]”. Respect must continue throughout the research process, from the initial stages of contact to the relationship between the communities and the researcher, and the dissemination of results. Another specific aspect must also be considered, i.e., respect for the land and the environment, a value inherent in northern traditions.
  • Equity is the ability to give everyone what they deserve. In other words, this value refers to the sharing of knowledge, power, benefits, and spinoffs generated by research with the members of the community.
  • Reciprocity refers to the mutual relationship between the research team and the Indigenous community, one in which each party gives as much as they receive. Where there is reciprocity, there is equality between the different actors involved in the research process. This equality also applies to know-how and knowledge. In other words, Indigenous and Western knowledge is equivalent and complementary. 
  • Transparency is reflected in the commitment to bring to light the full reality. Indigenous communities expect researchers to disseminate information regarding their research in an accurate, clear, and comprehensive manner.

In short, what needs to be prioritized and promoted is the importance of building a relationship of trust among researchers, students, organizations, and the Indigenous communities. This relationship of trust is forged by upholding fundamental values throughout the research process. For an illustration of the interrelation of fundamental values and principles of research, we recommend consulting the concept map of the Research Protocol of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador. The document Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans also includes a chapter on ethics in Indigenous research covering the values of respect, well-being, and justice that were presented and discussed with Indigenous groups during scientific activities on the topic.

Importance of Indigenous Know-How

Indigenous Peoples are a repository of unique, rich, centuries-old expertise. While some of this knowledge may be considered sensitive, such as knowledge related to medicinal plants and to spirituality, it is important to ensure its protection and to transfer it to the next generation. This knowledge and know-how must be respected and taken into account during research, and considered as part of a vast, organized system of knowledge. For example, Indigenous knowledge of environmental conditions and socio-economic realities is an important source of insight for research. The knowledge held by Indigenous women merits special attention due to its unique and specific nature.

As set out in A Pan-Northern Approach to Science, “traditional and local knowledge is essential to our understanding the North.” It is therefore important to take it into account, alongside Western knowledge, at every stage of research. Indigenous knowledge helps not only to enrich research and knowledge about the North, it also aids in decision making in various spheres (environmental protection, governance, the safeguarding of northern cultures), while empowering Indigenous Peoples. Western and Indigenous knowledge contribute jointly to knowledge development.

Proposed Approaches for Conducting Research in the North

The Importance of Engaging

Undertaking research in the North is all about working in close cooperation with the communities, governments and organizations concerned, at every stage of the research project. Continuous follow-up is key throughout the process. A number of documents highlight these two aspects. In the Cree Regional Conservation Strategy, a document produced by the Cree Nation Government, it is clearly stated that all research must involve the full participation of the Cree. This recommendation is also set out in Makivik Corporation’s Guidelines for Research in the Nunavik Region. Lastly the Research Protocol of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador stresses the importance for First Nations to actively participate and collaborate in all the steps of the research process in their environment.”. In light of these examples, it is clear that both among the First Nations and the Inuit, this mutual engagement in research is essential, and is key to the success of such research projects.

Makivik Corporation recommends dividing research into different stages and providing feedback to the community at the end of each stage, from project development and data collection to results analysis, validation, and dissemination. This allows researchers and community members alike to see how the research is advancing and to make adjustments along the way. Flexibility is essential on the part of both sides.

The researchers must also be aware that this process can place a tremendous burden on communities that may or may not have readily available resources and capacity to fully take advantage of this collaboration. Researchers must thus also work to minimize this burden while still ensuring effective, meaningful collaboration with communities.

Interpersonal Skills in Northern Settings 

A community-based approach can help researchers engage fully in their research environment. The goal of this approach is simply to get the “newcomer” to take the time to get to know people, to introduce themselves, and to show an interest in their situation, with a view to gaining a better understanding of their culture.

Researchers must adopt the appropriate attitude and keep in mind that they are “visitors” in northern Indigenous territory. Rather than imposing their own practices, they must be receptive to those of the communities. It is important to take the time to forge ties with the community and respect the cyclical pace of life of Indigenous cultures.

Honesty, openness, patience, a willingness to listen, and humility are attitudes that researchers, students and organizations are encouraged to develop and put into practice when seeking to engage with an Indigenous community to conduct research.

Starting Points

Initial contact is a crucial stage that researchers are advised to prepare for carefully. Before making any contact, it is essential that researchers conduct a review of the scientific literature on the research topic (including that produced by Indigenous organizations) and perhaps even take an introductory course on Indigenous culture. This will allow them to identify where their topic fits in the existing corpus. It is also an indication of the researcher’s seriousness. The literature review must also take into account the social, political and institutional context into which their research will be inserted. In addition, it should include any existing research protocols within the Indigenous nation in question. This will help the researcher to develop a strategy for implementing such protocols. Researchers should also be aware that the large majority of literature comes from the non-Indigenous scientific community, which in itself reflects a bias against Indigenous knowledge. A literature review is therefore the first scientific step, however it needs to be carried out in conjunction with the study of Indigenous knowledge and information. Adopting a humble and prudent attitude with regard to one’s own interpretation mindset is useful when juxtaposing Indigenous knowledge and knowledge stemming from our Western scientific heritage.

In addition to reviewing the literature, an important part of preparing this initial contact involves describing the project and various research methodologies. This will help situate the researcher’s topic of research and intentions, and define the ethical space for discussions with the community so as to identify its needs within the framework of the research project. When researchers contact the local or regional government, band council, municipality, or community or regional organization, they must show an openness and willingness to co-construct the most suitable research goals and methodology for the context, and demonstrate that they have gathered knowledge during their preliminary research. While it is not always the case—and research funds do not always allow for it—it is recommended that all bachelor’s, master’s, and, in some cases, PhD students from universities around the world be accompanied by their research supervisor (or co-supervisor) during the first meeting(s) with the concerned Indigenous authorities. During these initial discussions with the community, the researcher must also mention the funding sources for thier project and explain the confidentiality of their data.

Once these initial stages are complete, researchers must validate their research protocol with their research partners and submit it for analysis to a research ethics board (REB).

A research ethics board is an authority created to assess the acceptability of research projects submitted to it. It is composed of individuals with various fields of expertise (traditional ecological knowledge, empowerment skills, and know-how; academic and scientific knowledge; local, community, and political representatives; and any other individual with relevant expertise in a First Nations context).

REBs are common in university settings, and certain Indigenous organizations also have a similar structure, e.g., the First Nations Information Governance Centre. Some Indigenous communities, including Mashteuiatsh and Kahnawake, also have their own guidelines and/or ethics committee. It is therefore up to researchers to be mindful of the existing authorities in the territory in question, while complying with the regulatory requirements of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS 2). Where the project does not involve human subjects, researchers are generally not required to apply for an ethics certificate from their university. However, if their project is carried out on the territory of an Indigenous nation, even if no human subjects are interviewed, the researchers should seek the support of the Indigenous communities, governments, or organizations present before beginning their project.


Researchers, in cooperation with Indigenous partners, must ensure they “choose a research methodology that respects the conditions prescribed by the Aboriginal community, taking into account the values and knowledge of Aboriginal women”. The selected methodology must then be presented to the community.

While there are various existing research methodologies, there is no single prevailing model. However, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and the Quebec Native Women’s Association both recommend participatory action research (PAR), the preferred methodology in Indigenous research due its collaborative approach. PAR is defined as a co-constructivist approach based on partnership between Indigenous Peoples and researchers.

The participatory action research approach is built around knowledge sharing and mobilization, shared responsibility for the research project, and community engagement. The goal of PAR is to empower communities by mobilizing and using their own expertise. This process is carried out with the involvement and collaboration of all stakeholders.

Once the data is collected and analyzed, the interpretation of the results, prior to publication, must be validated with the community in question. As Schnarch explains, “[as] with academic review, a First Nations review process is generally intended to ensure quality of the work, its relevance, and the appropriateness of interpretation. The review should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a threat. The definition of peer needs to be broadened”. The results validation stage should therefore be viewed as an opportunity for discussion, for example, during focus groups, where several interpretations of the same results may be valid and may coexist. If there are divergent opinions in the results analysis, the researchers must include the point of view of the Indigenous Peoples in their publications. The communities and stakeholders concerned must be able to dissociate themselves at any time from the results or the analysis conducted by the researchers.

This review can be carried out in several different ways, for example, by involving Indigenous researchers in results analysis, consulting the communities concerned, forwarding preliminary results, consulting interviewees, and other means. In all cases, it is important to ensure that the communication methods used by the researcher are appropriate and compatible with the community or organization (language, visual tools, written documents, popularization, etc.) Among other things, it is important for researchers not to overly generalize their findings, whereas there is a tendency to assume that the perspective of a few research participants is representative of a position held by the entire community, or even the entire nation.

Research Results

For too long, Indigenous communities have opened their doors to researchers without being able to take part in their research projects or receive any benefits once the work is complete. Today, where a collaborative approach is used, research results must be validated by the communities concerned, and must also benefit these communities. Researchers must transmit their results to the communities in question, and ensure that their research serves to rally and strengthen the communities.

The results must be disseminated in an appropriate manner for a northern community. In other words, the researchers must consider the various methods of communication used by Indigenous communities. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Nunavut Research Institute set out a number of different methods, stressing the importance of developing a communication strategy to disseminate results, for example, by way of local or regional radio shows; the creation of posters, brochures, or newspaper inserts; the use of social media; the publication of project summaries in accessible language; and others.

It is therefore crucial that researchers set aside the funds and time needed to disseminate their research results. They must also be willing to translate their documents and transmit them in accessible language to the communities in question.


It is important that researchers collaborate closely with people in the community and that they ensure their proposed research is relevant and has significant benefits for them. There are a number of ways researchers can promote harmonious collaboration with Indigenous communities:

  • Ensure the transfer of skills between researchers and Indigenous Peoples;
  • Develop the employability of the Indigenous Peoples by hiring and training local resources;
  • Act as a role model for the communities’ young people by sharing not only your knowledge, but also your career path as a researcher;
  • Implement permanent tools that are of benefit to the communities;
  • Purchase goods and services locally, where possible, when in the North;
  • Minimize your ecological footprint by leaving no waste behind and no equipment that cannot be used by the community members;

These recommendations reflect INQ’s sustainable development values and address the requests and needs of the Indigenous Peoples.