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Indigenous Research Methods by Canadian Cree, Shawn Wilson

June 30, 2010

Above: Students in Professor Hart’s and Professor Ross’ graduate reseearch class with Shawn Wilson. Back row (L to R): Allison Krebs, Shawn Wilson, Caroline Lanza, Amal Eqeiq, and Carol Warrior. Front Row: Chilan Ta, Michelle Kleisath, and Tia Gehlhausen.

By Clementine Bordeaux

Clementine Bordeaux is a member of the Rosebud Lakota (Sioux) Tribe located in South Dakota. She is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Communication with Native Voices, an Indigenous documentary film program.

My initial introduction to Dr. Wilson was through his book, Research Is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods (2008), which explores relationality and relational accountability in academic research. The book is thoughtfully written and is accessible – the voice is not overtly academic. Shawn offers a text that welcomes the reader, engaging him or her to look beyond conventional methodologies. Originally written as his doctoral thesis, the book allows the reader to think about research as a conversation, a relationship rather than a means to an end. It is a book that any individual, Indigenous or not, would benefit from reading.Dr. Shawn Wilson had a whirlwind visit to the University of Washington this Spring Quarter—full of classroom engagements, innovative presentations, small luncheons, large dinners, and the Native American Students in Advanced Academia (NASAA) annual Spring Symposium. I enthusiastically followed Dr. Wilson to as many events as my schedule would allow, each one more extraordinary than the next; hearts and minds that stimulated dialogue creating an environment of valuable reflection.

An Opaskwayak Cree originally from northern Manitoba, Dr. Wilson now resides in Australia with his wife and three children: Julius, Max, and Falco—whom he addresses directly in many of his works. One of the first questions Dr. Wilson asked me was, “Where are you from?” As an Indigenous person, it was a pleasure to meet an academic who openly recognizes a connection to the land. As his visit progressed, it was not long before students and faculty felt as though we were talking to an old friend. Dr. Wilson shows humility while engaging you to think in broader terms, with an open mind, by taking a positive approach to research.

A person he spoke candidly about was his father, Stan Wilson, who grew up in “the bush” of Canada and now has a doctoral degree. Having a strong background in education paved the way for Shawn to develop a keen interest in how Indigenous students in professional school could do well in the academic world while sustaining a strong connection to their Native identity. He is an ideal example of the power of education, travel and belief. There are times when we do not think of Indigenous Research on an international level, but Shawn has taken it from Canada to the world—a step, a thought, a paper, a conversation, a relationship at a time.

As the week dwindled down, I was left with a sense of accomplishment along with a feeling of empowerment. Dr. Shawn Wilson is just a man trying to open the doors to changing research methodologies for Indigenous people and beyond. I asked for his autograph in my book at the last event I shared with him, and he wrote, “Best of luck with your own Research Ceremony. Shawn Wilson.” Thank you for starting the dialogue, Dr. Wilson!

This project was supported, in part, by funding from the Center’s Program Enhancement Grant, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Government of Canada and Title VI grant, US Department of Education, Office of International Education Programs Service.