A Senior Lecturer from Murdoch University School of Education says decades of work have convinced her to leave Indigenous research to Indigenous researchers.
In a paper published in Critical Studies in Education, Dr Nado Aveling contends that non-Indigenous researchers are hampered by limited understanding of Indigenous protocols and naturally biased by their ‘structural advantage’.
“White settler societies such as Australia are dominated by a power and value system rooted in how white people understand the world, their position in it and what is deemed valuable,” Dr Aveling said.
“No matter how well intentioned I may be, my understanding of colonisation can only ever be partial, as my view is invariably coloured by my own experiences.”
She said there were profound differences between Indigenous and white western worldviews, notably how the two cultures related to land, language and spiritual, cultural, political, economic, environmental and social elements.
“Non-Indigenous people too often reduce these to a list of dot points that get a tokenistic mention, when really they are central to everything,” Dr Aveling said.
She said she was better served being an ally to Indigenous researchers, helping them complete their research and gain credentials in a university structure that was still a white, privileged space informed by a Western sensibility of values.
This includes defending ‘yarning’ as a fundamental concept of Indigenous research.
“Yarning is a form of communicating which can meander all over the place, allowing the teller to decide what parts of their story to tell and which parts to leave out,” she said.
“It isn’t the same as interviewing, which puts it out of the context of what is viewed as proper academic methodology. But it is at the core of Indigenous research, so it’s my job as a member of the academy to recognise its value.”
Dr Aveling said she was continually conscious of walking the fine line between being an ally and slipping into the role of ‘the good white’.
“I have to be constantly mindful or my role in standing up with Aboriginal peoples to be counted, but not speaking for them. I want to respect my students’ methods and research while still remaining critical,” she said.
“This means I have to keep educating myself about what I don’t know and listening deeply. It also means being willing to make mistakes by saying or doing the wrong thing.
“You feel uncomfortable, and it doesn’t feel good, but ultimately mistakes lead to a better understanding of our realities and standpoints.
“Luckily, in my experience, Aboriginal people are very forgiving and have an extraordinary sense of humour when faced with a whitey attempting to recognise their point of view.”