Home Inuit Forum The pursuit of Inuit self-determination in research

The pursuit of Inuit self-determination in research

Participants in the kANGIDLUASUk Student Program participate in field research while learning the intricacies of Inuit culture and discovering Torngat Mountains National Park. © kANGIDLuASuk Student Program

As summer approaches in Inuit Nunangat, southern researchers are preparing for their annual migration North to undertake field research on our land, animals, environment, and on us, Inuit, the most studied Indigenous people on the planet. Research can have a positive role in influencing the policies that affect our lives, which is why we encourage research projects carried out in partnership with Inuit that are designed to create positive, lasting change to our social, environmental, and economic reality.

Research in Inuit Nunangat has a negative legacy in many of our communities, where all too often Inuit have been the subjects of research but have not directly benefited from it in any meaningful way. This is especially true of the social sciences. For example, anthropologists have published thousands of academic articles and books about Inuit, and convened hundreds of academic conferences over the last several decades that discuss our people and culture in great detail. Yet despite the vast resources leveraged to carry out this research, the overall benefits to Inuit have been negligible and in many cases systemic non-Inuit biases in research methodology have led to skewed results that hurt our efforts to accurately assess our culture, identity, and environment.

Many researchers and research institutions continue to exploit Inuit and the challenges we face for their own gain. Inuit self-determination in research is about changing this reality so that our people and communities benefit from research. This involves Inuit deciding what issues are worthy of study, how research about our people is carried out, how data about Inuit are used and interpreted, and with whom and in what manner research findings are shared.

There are practical, mutual benefits to this. For example, Nunavut is the only jurisdiction in Inuit Nunangat that tracks Inuit-specific data on suicide. this means that Inuit-specific data related to this challenge are not readily available in three of our four Inuit regions, which makes it more difficult for us to understand and address the most challenging and devastating social issue of our time. Jurisdictions in Inuit Nunangat would benefit by partnering with Inuit to ensure that the methods they use to gather and track suicide data capture the information that we need to take action.

The barriers that Inuit often encounter around research are, sadly, rooted in outdated colonial attitudes and beliefs about the role Indigenous peoples are expected to play in research. Our science and our people are expected to play secondary and supporting roles to authoritative southern researchers, and the fact that there is no university in Inuit Nunangat speaks to this commonly held view.

These attitudes are slowly changing as more researchers act on their responsibility to work in equal partnership with Inuit.

We now have amazing work being carried out by Inuit in each of our regions, at the Nunavik Research Centre in Kuujjuaq, for instance, and within the Nunatsiavut Government. Inuit self-determination in research is about defining the reality we wish to see, and ascertaining how research and research institutions can best help us achieve that reality.

ITK is committed to defining a path forward toward greater Inuit self-determination in research that has as its focus the improved health and well being of our people. After so many decades of being preyed upon, mischaracterized and marginalized by researchers and research institutions, our people are now standing up and demanding a new reality. I look forward to partnering and working with all those who stand with Inuit within the research community as we take these difficult but necessary de-colonizing measures.

Natan Obed
President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

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