Photo: Indigenous Knowledge interview underway in Pimicikamak Cree Nation
Indigenous Nations that hire community members as researchers for their Indigenous Knowledge studies see many benefits. For one thing, it’s a way to build capacity (see our blog, MTI’s Grand Plan: Building Capacity Through Indigenous Knowledge Studies for a great case study). It also helps with community buy-in for your project: people tend to feel more comfortable when they are engaged by a fellow member rather than by a stranger, however nice! And if you want to make sure your project is community-driven, hiring community researchers can be key. That’s great, you say, but what makes a good community researcher and how do I find one?
We sat down with some current and past community researchers, along with people who lead Indigenous Knowledge studies for their nations, to hear their perspectives on the “must haves” and the “nice to haves” when considering someone for this crucial role. Scroll down for a sample job description you can use to find your own top talent. And remember, diamonds in the rough are still diamonds.
Connection is Key
In this case it’s absolutely true: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know! Community researchers are the liaisons between your study team – whether you’ve hired external consultants like us, or are using your own staff, or a blend of both - and the community. They need to be well-connected, and have a good understanding of who the active land users and knowledge holders are to make sure the right people are invited for interviews.
“My strength as a community researcher is that I am good with people, I can talk to people,” says Alex Levi of Elsipogtog First Nation. “I know the people in my community well and they know me. I can ask the right and curious questions, and I know how to reach people and talk to them in a way that makes them feel comfortable.” (full disclosure: Alex was so good at this that SVS hired him on full time in 2017!)
As Alex says, communicating well is essential. Researchers need to enroll people into the study by clearly explaining what it is and why it’s important that people participate. In short, you’re looking for good talkers. Good talkers who can listen!
Flexibility is Everything
No study is ever the same as the last. No day of a study is the same as the last! Issues arise and plans are constantly changing.
“Community researchers need to be flexible,” says Cecelia Brooks, Former Director of Indigenous Knowledge at Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Incorporated.“They need to understand that things don’t always go as planned. There’s no script. You need to be able to think fast on your feet. People come in to do an interview and the interview might not go exactly as planned. So, being flexible and the ability to be creative on the spot are important.”
Respect is Crucial
“Community researchers must be respectful of the knowledge holders that are sharing their information and honour the sacredness of the information that’s being shared,” Cecelia comments. “You want researchers to be people in the community who are respected. So, it needs to be a two-way street.”
The right candidate will appreciate that people are often sharing very intimate and private details that need to be kept confidential. The right person for the job is someone who is trusted by their fellow citizens enough that they will share sensitive data with them present.
Passion for Language and Culture is a Huge Asset
“What I bring to the table as a community researcher is my language” says Marsha Somerville, Community Researcher at Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Incorporated, Esgenoopetitj First Nation.“I use my language during interviews. I find when I use my language, the Elders and other community members can relate to me on a more personal basis. Sometimes there’s no English word to make it fit on what they want to say. So the language component is so important!”
While knowing an Indigenous language is not essential to the role of community researcher, a passion for cultural learning is. Researchers have the privileged position of learning from community knowledge holders. And people who are being interviewed can sense how curious the researchers are. They often open up more to someone they know really cares about what they have to say. It can be a beautiful and profound experience for everyone involved.
Sample Job Description
Here is a high-level job description that scopes out typical roles, responsibilities, and skills for a community researcher you can pull from as you create a job tailored to your decision-making and hiring process. With any luck, the right person will emerge from your talent search and take on this central role in your Indigenous Knowledge study with flying colours.
Provide a brief background on the project that the community researcher would be hired on for.
Include in the description:
- The number of positions available
- Contract length
- Contact information for interested candidates
Roles and Responsibilities
The roles and responsibilities of a Community Researcher will vary based on your specific project. Here are some examples.
Community researchers will do the following:
- Participate in training for the Study
- Actively participate as a member of the Indigenous Knowledge Study team and act as the community lead on the project
- Act as a liaison between the community and the consultant
- Advertise and communicate information about the study to the community
- Help identify and schedule Indigenous Knowledge interviews
- Find and book venues to conduct study interviews
- Participate in study team meetings and community meetings
- Provide community knowledge and expertise to the study
- Participate and support in conducting Indigenous Knowledge interviews
- Provide support with accessing and sharing existing Indigenous Knowledge information that would be relevant to the study
- Support with data analysis and report writing
- Perform additional duties as required
Skills and Qualifications
A community researcher’s skills and qualifications should be tailored to the roles and responsibilities you choose.
A community researcher needs to have the following attributes:
- Strong organizational skills
- Strong written and oral communication skills
- Ability to use or learn to use computers and various applications (Microsoft Excel/Word and email or other similar programs)
- Be available/reachable during regular work hours
- Respond quickly to emails/phone calls
- Have access to a computer
- Be committed to keeping interview information confidential
- Have experience in interviewing, mapping (paper mapping and/or GIS), the regulatory process and research (note: this is an asset but not a requirement)
- Speak your Indigenous language (note: an asset but not a requirement)
When selecting your candidates, consider if this person is
- a good listener and keen to learn new skills?
- well-connected in the community?
- respected by fellow community members?
Also, does this person
- have a passion for Indigenous rights, land use, mapping, preserving community knowledge, the environment or another similar topic?
- have time to take on the role of community researcher?
- have good time management skills?
Blog Series: Indigenous Knowledge Matters
Welcome to our blog series that explores ways Indigenous nations have used Indigenous Knowledge Studies (also called Traditional Knowledge or Land Use and Occupancy Studies) to assert jurisdiction, leverage influence in regulatory processes and Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) negotiations, further stewardship and cultural revitalization efforts, and to build capacity.
This series is a celebration of the extraordinary nations and visionary leaders we have had the privilege of working with on Indigenous Knowledge studies from coast, to coast, to coast - with some resources and ideas for you to use in your own journeys. We hope you join us for the rest of the ride. And please get in touch if there’s a topic you’d like us to explore.
Read other posts in this series:
Looking for help with an Indigenous Knowledge study?
If you know you need help with any aspect of your study, or are trying to figure out how to get started, do give us a shout. We’d be happy to discuss your options and help you weigh the pros and cons of your approach. We’re a team of social researchers who love to talk about this stuff, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.
About Us: Shared Value Solutions
We are an Canadian B Corp, and we assist Indigenous communities with support throughout regulatory processes surrounding major development projects like mines, hydroelectric facilities, transmission lines, highway expansions, oil and gas pipelines, natural resource transport applications and nuclear power.
We have deep context and experience behind the recommendations we provide, having worked for our clients on almost every major project in Canada over the last 10 years. For us, it’s all about building long-term relationships with our clients. We want to get to know you and what you want to do so we can help you move your plans forward.
- Reviews of Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Statements
- First Nation Land Code communities
- Indigenous Guardian programs
- Impact Benefit Agreements: technical and regulatory support for negotiations
- Indigenous Jurisdiction initiatives: joint management agreements and co-management agreements
- Community-based Indigenous environmental monitoring
- Indigenous Land Use Planning
- Participant funding negotiation and application support
- Multimedia Storytelling