How We Learned

Our team was guided by Indigenous research methods and Decolonizing Methodologies

Respect for Indigenous processes, protocols, and ways of knowing were central to our way of working and learning together and grounded our Research EthicsCommunity Advisory Boards acted to guide different phases of this research.

We used a Youth-Driven Participatory and Community-Based Approach, ensuring that students and community members were involved in all phases of the project (planning, researching, data collection/analysis, knowledge sharing, etc.).

We used Talking Circles and interviewed individuals and families using audio and video, depending on the participants’ preference. 

Our methodology and process is detailed in the FPPSE Research Manual.

Decolonizing Methodologies

We’re humans, we go through challenges, it’s part of it and we acknowledge that, so we’ve made space for that, we give people time and offer support.”

– FPPSE Team Member

Indigenous communities have long experienced exploitation by researchers and are increasingly making use of decolonizing research processes.

Because Indigenous histories have so often been absent or misrepresented, oral histories or storytelling provide a vehicle for Indigenous peoples to be included, particularly youth, and to be recognized as experts in their own experiences.

Decolonizing research is a process for conducting research ‘with’ Indigenous peoples and communities that places Indigenous voices and epistemologies (ways of knowing) in the centre of the research process (Tuhiwai Smith, 2012).

For us decolonizing research involves:

  • Flattening of hierarchies and collective decision-making
  • Emphasis on process
  • Transparency: We are all keepers of and creators of knowledge and can access that knowledge
  • Storytelling: Ceremony and culture, spirituality
  • Relationship building: care and support

A decolonized approach is holistic, and relationships are at the core. Like the students who shared their stories for this project, our work as researchers is not separate from who we are as individuals, and as family and community members.

In many ways the community and network of support created over the duration of the FPPSE filled gaps in education identified in the research findings that (a) students cannot be who they are at school, (b) have to deal with their conflicts and challenges separate from school which adds a great deal of stress and pressure, (c) educational experiences are not holistic, and value intellectual learning and, critically, (d) relationships are paramount. SPACE The stories shared during this project belong to the tellers and to their communities. They will be brought back to community members through the website and printed booklets in Inuktitut, Kanien’keha, Cree, English and French.

Research Ethics and Community Advisory Boards

“I met a lot of people through the project and I feel like I’ve gotten really close to everybody, like I got a little less shy…

I finally got the confidence to go in my own direction, I feel really proud. There’s been a lot of transformation on my end, a lot of relationship building”

– FPPSE Research Assistant and
Community Advisory Board Member


Indigenous researchers face challenges creating and applying research methods that respect two fundamentally different epistemologies (Assembly of First Nations, 2009). To date, ethical frameworks have been developed by Indigenous organizations such as the First Nations Information Governance Centre (OCAP®), the Assembly of First Nations, the Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project (KSDPP Code of Research Ethics), the Mi’kmaw Ethics Watch, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and others. These and the work of Indigenous scholars such as Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Shawn Wilson, Willie Ermine, Maggie Kovach and Cora Weber-Pillwax informed our approach.

Doing ethical research within an Indigenous framework requires time and attention. There are many factors to consider related to possible impacts on individual participants and their communities:

  • How do cultural protocols shape the research project?
  • What is the overarching goal of the research project and who will benefit most?
  • How will the research benefit the community where the research occurs?
  • How will the knowledge gained from the research be shared/returned to both individual participants and their respective communities (including the urban sector)?

To address such questions, we invited students and community representatives from the nations involved in the project to be part of Community Advisory Boards (CABs). The CABs’ role was to oversee the research process and guide important aspects of decision-making. In line with First Nations principles of OCAP™ and the Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project’s (KSDPP) Code of Research Ethics, Community Advisory Boards were essential in helping ensure accountability to the communities involved and continually reviewing the relevance of the research and project activities. CABs helped develop and test interview questions, vetted preliminary results and guided dissemination of outcomes.

During storytelling exchanges, each participant had the choice of telling their story on audio or video, individually or with a friend or family member. Some storytelling exchanges took place in personal homes, some at school. We made sure participants had food and drink, and offered cultural and spiritual support. All stories were transcribed, and participants were asked if they preferred this be done by a non-community member. Many of our communities are small!

The notion of Free, Prior and Informed consent was thoroughly discussed with the CABs. The purposes of the project, intended outcomes and use of the stories was discussed with all participants. Individuals telling their stories were able to review them after sharing them. This involved taking the extra time needed to ‘member check’, which meant seeking approval from participants each time we wanted to share parts of their stories (from either written quotes or film clips). Participants could decide if their story was shared publicly or not. All participants had the option, and still have the option, to withdraw from the project at any time.

All participants of this project were gifted with an honorarium. This we believe, is ‘lived’ decolonized research. What we learned is that taking the extra time to add these steps into the research process contributes to building trusting relationships with each other, which usually end up being longlasting. This has been rewarding for all of us.

We are extremely grateful to all who shared their story and trusted in our process and project.

We acknowledge the Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project (KSDPP) for their guidance and research expertise in participatory research methods, and for use of the KSDPP Code of Research Ethics.

Youth-Driven Participatory and Community-Based Approach

I felt this project really helped me prepare for other research jobs.

I was able to contribute because I was already trained with coding and how a research project works…I was able to provide some input into what it means to use an indigenous lens within a project and we were able to influence how the questions were formed.

I also tried to make it as respectful as possible, from what I’ve learned from this project, because I find this team is very respectful.

– FPPSE Research Assistant and
Community Advisory Board Member

Indigenous youth played a central role in driving this project, as Community Advisory Board members and as Researchers, building capacity of emerging Indigenous scholars and securing their place as active partners in the development of their own educational futures.

We witnessed first-hand research assistants becoming self-confident and ready to share their skills with others — including contributing to research projects in their communities.

Participants were recruited through facebook and postings in Indigenous student centres, yet the most effective recruitment was word of mouth, youth reaching out to youth.

The FPPSE provided opportunities for active youth engagement in all aspects of the project from discussions of ethics and consent to data collection including interviewing, filmmaking, audio and video recording, storytelling, and facilitating talking circles.

Student researchers transcribed and coded interviews, analyzed data and presented research results at local and international conferences. All of these processes involved critical discussions about methodologies and approaches to research and knowledge mobilization.


Talking Circles

“I think my passion for education stems from the social issues that I grew up in or saw in my community. My goal is to help in some way when it comes to the social issues that we face. I want to really encourage students to go to college and that’s why I wanted to be a part of this circle, so I could bring that to my community.”


– FPPSE Storyteller

The Talking Circle or Sharing Circle is a research method long used by Indigenous peoples as a customary way to make decisions through a group process, to discuss a topic, for healing, and as a way of bringing people of all ages together.

Talking Circles can be used for teaching, listening and learning. We conducted Talking Circles as a culturally appropriate tool to gather stories from participants in a respectful and culturally safe way. These provided important occasions for connection, trust building, and support among team members and participants.

Participants’ stories of education showed strength and courage but they were also difficult and sometimes very emotional. Talking circles and ceremony were medicine for all of us.

We were fortunate to have an Elder present who guided us through ceremony, and shared songs. Because we feel that food is an important part to include in all of our gatherings, plenty of healthy, nutritional, and sometimes traditional food was shared during all of our Talking Circles and during most of our meetings.

With the Community Advisory Boards we decided not to record the Talking Circles on video, so participants could feel more comfortable.

Research Manual

Our methodology and process is detailed in the FPPSE Manual for Researchers, Interviewers & Talking Circle Facilitators