Today I will review the article "Leisure-Like Pursuits as an Expression of Aboriginal Cultural Strengths and Living Actions," by Yoshitaka Iwasaka, Judith G Bartlett, Benjamin Gottlieb and Darlene Hall which appeared in the journal "Leisure Sciences". The findings from the study are not really that interesting, but the methods they used to get their findings provides lots of food for thought. The authors set out to operationalize, "...an aboriginal-guided decolonizing methodology...to examine the leisure-like lived experiences of unban-dwelling Metis and First Nations women and men living with diabetes."
This study was led by a First Nations person and the majority of team members were also first nations. The research team was aware that the words they used were westernized terminology and they took pains to address this issue where they could. For example, they speak about why they did not use the term "Leisure" and instead used "leisure like" as the conventional definition of this term has certain connotations that were not appropriate in this context, i.e. a strict break between work/leisure. They choose the term "leisure like" as it allowed them to include activities that have leisure similar nuances, but may not be identified as leisure by participants in the study.
They wanted to decolonize the research process and create a space in the study where indigenous people could express the full value of their own life experiences and identify the role of their culture, free from a research process that was inherently colonial in nature. In particular they reference, giving value to storytelling in the methodology and embedding it as a way of knowing. While not explicit in the text, this effort is about building trust between the researcher and those participating in the project.
They spend some time describing the need for decolonizing research which I will not cover here. It may be, that as a trained social scientist, I am biased in my analysis, but the measures they put in place to support the study seem to be a good step forward on the path of decolonizing this kind of research.
The perspectives of all researchers were brought together in collective discussion and decision making with the aim to support a culturally appropriate process that was also rigorous and practicable. Non -Aboriginal researchers were coached on the rationale and specifics of the approaches used. The interviews were intended to be broad, focusing on the person and their story, not just the collection of a limited set of information. They totality of the person and their experiences was to be honored. The researchers explicitly did not assume that the diagnoses of diabetes was a principal factor in the lives of those interviewed and the diabetes was addressed as a part of the whole person.
The approach they used to analyze the information from the interviews was of particular interest to me. It is how I have always done my analysis, so it was very interesting to see it codified, and to now have a reference I can use in the future. The interviews were transferred onto index cards, with all key statements coded with key words, the original quote on the back of the card and the original context easily available to the researchers if required. These cards were grouped by the interviewers under symbol header cards through a collaborative discussion session. Analysis was reviewed and finalized during a two day interpretive workshop which included additional relevant Aboriginal professionals.
The findings themselves were pretty generic, for example, that urban dwellers in the study have many ways to support themselves through living actions related to culture, spirituality and community relationships. I did however quite like the addition of the term, "living actions" in this analysis both as it removes those "leisure like" activities from any possible pejorative place that might be related to things like "art" or "spirituality" while simultaneously speaking to action/self determination and the modern nature of these activities, i.e. being an indigenous person is not only about being stoic on a mountain top.
In closing they reflect on the nature of this research experience as a whole, which is fitting given the project at hand, and they note the capacity building that was required for the non-aboriginal researchers. They also noted that studies have found that this kind of decolonizing methodology is a promising way to understand areas of inquiry that may be based in culture such as health and well being (or beading according to my autocorrect). This route is not an easy one, as it must navigate the issues of power inherent in these kinds of teams and studies. While they see that the coaching was a useful aspect, they also recognize that it may not be familiar to many researchers and they look to identify the wider benefits that could be accrued through greater sharing, not only for aboriginal peoples, but for all historically oppressed peoples.