A proposal for a round table is being submitted to the Canadian Political Science Association to discuss research ethics and aboriginal peoples at the annual conference at Wilfrid Laurier University on May 16-18, 2011.  The political scientists who have agreed to participate include myself, Rhoda Howard-Hassmann and Tom Flanagan.  Invitations were also extended to promoters of indigenous theories and methodologies in political science, but these attempts have been met with silence (so far).  Efforts to encourage intellectual diversity at the Canadian Political Science Association seem to have foundered once again.

The abstract for the round table is posted below.  It should be noted that participants who would like to advocate different standards for the study of aboriginal peoples can be added to the round table at any time.

FW

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Aboriginal Peoples, Political Science and Research Ethics:  Should Indigenous Politics be Studied Differently?

In the development of research in Canada, there are increasing attempts to ensure that the study of human subjects is conducted ethically. As a result, bodies like the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC] recommend that research ethics boards should be put in place to review research applications requesting funding. Of particular significance is research pertaining to the study of groups that are perceived as vulnerable. There is great concern about the impact that research can have on aboriginal people, for example, because of the power imbalances instituted by colonization. It is argued that additional protection should be provided to the native population, and it is assumed that the enhancement of indigenous cultures should be a goal of the studies conducted. But to what extent do these developments in research ethics place onerous constraints on political scientists? Political scientists from a variety of perspectives will give their views as to whether it is appropriate to ask academics to take a position on cultural enhancement in their research. Presenters also will inquire if these guidelines have the potential to compromise academic freedom. Questions will be asked about the relationship between ethics guidelines and the politicization of research, and the possibility that this development could inhibit, rather than enhance, a researcher’s attempts to increase knowledge about the actual character of indigenous politics.

Below is a letter from Rhoda Howard-Hassmann to the Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics concerning Chapter 9 of the Tri-Council Policy Statement (I have also posted a PDF of this letter on the Ethics page of this blog).   Many very important points are raised in this letter, which will be of interest to all who study aboriginal-non-aboriginal relations.  I will also be providing my comments shortly to the Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA) and to the Interagency Advisory Panel (due March 1, 2010), and urge others to do the same.  Interestingly, Graham White, the President-Elect of the CPSA, wrote me on January 22, 2010 asking for feedback on Chapter 9 because he had been asked “to coordinate the Association’s reponse to one aspect of an important, ongoing process relating to the ethics regime for academic research in Canada”.  This request is somewhat surprising since I was intending to present a paper on this “important, ongoing process” at the CPSA’s 2010 Annual Meeting, but the organization decided that my paper did not “fit” within the program, and subsequently relegated it to a “poster” session.   Because of the CPSA’s recognition of the issue’s importance, one would think that it would jump at the chance to have the matter discussed on a panel, as well as having a scholarly paper on the subject posted on its website.

FW

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February 5, 2010

Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics, 350 Albert Street, Ottawa, ON K1A 1H5

Dear Colleagues,

I am pleased to have the chance to comment on the second draft of Chapter 9 of the Tri-Council Policy Statement on Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans. I am copying this letter to the Associate Vice-President, Research, at Wilfrid Laurier University, to the WLU Faculty Association (WLUFA), and to the CAUT.  These are my own comments, and should not be understood as the views of WLU, the WLUFA, or the CAUT.

Since the Panel intends to post comments on this draft on its website, I wish to clarify my own background before presenting my concerns. I am a scholar of international human rights; I have also been teaching comparative genocide studies for twenty-five years. Although I am not a scholar of aboriginal affairs, I believe that a strong and compelling argument can be made that Aboriginal Canadians are victims of cultural genocide. Thus, I believe that attempts to preserve their languages, indigenous religions, traditions, and cultures are very important. At the same time, however, I do not believe aboriginal communities should be essentialized as unchanging and without internal cleavages and disputes. Moreover, as a specialist in human rights I am concerned about academic freedom and freedom of speech as it pertains to research on Aboriginal communities, as it pertains everywhere else.

I am pleased to see that some of the problems I noted in my earlier letter to you of January 19, 2009 have been remedied. Some, however, remain, or new problems have emerged. While I agree with most of the principles set out in this version of Chapter 9, I am still worried about what happens in cases of conflicts of interests between communities and researchers, and conflicts between communities and individuals. I also have some concerns about aboriginal knowledge, and about some potential legal matters.

 Academic Freedom

 The Draft still sidesteps the question of whether a community can absolutely block a research project. There may be occasions when communities and researchers cannot come to an agreement on research. If this happens, does the researcher have the right to continue with her research—perhaps by contacting individual members of the community—or not?  Article 9:10, lines 3678 ff states that a community can engage nominally or not at all in research,  Can the community deny the researcher access? 

 The idea of “partnership” (e.g. line 3363) between scholars and research subjects assumes no conflicts, or conflicts that can be resolved with good will. One would hope that such resolution would be the case, most of the time. But if conflicts can’t be resolved, whose views take precedence if there are disagreements over questions, methods, results, or conclusions? Line 3468-69 notes Aboriginal communities have often not had the chance to correct misinformation or ethnocentric interpretations. While this is true, what onus, if any, is the Panel putting on researchers here to accept such corrections, if offered?  Does the researcher have the right to reject offered corrections? Article 9:17, lines 3870-77 imply that the researcher does have such a right: but the Panel should make it clear that the researcher is entitled to have the last word. Similarly, with regard to Article 9:11:, lines 3704-3705: If there are “mutual responsibilities” in analysis and interpretations, production of reports and dissemination of results, does the researcher enjoy the academic freedom to publish her own analysis and interpretations in event of disagreement? Does she enjoy the academic freedom to disseminate her findings wherever she wishes?

These matters must be clarified: as it stands, this draft waffles about what happens in case of conflict between researchers and aboriginal communities. If researchers do not enjoy the normal rights of academic freedom, then Chapter 9 should begin with an Article that states clearly that researchers on Aboriginal affairs do not enjoy these rights. As I stated in my letter of 2009, if the principles of academic freedom are to apply to all research except research about aboriginal communities, then this should be clearly stated so that researchers on aboriginal matters know they are operating under a different set of rules than they are used to.

 Individuals and Community

 This draft, like the earlier version, still assumes that individual aboriginal Canadians do not have the same rights to autonomy as all other Canadians. The foreword states that First Nation, Inuit and Métis communities, but not individuals from these communities, are invited to respond to the draft. A community is defined (line 3178-79) as “a collectivity with shared identity or interests that has the capacity to act or express itself as a group.” This definition ignores communities within which interests many not be shared, even if identities are.

Throughout, references are made to Aboriginal communities as if all Aboriginal individuals live in such communities. Many do not. How is research on urban aboriginals without ties to any Aboriginal community to be conducted? If, for example, a researcher wishes to conduct research on Aboriginal university graduates living in Toronto, how is she supposed to do so?

The phrase, “while continuing to respect individual autonomy” (l. 3139-40) is not sufficient to protect the autonomy of Aboriginal individuals, an autonomy considered in other parts of the Policy Statement as key to respect for all non-Aboriginal Canadians. The Policy does not yet clarify what a researcher is to do if the interests of the “community” (or those who represent it or purport to do so) do not coincide with the interests of individuals. Indeed, the Policy still does not present guidance on how researchers can by-pass community leaders to access individuals who may wish to participate in research that the community leaders do not wish to see conducted.

I repeat what I said in my letter of 2009: there must be some statement that aboriginal leaders or elders do not have the right to veto research in which individual aboriginals might be interested in participating. The possibility of not engaging with the community in some situations must be allowed; for example, if all the community leaders are members of extended family x, and do not want extended family y’s circumstances to be investigated, the researcher must be permitted to circumvent the community leaders and go directly to family y. Aboriginal leaders do not always serve the collective welfare of the individuals within their communities (l. 3239). Lines 3330-31- state that when the “welfare of relevant communities is not affected…informed consent of individuals is sufficient.” Who decides when the welfare of the community is affected? This statement presumes, once more, that community leaders enjoy the support of all members of the community and make decisions that do not adversely affect any community members. In no other Canadian community is this assumed. 

 The Chapter as a whole glosses over real and potential differences between individual and community interests. Acknowledgement of diversity among and within Aboriginal communities, and the statement that such diversity “increases the important of clarifying mutual expectations and obligations within the community” (line 3338-44) is facile, and does not confront the hard question of whose interests take precedence when there is conflict. The statement in lines 3389-93 that “First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals…enjoy freedom of expression as does any other citizen [and that] “they are free to give informed consent…” is not strong enough.  This statement should be front and centre in this chapter and it should be made clear that potential research participants enjoy this freedom whether or not the welfare of the community is likely to be affected by their decisions and whether or not community leaders agree with their decision.

Similarly, the paragraph starting at line 3510 should be front and centre. It should refer not only to “subgroups” but to individuals, whether vulnerable or not.  It should clarify that research among these people should not be viewed as covert. The Panel should be supporting overt research in communities even when there are intra-community conflicts and especially when there are risks to participants. Canada is a democracy: no citizen should have to fear that her or his rights as an individual will be undermined because of her or his decision to participate in research. This paragraph is written as though Aboriginal communities are not legally obliged to protect their citizens’ individual rights.

The larger question here is whether Aboriginals are citizens of Canada, or only members of their own Aboriginal communities. If they are citizens of Canada, then they have the same right as any other citizen to make up their own mind as to whether to participate in a research project, irrespective of the wishes of community leaders. No other competent Canadian adult is obliged to take into account any opinion but her own before deciding whether to participate in a research project. If collective decision-making is merely a “complement” to individual decisions (l. 3272) in research projects on indigenous peoples outside Canada, then it should be clear throughout this document that within Canada as well, researchers may have direct access to individuals, who may make their own decisions about participation in research regardless of their community’s views. If, however, individual Aboriginals are to be denied the autonomy that all other competent Canadian adults are assumed to enjoy, that should be clearly stated at the outset of the Chapter. 

Indigenous Knowledge

 “Indigenous knowledge” is now defined as “holistic, involving body, mind, feeling and spirit” (lines 3208-09). As far as I can determine, however, this Draft still refers not only to statements of fact that are empirically verifiable according to normal scientific standards, but also to non-verifiable Aboriginal beliefs and myths, as knowledge. There is still no suggestion that this “knowledge” could be inaccurate. Yet academic freedom implies that any researcher can investigate anything an individual or a group claims to be its “knowledge”; we do not, for example, protect non-aboriginal Christians who insist on the empirical accuracy of their Biblical origin myth from academic inquiry into it, even if falsification of such a myth might undermine their Christian identity.  I find it patronizing that this Draft assumes that Aboriginal Canadians—alone among all the peoples of the world—are incapable of withstanding normal academic challenges to what they construe to be knowledge, and incapable of differentiating between verifiable scientific knowledge and unverifiable beliefs or myths.

Moreover, I question the statement (l. 3211-12) that “indigenous peoples value their relationship with the land as a living entity that reveals the way to living a good life.” This may be true of many indigenous (as well as some non-indigenous) individuals, but it is a romanticized view of many others, some of whom live in such situations of severe poverty and social dislocation that their relationship (if any) with the land is unlikely to figure largely in their worldview.  That such poverty and social dislocation is a consequence in large part of past Canadian genocidal and colonial policies does not mean that all indigenous people would, if they could, value their relationship with the land. Aboriginal knowledge is here essentialized as a consequence of an undifferentiated, romantic view of Aboriginal people that does not take account of social reality.

As a minor point, why assume that indigenous Canadians can express their spirituality only through traditional or Christian practices? Does the Panel possess evidence that no spiritual indigenous person practices any other religion?

Legal Matters

Surely the statement that Article 9.1, (a), lines 3300-3302, applies to “lands over which a claim has been asserted but not settled,” is too broad. What about non-Aboriginals living on such land, as in the current concern over land claims in Caledonia, Ontario? Are researchers to be precluded from access to such individuals because the land claim is not settled?  Does the Panel have the authority to pre-judge legal claims in this manner, making authoritative statements about the responsibilities of researchers based on hypothetical outcomes of legal cases? 

Also regarding Article 9; 1, lines 3310-3311. Canada did not vote for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007). Surely this should be noted, whether one agrees with Canada’s negative vote or not. How can a publicly funded organization refer Canadian researchers to an international document that the Canadian government has not accepted, without noting that fact?

Article 9:18 re intellectual copyright. Has the Tri-Council Panel come up with proper guidelines on this? Individual researchers in fields such as anthropology probably do not have the capacity, even with complete good will, to negotiate appropriate intellectual property guidelines. Do individual REBs now have the responsibility to assist researchers in copyright matters? This is an extremely complex legal field. Legal advice is absolutely necessary to both researcher and the Aboriginal group concerned. Theft of traditional plant knowledge by private corporations, for example, is now common in many indigenous communities. Are there budget lines in the three Councils’ grant applications for the researcher(s) to seek appropriate legal advice? If so, will these budgets cover the costs of consulting with lawyers who may well charge up to $1,000 per hour?

Surely the three councils should be drafting a document with legal guidelines, having consulted with top-flight intellectual property lawyers, separate from the Research Ethics document, on the problem of intellectual copyright?

Smaller questions/concerns

Article 9.1: does this refer only to research on human subjects, or is it meant to apply, e.g. to statistical research about Aboriginal Canadians?

 Article 9.8 line 3555-56. Are Aboriginal cultures predominantly oral in 2010? Surely most Aboriginal Canadians are literate and many if not most of their laws, if not customs, are written down?

Article 9:14. I agree that research projects should support the enhancement of skills, education and training of Aboriginal peoples. However, do the individual granting agencies now have budget categories to make such training possible? Are there budget lines to cover costs such as feasting and gift-giving (lines 3822-28), which in other contexts would be considered illegitimate bribery?

I hope that the Panel will find my comments useful.

Yours sincerely,

Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann

Cc. Dr. Paul Maxim, Associate Vice-President, Research, WLU

      Dr. Judy Bates, President, WLUFA

      Dr. Jim Turk, CAUT

Stuart Soroka, the 2010 Programme Committee Chairperson for the CPSA, had a message posted on the Women’s Caucus listserve before it was moderated (see Email from Stuart Soroka – January 4 on the Ethics page of this blog).  In this message, Soroka assured members of the Women’s Caucus that my paper was transferred to a poster session because it “did not easily fit into a panel with other papers from the REIPP [Race, Ethnicity, Indigenous Peoples and Politics] section”.  He goes on to point out that the “the committee approved of the decision (as the committee must approve of all section heads’ decisions for CPSA conferences)” and that “the charge of any unprofessionalism on [Kiera Ladner’s] part is, to be frank, wholly unfounded”.

While “the charge of any unprofessionalism” could very well be without merit (it was merely noted that Ladner “seems to have left herself open to a charge of unprofessionalism”, and this suspicion was based on Ladner’s previous inability to be objective about my work on aboriginal policy), there are a few things that should be mentioned in response to the committee’s decision about my proposal’s lack of “fit” within the REIPP section.  I have been told that the CPSA, in the past, has been concerned about placing me on a panel with other scholars who study aboriginal politics out of fear that my ideas could create a hostile reaction (a circumstance that was realized at the 2008 conference).  The creation of the REIPP section has exacerbated this problem because it has tended to move presentations about aboriginal peoples and aboriginal-non-aboriginal relations out of more traditional academic sections (comparative politics, Canadian politics, etc.), and into a section that is influenced by an “identity politics” orientation.  Therefore, the idea of “fit” could have more to do with trying to avoid conflict than with academic considerations.

Second, it seems odd that the CPSA would not want to have a proposal concerning research ethics and aboriginal peoples, aboriginal epistemology, etc., discussed in a formal panel.  The CPSA devoted a section of its report on research ethics to “Research involving Aboriginal peoples”, and the second draft of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans’ chapter concerning “Research Involving Aboriginal Peoples in Canada” has just been released for scholarly consideration.  Brock et al., in their letter “Racism, chilly climate, our responsibility and the discipline”, even suggested that a “major CPSA *Plenary on Responsibility Difference and the Discipline* might be productive” and “would attract a phenomenal attendance and would generate the kind of constructive professional debate we desire within the CPSA, and would be a mentoring opportunity for graduate students and junior faculty” (the people recommended for the plenary, however, did not come from a wide range of perspectives and were largely supportive of the existence of different “ways of knowing”). 

Past CPSA sessions also have sparked considerable interest in these topics.  The panel that Albert Howard and I participated in with Sandra Tomsons in 2009 was packed and led to a lively, but restrained, discussion.  Kiera Ladner’s proposal last year entitled “Decolonizing the Discipline: Respecting Indigenous Knowledge & Using Indigenist Methodologies” was also accepted.  The abstract for this presentation was as follows:

“Since Columbus was discovered, knowledge of the Americas and the peoples who lived there captured the minds and imaginations of some of Europe’s greatest political philosophers: More, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Marx, Spencer, and Engels, to name but a few. Despite the fact that Indians of the Americas have occupied the imaginations of the world since the time of ‘discovery’, Indians have not occupied the imaginations of modern political scientists. Political science has ignored Indigenous political traditions and studied contemporary Indigenous politics only from the vantage point of the western-eurocentric tradition. Simply put, most have been unable to escape their paradigm paralysis to understand the politics of the ‘other’ on its own terms or as separate from the western-eurocentric experience. In so doing, political science has perpetuated a western-eurocentric understanding that virtually denies ‘others’ a voice within the discipline. This paper draws on the theoretical undertaking of my dissertation and updates the uncirculated paper presented at UofA (the abstract of which led to a heated exchange at CPSA). It engages the discipline’s construction of the Indigenous and argues that it is necessary to understand the ‘other’ not from the vantage of the western-eurocentric intellectual tradition as this readily perpetuates misunderstanding but from the vantage of their own intellectual and political traditions. It argues that proceeding as such enables a trustworthy post-colonial/decolonizing understanding of Indigenous politics within political science and that the effect of such a paradigm shift has the potential to be of great benefit to the discipline as a whole not just the study of Indigenous politics”.

A number of assertions put forward by Ladner still need to be analyzed and debated (for some reason, Ladner did not produce a paper fleshing out this abstract).  What are the “Indigenous political traditions” to which Ladner refers?  How do we “understand the politics of the ‘other’ on its own terms”?  And what is a “trustworthy post-colonial/decolonizing understanding of Indigenous politics within political science” and how will this “be of great benefit to the discipline as a whole not just the study of Indigenous politics”?  Once again, we seem to have the contradiction of saying that there should be a “different” understanding that only the identity group can have (i.e. it cannot be evaluated with universally accessible social scientific methods), yet this “understanding” must be accepted by all as a benefit to political science.

Ladner’s proposal was included in a workshop on “‘Race’, Racism and Anti-racism as Political Science: Framing and Re-Framing Relationships”, which also included presentations on “Race, Empowerment and Crisis Management: Black Political Leadership and Hurricane Katrina” and “Beyond Racial Exceptionalism: Explaining the Convergence of Mixed-Race Census Categorizations in Canada, the US and Great Britain”.  Interestingly, the two latter presentations are very dissimilar from Ladner’s and do not really concern epistemological matters.  Ladner’s presentation, in fact, would have “fit” much better with the presentations of Tomsons, Howard and myself, but, for some reason, Ladner was not included on our panel, which largely concerned epistemological questions.  Therefore, “fit” appears to be a very subjective determination of the programme committee.

It should be noted that unscholarly responses to work critical of the prevailing “aboriginal orthodoxy” have been occurring for quite some time, and so it should not really be surprising if this is continuing in my case. Radha Jhappan, for example, stated publicly that “fundamental racism” formed the basis of Tom Flanagan’s book First Nations? Second Thoughts even though no evidence was provided to sustain this accusation. Similar problematic conduct occurred when Flanagan’s book was awarded the Donald Smiley Prize. The chair of the jury, Gurston Dacks, quit when he was outvoted, displaying contempt for a process that he had agreed to participate in (rejecting it only when he lost the vote).  Joyce Green has noted that the political science community was “fractured” because the jury’s decision “implicated us all in rewarding something that many of us felt was deeply wrong” (Marci McDonald, “The Man Behind Stephen Harper”, The Walrus, October 2004, www.walrusmagazine.com/articles/the-man-behind-stephen-harper-tom-flanagan/5/).

Green’s comments reflect the deep problems that exist in political science with respect to the study of aboriginal peoples and aboriginal-non-aboriginal relations.  What is meant by saying that someone’s scholarship is “deeply wrong”?   Shouldn’t political scientists be concerned about the quality of the arguments and the amount of evidence that is being put forward to support them?  Unfortunately, the characterization of Flanagan’s work in moral terms has prevented a comprehensive analysis of his arguments.  Postmodern political scientists feel justified in dismissing Flanagan’s arguments as reprehensible, when engaging with them would help us all to more fully understand aboriginal-non-aboriginal relations.  One does not have to agree with arguments to critically analyze them; avoiding opposing viewpoints because one dislikes their preconceived implications, however, is anti-intellectual and is harmful to the academic integrity of the discipline of political science.

On December 10, 2009, Dr. Keith Banting, the President of the CPSA, sent me a letter responding to a complaint that I had made to the Board of Directors (this letter is available on the Ethics page of this blog).  For those unaware of the events that transpired last year, a number of members of the Women’s Caucus of the CPSA posted anonymous allegations on the their website that “overt and blatant racism was expressed” during a “panel on aboriginal politics”, and that “similarly offensive behaviours” had occurred at “previous CPSA meetings” (http://www.cpsawomen.ca/lucheon/index.htm.  The examples given of “offensive behaviours” were that members were called “squaws” and “similar offensive language was used”.  There was even a “discussion of whether this was ‘hate speech’ under the criminal code”.  Although I was not named on the website, I was specifically mentioned in discussions on the Women’s Caucus listserv (see the letter from Joanna Quinn posted on the Ethics page), and I was identified as the person being complained about on Janet Ajzenstat’s blog “The Idea File” (http://janetajzenstat.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/harvey-mansfield-on-canada/). 

Although there has been no substantiation of the “overt and blatant racism” that I supposedly expressed, a letter was submitted by Kathy Brock, Joyce Green, Kiera Ladner and Malinda Smith to the CPSA Board asserting that “the CPSA needs to address racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia”, as well as “scholarship…which suggest[s] that racism must be protected by academic freedom”.  They also obliquely refer to the fact that “similar views [to a "junior woman scholar"] have been expressed by senior male scholars (and in one case have been awarded)”, without any elaboration of what these “views” are or if/how they are racist or responsible for promoting a hostile environment (see the “Racism, chilly climate, our responsibility and the discipline – Brock et al” on the Ethics page).  These assertions, along with discussions that occurred on the Women’s Caucus listserv (see “Women’s Caucus emails” on the Ethics page on this blog), led to a motion requesting the CPSA to “create policy concerning (1) speech that promotes hatred or creates a hostile environment; and (2) the consequences of such speech. In particular, we would like guidelines concerning professional conduct during the Annual Meeting (for panels and all other formal and informal sessions). These guidelines should include instructions for session chairs, participants and discussants. We also request the establishment of protocols for registering complaints and a process for their resolution”.

Dr. Banting’s letter tells me that there is currently nothing that can be done about the remarks legitimized by the Women’s Caucus since the CPSA does not have a complaints procedure in place for investigating individual members (although such a procedure will be discussed by members in June after the CPSA’s Committee on Professional Ethics releases its report).  My concern, however, is not so much the actions of individual members, but the fact that they are using the Women’s Caucus – an organization that is affliated with the CPSA – to make anonymous and unsubstantiated allegations.  Although the CPSA may not have the authority to police the behaviour of its members, surely it has the capacity to ensure that its affiliates are conducting themselves in an ethical and professional manner.  The actions of the Women’s Caucus of the CPSA, in fact, seem to condone libel.  Why doesn’t the CPSA rein in its Women’s Caucus?  Is it afraid to “offend” the postmodern sisterhood?