Research As Ceremony
– a book review by Chaya Ocampo Go of Shawn Wilson’s “Research Is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods”, Fernwood Publishing, Halifax, 2008
The author of this book review is a Filipina graduate scholar at the UBC Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality & Social Justice. She writes this review after having respectfully listened to Shawn’s storytelling in the course of 3 months, and now upholds the relational accountability to synthesize (rather than deconstruct) what she has learnt from him.
The book Research Is Ceremony by Shawn Wilson, an Opaskwayak Cree father of three boys, scholar, son, uncle, storyteller and teacher, expounds on the elements of an Indigenous research paradigm. It aims to present shared aspects of ontology, epistemology, axiology, and methodology in the research conducted by Indigenous scholars in Australia and Canada, but also extends a larger invitation for Indigenous peoples to engage in and practice their own research projects. By sharing his life story, alternating between addressing the reader and his sons, and including the many voices of his Elders, family members and other Indigenous scholars, Shawn invites us into an ‘extra-intellectual’ journey of learning with him. Throughout the book, relationships are repeatedly proposed to lie at the heart of an Indigenous paradigm. Knowledge is sacred. Research is ceremony as it is profoundly located in relationality: “The purpose of any ceremony is to build stronger relationships or bridge the distance between aspects of our cosmos and ourselves. The research that we do as Indigenous people is a ceremony that allows us a raised level of consciousness and insight into our world” (p.11, 137)
By consistently contrasting an Indigenous paradigm from the dominant Eurocentric worldview, Research Is Ceremony straddles two worlds, and in great conscious effort chooses not to vacate one for the other. Its strength lies not only in an individual scholar’s persistence to articulate an Indigenous reality, but its strength also draws from a larger body of decolonizing scholarship to resist academic imperialism in the modern university while insisting on the truthful validity of Indigenous knowledges. Shawn references the pioneering work of Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai-Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies (1999) as a precedent in this endeavour. Such work carries political implications: Shawn’s manner of writing that is multivocal, styled in alternating fonts, carried through a circular (rather than a linear) logic, and which unapologetically blurs the personal and the academic, may be disconcerting for the Western reader, if not an easy target for ridicule! The discomfort is, however, necessary in research projects which ‘talk back to empire’. In addition to learning about the theoretical foundations of an Indigenous research paradigm, Shawn’s student-reader begs to learn of other specific research projects which illustrate in more concrete ways the practical applications of such principles.
Along these lines, I find Shawn addressing me directly as a Filipina whose scholarship-activism is also founded on a profoundly intimate understanding of relational accountability to my community, ancestral lands, cosmos, and own self. I take inspiration in the work of Filipina scholar-artist, Grace Nono, which was similarly created in response to Tuhiwai-Smith’s call for a resurgence of Indigenous-led projects. Nono echoes the thoughts of pioneering Filipina scholar, Teresita Obusan (1994), when she writes of her positionality as an Indigenous researcher: the Filipino/a mananaliksik (researcher) is not an objective bystander gathering data who sees kapwa (the self in the other) as a mere subject, but as a kapwa-Filipino/a who carries Indigenous knowledge in that relationship (2013, 39). While Shawn proposes talking circles, storytelling, and a lifetime of participant observation as Indigenous research methods, Sikolohiyang Pilipino (Indigenous Philippine psychology) similarly proposes pakikiramdam (sensing and feeling what is happening), pakikisama (frequent interaction to be with research participants), pakikipagkuwentuhan (story-telling and conversing), and pagninilay-nilay (introspection or reflection), among other ways of being and relating as Indigenous research methods (Church and Katigbak 2002, 136).
Kung ang pananaliksik ay ang paglalakbay tungo sa kaalaman, ang ating ugnayan sa kapwa tao, hayop, lupa, diwata, mga ninuno, anak, at sa ating mga sarili ay ang tanging pag-uugatan ng ating pagbubuo ng kaalaman. If research is a journey towards knowing, then our relations—with fellow human beings, animals, lands, spirits, ancestors, children, and our own selves—will be the only ceremonial ground for research to take root in while making whole our knowledge.
Meeting and learning from Shawn through his book as a Filipina scholar-activist living on unceded Coast Salish Territories, I remember my kapwa mananaliksik across Turtle Island, especially those gathered around the Centre for Babaylan Studies. I imagine Indigenous Filipino/a scholars advancing feminist and decolonizing scholarship to be in more direct conversations with Aboriginal feminists, such as those in Making Space for Indigenous Feminisms (Green 2007), in powerful transnational gatherings for Indigenous resurgence both in academic and activist fields.
Church, A.T. and Katigbak, M.S. (2002). Indigenization of Psychology in the Philippines. In International Journal of Psychology 37(3), 129-148.
Green, J. (Ed.) (2007). Making Space for Indigenous Feminism. Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing.
Mendoza-Strobel, L. (Ed.) (2010). Babaylan: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.
Nono, G. (2013). Song of the Babaylan: Living Voices, Medicines, Spiritualities of Philippine Ritualist-Oralist-Healers. Quezon City: Institute of Spirituality in Asia.
Obusan, T. (Ed.) (1994). Pamamaraan: Indigenous Knowledge and Evolving Research Paradigms. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Asian Centre.
Tuhiwai-Smith, L. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Dunedin, NZ: University of Otago Press.