Decolonizing and indigenous methodologies

Over the summer, I was very fortunate to travel for the first time to the North Island of New Zealand where I was able to walk among the magnificent Kauri trees, visit the amazing thermal landscapes around Rotorua, and appreciate the wonderful rivers, waterfalls and coastlines. What beauty! Enjoying the wonderful scenery and learning about the history of New Zealand (in Māori, Aotearoa) and Māori culture reminded me of Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s (1999) influential text, Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples.

The 2nd edition of this book was published in 2012. For those of us who live in settler countries (Prasad, 2018) such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, this book provides a thought-provoking review of how social science research practices, including qualitative inquiry, have been implicated in imperialism and the colonization and subjugation of indigenous peoples. I found Smith’s book compelling when I read it years ago, and still do.

If you want to learn more about Dr. Smith’s work, there are several YouTube videos of talks she has given, including:

Dr. Linda T. Smith

Linda T. Smith and Eve Tuck

Linda T. Smith at Simon Fraser University 

In the past 2 decades since the publication of the first edition of Smith’s book, there have been many other texts that discuss decolonizing and indigenous methodologies. These include Bhatia (2018); Chilisa (2012); Denzin, Lincoln, and Smith (2008); Diversi and Moreira (2009); Mutua and Swadener (2004); and Paris and Winn (2014) among others. Scholars who work with indigenous groups, or who wish to employ decolonizing methodologies in their research practice have a wealth of material, along with exemplars to explore (for two recent examples, see Chacaby & Plummer, 2016 in Canada; and  NiaNia, Bush, & Epston, 2017 in New Zealand).

In a recent article released online before print in Qualitative Inquiry, Joseph Gone (Forthcoming), who is a “clinically trained, community-engaged research psychologist with faculty appointments in both psychology and Native American Studies” (p. 1) explains the misgivings he has about indigenous research methodologies (IRM). This discussion is situated in the North American context. Gone begins his article by including the text of a talk he gave at the American Indigenous Research Association in 2014. The talk begins by outlining 10 postulates of IRMs. It then describes three sets of questions about IRMs (including “What is an IE [indigenous epistemology]?” “Who is an Indigenous knower?”, and “How should we study, describe, and represent IEs?”) and explains 8 misgivings – each posed as questions – that the author has about IRMs (p. 3):

  1. Participates in untenable ethnoracial and cultural essentialism?
  2. Emphasizes forms much more than findings?
  3. Promises beyond what it delivers in terms of novel insights and answers?
  4. Insulates inquiry from skeptical interrogation?
  5. Resituates research as identity expression rather than knowledge contribution?
  6. Obscures intellectual debts to “Western” critical theories and approaches?
  7. Misdirects attention from material decolonization?
  8. Marginalizes existing (but nonacademic) Indigenous knowledges?

The talk concludes with two “take-home” points, which are summed up as follows: (1) it is unlikely that IES are “well-suited for university-based knowledge production absent a great deal of repackaging, recasting or reconstruction of these knowledge traditions”; and (2) IRMs adopted by and for Indigenous peoples are best characterized as Métis [“mixed”, p. 8] forms of inquiry” (p. 3). The paper concludes with a response to critiques of the original address that have since been published and a discussion of Gone’s thoughts about potential future directions for indigenous research methodologies. This article, and the debate within which it is situated, is thought-provoking, and contributes to ongoing discussions of what decolonizing methodologies look like, and how they might be applied to conduct research. For anyone interested in learning about recent debates concerning indigenous research methodologies — this article is a must-read.

Kathy Roulston

P.S. If you are planning to visit New Zealand, some of my favorites include:

  • The Kauri Museum in Matakohe, Northland
  • A ferry ride in Auckland Harbor
  • A trip to the Waipoua Forest to see what is thought to be the largest living Kauri tree in New Zealand, Tāne Mahuta, Lord of the Forest
  • A visit to the Auckland War Memorial Museum

What are your recommendations for places to visit in New Zealand?


Bhatia, S. (2018). Decolonizing psychology: Globalization, social justice, and Indian youth identities. New York: Oxford University Press.

Chacaby, M.-n., & Plummer, M. L. (2016). A two-spirit journey: The autobiography of a lesbian Ojibwa-Cree elder. Winnipeg, Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press.

Chilisa, B. (2012). Indigenous research methodologies. Los Angeles: Sage.

Denzin, N. K., Lincoln, Y. S., & Smith, L. T. (Eds.). (2008). Handbook of critical and indigenous methodologies. Los Angeles: Sage.

Diversi, M., & Moreira, C. (2009). Betweener talk: Decolonizing knowledge production, pedagogy, and praxis. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Gone, J. P. (Forthcoming). Considering Indigenous Research Methodologies: Critical Reflections by an Indigenous Knower. Qualitative Inquiry, 0(0), 1077800418787545. doi:10.1177/1077800418787545

Mutua, K., & Swadener, B. B. (Eds.). (2004). Decolonizing research in cross-cultural contexts: Critical personal narratives. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

NiaNia, W., Bush, A., & Epston, D. (2017). Collaborative and indigenous mental health therapy: Tātaihono – Stories of Māori healing and psychiatry New York & London: Routledge.

Paris, D., & Winn, M. T. (Eds.). (2014). Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities. Los Angeles: Sage.

Prasad, P. (2018). Crafting qualitative research: Beyond positivist traditions (2nd ed.). New York & London: Routledge.

Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. London and New York: Zed Books Limited.


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