Research involving Indigenous Peoples often results in little or no benefit to the communities involved and, in many instances, is still causing harm. To ensure such research is safe and beneficial to the communities involved, current research practices need to undergo fundamental changes.

To that end, we conducted a literature review and consulted with Indigenous researchers, communities, and Elders to better understand how research on Indigenous communities needs to change. In this blog, we outline what we heard through this process and provide recommendations for conducting research involving and impacting Indigenous Peoples so that it is safe and beneficial. 

What We Heard

Through our consultation and literature review, we heard there is a lack of reciprocity in research. This refers to a situation where research conducted on or with Indigenous communities benefits only the researcher, while it should also benefit the communities being studied. We also heard that there are inconsistencies and misrepresentations of Indigenous research ethics protocols and guidelines and that most research conducted at academic institutions doesn’t place the protection of Indigenous Peoples and their communities at the forefront. This comes along with a lack of knowledge about Indigenous histories, methodologies, and worldviews.

Our research also revealed a lack of adherence to Indigenous ethical principles and data sovereignty guidelines, such as the OCAP® principles (Ownership, Control, Accessibility and Possession) for research involving First Nations. Researchers too often don’t understand what self-determination in research is and what it involves, and this contributes to the fact that there are still academic researchers and university policies that enable research harms. Not enough time is devoted to engagement with communities and building trusting relationships, and this is not done in a timely manner. Overall, this means Indigenous knowledges, worldviews and approaches to research are not respectfully integrated into research practices.

Four Themes


1. Spirituality

To incorporate spirituality into research,Traditional Knowledge Holders and Elders should be included in all research involving Indigenous Peoples. Researchers should embed ceremony in the process of obtaining ethics approval and signing contracts. Ceremony should be embedded in senior leadership activities concerning Indigenous research ethics and contracts. This also involves at the core the need for critical examination and deconstruction of Western values and ethical principles and developing research ethics protocols and guidelines informed by Indigenous values, principles, and ethics. Research institutions need to honour and value Indigenous knowledges and ethical principles from a diversity of nations.

2. Indigenous Research Ethics Board Committee

Institutions should strive to create an Indigenous Research Ethics Board committee that reviews all applications identified as involving Indigenous individuals and communities as well as on-reserve lands and water. To gain ethics approval, research projects involving Indigenous communities must include information about their community engagement process, how Indigenous knowledges will be protected, and how the research will benefit the community or organization. 

3.  Indigenous Research Policies

Indigenous research ethics policies need to be developed to reach a decolonized model of ethics in which Indigenous ethical principles are at the forefront. These policies should outline specific guidelines for Indigenous research ethics, research agreements, and partnerships with Indigenous communities. The guidelines should highlight the need for community-specific consent and underscore the importance of involving spirit, appropriate ceremonies, and Elder engagement. Indigenous research policies need to provide clear descriptions of what community-driven, community-engaged, and community-based research entails.

Where do we go from here?

Our consultations and literature review have provided insights for revising Indigenous research ethics guidelines and protocols at the university level. In Canada, the revised TCPS2 Chapter 9 guidelines and the development of OCAP® principles have helped to ensure that research involving and impacting Indigenous Peoples is safe and beneficial. Despite this, it is evident that research is still being carried out that either provides no benefit or causes direct harm to the Indigenous communities involved.

Moving forward, it is vital to centre community-specific Indigenous ethics and values in Indigenous research policies and processes at universities as part of addressing the fourth overarching theme: developing a strategic plan for research involving Indigenous communities. The specific details of how this should be approached need to be developed and implemented in close consultation with Elders and a diverse range of Indigenous Peoples and communities at each university. 

We hope what we have learned from this research will support Indigenous research governance, Indigenous self-determination, and data sovereignty. Ultimately, research conducted with and for Indigenous communities should be both safe for and beneficial to the communities involved as determined by the communities themselves.

To learn more about this research, contact Cathy Fournier at