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Indigenous Studies Research Guide: Home

Critical Indigenous Studies

Critical Indigenous Studies is an interdisciplinary community of scholars that explores the histories, present, and futures of Indigenous peoples around the world, prioritizing Indigenous voices, resilience, and ways of knowing (epistemology). Scholars utilizing Indigenous Studies theories and methods often apply them in anthropology, cultural studies, ecology, economics, gender studies, geography, health, history, language, law, literature, and sociology, but this list is by no means exhaustive. Indigenous Studies represent the work of generations of scholars that have contributed to researching, teaching, and supporting Indigenous communities, cultures, and knowledges.

A related topic is Settler Colonialism, which explores the effects of colonial governance on Indigenous peoples, including but not limited to land dispossession, historical and contemporary violence against Indigenous peoples, intergenerational trauma, and racism. Settler Colonial studies analyze structures of oppression imposed on Indigenous communities and work towards restorative justice. For a more complete and detailed history and description of Indigenous studies and Decolonizing Studies, see: Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s “Series Editors’ Introduction” in Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View (Smith, Tuck, and Yang, eds., 2019).

According to the United Nations, there are over 5,000 recognized* Indigenous groups living in 90 countries throughout the world: remember that labels like “Indigenous” and “Native” include all of these people and more, and what is true for one group is not broadly applicable to Indigenous peoples globally. Like any large, multifaceted demographic, we do not expect consensus (for example, on sociopolitical issues or language preferences), nor can we apply generalizations to their cultures, ideologies, and priorities. However, Indigenous communities share the experience of colonization, and from that shared experience often comes solidarity and collaboration.

*Not all colonial national governments recognize all Indigenous groups living within their borders, and government recognition should not be held as the gold standard of defining or validating Indigenous and Native identities (see: Chris Andersen, “Indigenous Nationhood” in Native Studies Keywords, Teves, Smith, and Raheja, eds.).

Guiding Principles for Indigenous Studies

There is a long history of researchers and institutions disrespecting Indigenous people and communities, including but not limited to replicating misinformation, publishing private information that should have been protected, and engaging in “vanishing Indian” and “white savior” narratives. Those wishing to engage with Indigenous studies should be mindful of that history, and be prepared to work towards a more respectful future. Here are some principles to keep in mind as you begin researching Indigenous studies topics.

  1. Indigenous peoples are the experts in their own experiences. As scholars, our primary responsibility is to ask questions, listen, and engage in meaningful dialogues, not to “correct” Indigenous narratives.
  2. Be mindful of biases and preconceptions (our own and others’). We all have preconceived notions, but we are responsible for maintaining self-awareness, and practicing rigorous information literacy skills to evaluate the credibility of sources (particularly older source material). Consider the expertise of the author, how clearly they have documented their methodology, their stakes and agendas, and how logically and appropriately the conclusions they have drawn fit the data presented.
  3. Occasionally, respectful engagement also means “disengaging.” This is especially important in ethnographic work. Remember that you are never entitled to another person’s knowledge, and if someone does not consent to participating in your research, you may need to rethink your project and approach.

Recommended Readings for Critical Indigenous Studies

Below are some of the seminal works that ground the foundation of interdisciplinary Indigenous studies and critical theory (again, this list is not exhaustive). Fairfield University Library patrons should have access to most of these resources, and others may be requested via Interlibrary Loan. Those wishing to research topics in Indigenous Studies should additionally look for works written by scholars in their discipline (see our other discipline-specific research guides for database searching recommendations), and about the specific Indigenous communities they wish to research. Consult your professor’s or discipline’s preferred citation style manual to cite these sources fully.



Journal Articles:

Library Staff