Indigenous Research Ethics Conference A Success

Mar 26, 2015

IPinCH held a national policy workshop and conference on Indigenous research ethics in Vancouver on February 18-20th. The “Working Better Together” conference brought together scholars, practitioners, students, administrators and policy makers of diverse cultural and professional backgrounds from across the country to explore what it means to work collaboratively in Indigenous research.

The event was organized by a dedicated team of IPinCH staff, steering committee members, and advisors, and chaired by Kelly Bannister with assistance from Olivia Sylvester. Major financial support came from an Impact award to IPinCH from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), with additional support from the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance and the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria, and the International Society of Ethnobiology Alliance for Biocultural Diversity. 

The event began with a traditional welcome by Musqueam Nation member Victor Guerin and an opening address by SFU President Andrew Petter who spoke of SFU’s commitment to working as equals in mutuality across cultures and the need to “challenge ourselves and to change ourselves” as part of this commitment.

Keynote speakers included Cree philosopher Willie Ermine of First Nations University of Canada, and Dr. Marlene Brant-Castellano, Community Co-chair, Aboriginal Council of Queen’s University - two of the most influential Indigenous ethics policy scholars in our country.

Professor Ermine elaborated on the concept and application of “ethical space”, a pivotal term that he introduced into Canadian research ethics over a decade ago. He explained ethical space in practical terms as the energy of our encounter with each other, linked to a spirituality that everyone has, offering us hope in our common humanity as "the critical mass of spiritual people working together".

Dr. Brant-Castellano spoke of the evolving dialogue on Indigenous Research Ethics over her past several decades of first hand involvement as an Indigenous professor and policy expert. She drew upon the two row wampum belt woven in 1613 between the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Dutch to show how making good relations was an early theme between First Nations and early settlers.

Three rows of white beads symbolize peace, friendship, and respect that lie between the two purple rows, which symbolizes the wake of two vessels: the Haudenosaunee and Dutch travelling down the river of life. One row symbolizes Iroquois laws and customs, the other European. As nations move together side by side on the river of life, they remain close enough to render assistance in times of need, but are to avoid steering each other’s vessels. The beads offer a deeply moving symbolism of the three-part commitment that link our people together. “We don’t veer off in different directions - we are ethically bound by the commitment to peace, friendship, and respect.”

Coast Salish elder Florence James (Penelakut Island) supported delegates throughout the event with ceremony and teachings, reminding us of our interconnections and relationships with the environmental and all creatures with whom we share the earth.

As part of the closing, youth delegate Mike McKenzie, National Association of Friendship Centres, encouraged participants to consider that ethics is about relationships and begins with developing a relationship with ourselves – and that ethics is a principle, like water, that is a part of each of us.

All conference presentations, including those drawing on IPinCH experiences made by IPinCH steering committee members George Nicholas, Catherine Bell, and John Welch will be available as part of the conference proceedings in future.


Photo: Opening Speakers at the Working Better Together Conference on Indigenous Research Ethics. From left to right: Brian Egan (Conference planning team), George Nicholas (Conference planning team), Florence James (Penelakut Tribe, Coast Salish Nation), Andrew Petter (SFU President), Victor Guerin (Musqueam Nation), Kelly Bannister (Conference Organizer and Chair), and Olivia Sylvester (Conference assistant) (photo: A. Kadir).