Twenty five Indigenous Projects

In advancing the agenda of reclaiming, reconstructing and reformulating indigneous cultures and languages, indigenous people have strategically engaged in the research process. The projects that they undertake are driven by an agenda of social justice that advances issues such as cultural survival and restoration, self-determination and healing.

Listed here are some examples of indigenous research programmes as outlined by Linda Smith (1999). These projects are listed here as examples of the way in which indigenous people have engaged in the research process to advance their collective philosophy's or agenda (in other words, their 'kaupapa').


Indigenous peoples are engaged in a process of 'claiming' and 'reclaiming' their rights and entitlements following a history of colonisation and the subsequent processes of redress established within their judiciary systems. Engaging in the process of formal redress through courts, tribunals and governments have required extensive research by indigenous peoples in order to prove and justify their claims. These claims have resulted in the extensive recovery and writing of family, tribal and national histories. These stories have a specific purpose in that they are used to justify claims over territories and prove that past injustices have taken place. As a result only some stories are used in this process. These claiming stories also need to be constructed in order to reach three different audiences, the judiciary, the general non-indigenous population and then for the indigenous people themselves.

"They teach both the non-indigenous audience and the new generations of indigenous peoples an official account of their collective story. But, importantly, it is a history which has no ending because it assumes that once justice has been done the people will continue their journey. It may be that in time the histories have to be rewritten around other priorities" (Smith, 1999, p. 144).


Testimonies intersect with claiming as they provide the oral evidenced used in claims processes, and are again presented for a specific purpose to a specific audience. The process and formality associated with giving testimonies under oath provide a structure through which events can be related and feelings expressed. A testimony is also a space in which 'witness accounts' are accorded a certain protection and respect. The structure of testimonies appeal to many indigenous participants, particularly to elders because of the formalities, the context and the sense of immediacy associated with this form of storying. These stories however are constructed by the interviewer, asking questions only relevant to the purpose of the testimony, which allows some responses to be heard while others are silenced.


Story-telling and oral histories are an integral part of indigenous research. These stories are not told only for the purpose of telling a tale, but rather as a means of contributing to a collective story in which every indigenous person has a place. Russell Bishop suggests, that story-telling is an appropriate way of representing the 'diversities of truth' within which the story-teller rather than the interviewer retains control (Bishop, 1996).

"For many indigenous writers stories are ways of passing down the beliefs and values of a culture in the hope that the new generations will treasure them and pas the story down further. The story and the story teller both serve to connect the past with the future, one generation with the other, the land with the people and the people with the story. Intrinsic in story telling is a focus on dialogue and conversations amongst ourselves and indigenous peoples, to ourselves and for ourselves" (Smith, 1999, p. 145).

4. Celebrating Survival

"Celebrating survival is a particular sort of approach. While non-indigenous research has been intent on documenting the demise and cultural assimilation of indigenous peoples, celebrating survival accentuates not so much our demise but the degree to which indigenous peoples and communities have successfully retained cultural and spiritual values and authenticity" (Smith 1999, p.145).

These events and accounts of resistance and survival are means of celebrating and affirming our identities as indigenous people. These accounts can be found in songs, art, photographs, stories and other places, and are a means of remembering the journey that indigenous people have taken part in.

5. Remembering

Remembering of people relates specifically to the remembering of past events. For indigenous people, these events and the past are laced with painful memories. In this case, remembering is not only about remembering the pain, but also the peoples and communities responses to that pain.

"Both healing and transformation become crucial strategies in any approach which asks a community to remember what they may have decided unconsciously or consciously to forget" (Smith 1999, p).

6. Indigenizing

Indigenizing is about privileging indigenous voices, world view, images, language, stories and history. It is about positioning ones-self and taking on an indigenous world view and prioritising their values. On one hand it may involve the separation and drawing distinction between ones indigenous values and those of non-indigenous peoples. On the other hand, it relates more to the individual taking on an indigenous outlook in all that they do.

7. Intervening

This is rooted within the notion of action-research and argues that action requires researchers to be proactive in their approach to research and to become agents of change, where intervention is required. It is not ethical to walk away, or to carry out projects that describe what is already known. Intervention should be used for positive transformation. It is also intended that intervention is aimed at changing institutions or structures that engage or deal with indigenous people, not in changing indigenous peoples to fit within these structures. There are principles for working within this type of project. For instance, the community involved should invite the project in and be involved in setting its parameters, agenda and processes.

8. Revitalising

Revitalisation relates to indigenous languages, their arts, and cultural practices that are in various stages of crises. Many indigenous languages and practices are dead. The process of revitalisation relates to the reviving of these cultural elements. Some examples of revitalisation efforts in language include the use of education systems, broadcasting, publishing, community-based programmes, sports programmes and other broad initiatives.

9. Connecting

Connectedness relates to the relationships between people, space and place. It is about drawing connections between people and the environment in which they live. For Maori this form of connection could be understood as whakapapa. Connection in other contexts relates specifically to the reconnection of family ties, e.g. in places where children were forcibly taken from indigenous families and adopted out as part of the assimilation process. Finding and recovering these connections requires research in to genealogies and literally finding and tracing people and their movements.

Connecting is related to issues of identity, place, spiritual relationships and community well-being. Researchers working within indigenous spaces need to be critically aware of these relationships and connections and the inter-relatedness of these things to ensure that their activities connect in positive ways with the communities involved in research.

10. Reading

This involves the critical re-reading and understanding of western histories and the place of indigenous stories within them. Re-reading these western accounts of indigenous history allows us to finding new meaning and understanding about colonisation and how that has impacted on indigenous people. Some use these histories as a means of drawing evidence for claims of injustice done to indigenous people, and as a means of tracking these injustices.

11. Writing

Indigenous people are writing. They are exploring different mediums such as poetry, fiction, non-fiction, plays, song-writing as a means of telling their stories, in their own words and in their own ways. Writing is also an integral part of language revitalisation with the production of more indigenous medium resources needed to cater for those who are learning to read, and those who can read in their indigenous languages.

12. Representing

This project includes both political representation, and representation of voice, expression views and opinions. At the level of political representation indigenous voice has often been marginalised, and in many instances grouped in with other minorities as one voice of many. This project therefore involves the struggle by indigenous peoples to actively enhance and gain access to better representation for indigenous people.

Alternatively, the issue of representation of indigenous expression and perspectives has been engaged by indigenous artists, poets, singers, writers and others who use their mediums and work as a means of expressing indigenous stories, tales, histories and spirit through their work. Both of these forms of representation are important in establishing indigenous voice and views as having value for today.

13. Gendering

Gendering is concerned with issues around the relationship between indigenous men and indigenous women. Colonisation is recognised as having had a negative effect on indigenous gender relationships which has filtered through to the wider indigenous society, culture and community. The roles of men and women in indigenous society are not well understood by non-indigenous peoples, and as a result there has been harsh criticism of indigenous gender roles, and subsequent negative consequences on indigenous society. Gendering of roles within indigenous societies was and are more about balance, harmony and complementing. These issues around gender are presently being further explored and decolonised by indigenous researchers.

14. Envisioning

"One of the strategies which indigenous peoples have employed effectively to bind people together politically is a strategy which asks that people imagine a future that they rise above present day situations which are generally depressing, dream a new dream and set a new vision. The confidence of knowing that we have survived and can only go forward provides some impetus to a process of envisioning" (Smith, 1999, p.152).

15. Reframing

Reframing relates to taking greater control over the ways in which indigenous issues are handled, addressed and understood. It is about reframing the way in which problems are understood, and subsequently addressed.

"The framing of an issue is about making decisions about its parameters, about what is in the foreground, what is in the background, and what shadings or complexities exist within the frame. The project of reframing is related to defining the problem or issue and determining how best to solve that problem" (Smith, 1999, p. 153).

16. Restoring

The restoring of wellbeing, spiritually, emotionally, physically and materially. Indigenous people are often featuring negatively in statistics related to socio-economic status, health, suicide, alcoholism, imprisonment and more. Restoring is about a holistic approach that focuses on healing rather than punishing.

17. Returning

This project is closely related to claiming and is related to the returning of land, rivers, and mountains to indigenous owners, as well as the repatriation of artefacts and cultural materials that have been removed or stolen and taken overseas. There are numerous examples of returning such as the settlements of Treaty claims processes in which land is returned to Iwi, or even the repatriation of people through official tribal registration or physically reclaiming them whereby forced adoption has taken place or other forms of colonisation.

18. Democratizing

Democratizing is a process of extending participation through the reinstating of indigenous principles of collectivity in public debate.

"Although indigenous communities claim a model of democracy in their traditional ways of decision making, many contemporary indigenous organisations were formed through the direct involvement of states and governments. Legislation was used to establish and regulate indigenous councils and committees, indigenous forms of representation and indigenous titles to land. They are colonial constructions that have been taken for granted as authentic indigenous formations" (Smith,1999, p.156).

Democratizating therefore relates to the restoring of indigenous notions of governance and participation within governance structures.

19. Networking

Networking is based on relationships and connections, and is about building knowledge and databases through these relationships. It has become an efficient medium for sharing information, mobilising and educating people about issues and stimulating discussion across international circles. Despite the technology error of email and the internet, face-to-face encounters still provide the foundation for building relationships amongst most indigenous communities. Meeting someone face to face is about 'fronting up' and allowing people to see who you are checking political, personal and spiritual credentials.

20. Naming

This involves the renaming of the landscape and the world around us using the original indigenous names. Naming of places and people with traditional names is an excellent way of remembering and storing our histories. Many children with traditional names literally have their histories stored in their names. Naming is also a way of remembering connections and relationships between people, communities, tribes and the physical environment.

21. Protecting

This project is large and multifaceted. In involves the protection of all things treasured and made by indigenous people such as language, customs, communities, beliefs, arts, intellectual property, natural resources, cultural resources, spiritual resources and other such things. There are many things that need to be protected, and indigenous people have employed many different methods in attempts to protect these things either from distinction, or from misappropriation by other peoples.

22. Creating

"The project of creating is about transcending the basic survival mode through using a resource or capability which every indigenous community has retained throughout colonization the ability to create and be creative. The project of creating is not just about the artistic endeavours of individuals but about the spirit of creating which indigenous communities have exercised over thousands of years. Imagination enables people to rise above their own circumstances, to dream new visions and to hold on to old ones. It fosters inventions and discoveries, facilitates simple improvements to peoples lives and uplifts our spirits" (Smith,1999, p. 158).

23. Negotiating

This project is about thinking and acting strategically. It is about the recognizing and working towards long-term goals.

"In today's environment negotiation is still about deal making and it is still about concepts of leadership. Negotiations are also about respect, self-respect and respect for the opposition. Indigenous rules of negotiation usually contain both rituals of respect and protocols for discussion. The protocols and procedures are integral to the actual negotiation and neglect or failure to acknowledge or take seriously such protocols can be read as a lack of commitment to both the process and the outcome" (ref##).

The application of negotiation in today's context is related to self-determination, as indigenous people begin to negotiate terms of settlements and relationships in a similar fashion to states and governments.

24. Discovering

This project is about navigating new science and technologies and incorporating them into indigenous development. Traditionally science has been hostile to indigenous ways of knowing, and very few indigenous scientists remain closely connected to their indigenous institutions. There are many scientific techniques and undertakings that are beneficial to indigenous communities however the application of such techniques has yet to be explored from indigenous perspectives. It is up to indigenous communities to decide what scientific methods, techniques and technologies are useful and beneficial to them, and therefore how and when to use them.

25. Sharing

This is about sharing knowledge amongst whānau, and between other indigenous people around the world. Sharing assumes that knowledge is for the collective benefit and that knowledge is a form of resistance. The ways in which knowledge is shared differs amongst communities. For Māori, hui and kānohi ki te kānohi (face to face) gatherings are the best means of communicating and sharing knowledge. This is supplemented by more mainstream avenues such as through media and advertising.

"Sharing is the responsibility of research. The technical term for this is the dissemination of results, usually very boring to non-researchers, very technical and very cold. For indigenous researchers sharing is about demystifying knowledge and information and speaking in plain terms to the community. It is a very skilled speaker who can share openly at this level within the rules of the community" (Smith, 1999, p.161).