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Community-based research (CBR)


As shown in previous examples in this course, Indigenous peoples should lead the processes that directly affect them. This includes researching, collecting, archiving, and interpreting their cultural heritage. As Linda Tuhiwai Smith has stated in her work “Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples,” the word research is charged with negative connotations for many Indigenous people. The extractive and harmful practices that have dominated many approaches to conducting research about and not with Indigenous peoples can still be felt today. Therefore, it is our joint responsibility to identify these practices and work towards developing better approaches that are led by and in collaboration with Indigenous communities.

This work can be daunting, and the emotional labour required to dismantle colonial structures often takes an emotional toll on Indigenous people who are left to do the work alone. However, non-Indigenous people are also accountable for working jointly and responsibly with Indigenous people to ensure that the bulk of the work is adequately distributed between everyone. It may be useful for you to revisit the section of the course we speak about the importance and the principles of allyship. Later in this course you will learn from Indigenous leaders like Puawai Cairns in New Zealand and Tricia Logan in Canada about two important Indigenous led initiatives in two parts of the world.

In the following example we would like to show you what a responsible approach to doing Indigenous research with and not about Indigenous people can look like from the perspective of non-Indigenous researchers.

In their article Community-driven Research in Cultural Heritage Management: the Waanyi Women’s History Project, scholars Laurajane Smith, Anna Morgan and Anita van der Meer describe some of the challenges associated with Cultural Heritage Management (CHM) in relation to the meaningful participation of Indigenous peoples.

They define CHM as:

“a technical process in which experts such as archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and/or conservation architects assess the meaning and value of heritage places and develop and implement management policies and strategies.”
According to them, CHM might come into conflict with Indigenous peoples’ conceptions of heritage, because of the use of archeological knowledge as a guiding principle. Informed community consultation has been used as a way to resolve these issues. And thus, community-initiated and community-run projects have emerged as a result of such initiatives.
The authors argue that these processes have:
“begun to modify, if not challenge, the role of experts and expertise in CHM processes and, as it does so, a range of issues about the nature and practice of CHM begin to emerge.”
The Waanyi Women’s History Project is used as a case study. This ongoing project began in early 2000, and it aims to record sites and places of significance to Waanyi women. The authors develop the project jointly with the Waanyi Women’s History Committee, all of whom are trained as archaeologists.
The project resulted from a request made by a group of senior Waanyi women during a meeting of Waanyi and land managers. The women expressed a sense of frustration at not having autonomy in deciding on their cultural issues and requested help in establishing a project to identify and protect sites. The authors and the women jointly applied for funds and started this community-driven project, where the aims, methodology and dissemination of results are all determined and controlled by senior Waanyi women.
The aims of the project are:
  • identification of sites, places and landscapes of significance to Waanyi women;
  • development of protocols for consultation, and the management and conservation of Waanyi women’s sites, landscapes and places;
  • identification of management and conservation issues at specific sites and places of significance to Waanyi women;
  • documentation of, and research into, Waanyi women’s oral histories and significant sites and places with the view to developing management policies and practices sensitive to the needs and concerns of Indigenous women.

The Waanyi women were particularly concerned about the publication or dissemination of cultural information about the sites, which they consider to be culturally inappropriate. The authors affirm that working towards a relationship of trust is an important element in any heritage project involving Indigenous peoples, and that their involvement in the project was based on trust and a history of working with local community members. Besides recording data on the specific sites and women’s genealogies, the organizers also recorded some oral histories with senior women in the community. The information recorded is only available to the community.

“The role of archaeologists as ‘experts’ in the management process has been largely subsumed by the new role of ‘facilitator’.” Something that surprised the authors was the fact that in between recordings, they would spend most of their time fishing. As archaeologists, they initially found this frustrating because they felt we were not really working. However, the Waanyi women used this time for self-care after the exhausting emotional labour of providing information. This time was also used simply to enjoy being back in their country, something that was as equally or sometimes more important than recording their information.


Smith, Laurajane & Morgan, Anna & A, van. (2003). Community-driven Research in Cultural Heritage Management: the Waanyi Women’s History Project. International Journal of Heritage Studies. 9. 65-80. 10.1080/1352725022000056631.

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