In conversation with “Why I Interview: Indigenous Research Ethics in Cinema and Media Studies”

In response to yesterday’s post by Karrmen Crey, she raises points that resonate with the research I have been doing for my PhD that in many ways is a continuation of both theory and method I utilised in 2011 for my Master’s thesis. I also conducted qualitative interviews, and developed a method of “interviewing the ancestors” through their descendants. In doing so, what emerged from my Master’s research were insights into ancestral leadership and the ways leadership knowledge is accessed across dimensions of time, space and cosmology. I won’t go into detail as you can read the thesis in book chapter version: or the full thesis here: I find affiliation with my research approach and Karrmen’s points below:

  1. The theory is in the work;
  2. Research as a collaborative process of knowledge production;
  3. Making visible a level of accountability and responsibility that has been obscured by traditional Western methods.

In developing the method of interviewing the ancestors further in my doctoral research, I draw upon philosophical foundations from my understanding of Coast Salish worldview in order to better understand notions of freedom, unfreedom, wealth and economy from that perspective. As a starting point, I explore what lives in generations of Coast Salish people today, which include stories and histories of the survival of our parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and great, great grandparents. These tangible memories and all knowledge forms that are woven together to make up oral histories of the recent past are called sqwélqwel—a concept closely tied to sxwoxwiyám, oral histories of the distant past that provide the backbone to which all Coast Salish lineage and sqwélqwel may be tied.

These two concepts of oral history inform the way that I approach all research processes, and in particular, inform my decision to conduct qualitative interviews as an appropriate means to engage with Coast Salish philosophy. However, determining the relationship between oral history (as philosophy and research method), and interviewing is not clear terrain where the purpose and function of shared knowledge should never be assumed to be static. Contextual and nuanced research moments open space to explore the tensions between the way that oral history research is conducted in business research from traditional Western methods, and the way that I navigate oral history in relation to the protocols of Coast Salish oral traditions. To give an example, the responsibility to honour your ancestors carries no sense of time, and so the distinction between sqwélqwel and sxwoxwiyám is not characterised by chronological distance; rather, the essence of sxwoxwiyám is marked by a chaotic world, whereas sqwélqwel marks a world “set right through transformations[1]” (Blomfield et al., 2001, p. 6). It is from these understandings of oral history that I read, listen, think about, conduct and interpret the interviews and archival and historical records in my research.

In both an ontological and epistemological sense, this oral historical lens allows me to comprehend Coast Salish economic philosophy under the assumption that the world is set right. What is right are the voices of our ancestors (which include the voices of this generation) as cumulative knowledge that continues to speak—as embodied knowledge, in what is recorded in the hearts and minds of the people, and in what exists in written form. From a Coast Salish perspective, this notion of ‘right’ is not something that is cognitively processed and accepted to be true; rather, it is a metaphysical reference to worlds beyond the human experience that acknowledges the spectrum within which chaos and order offers space for everything in between. This is a distinct approach from a view of what is ‘right’ from a moral rights or utilitarian view that relies on the Cartesian split between being and thinking. In the realm of sxwoxwiyám, what is right is the transformation of the world from chaos to order, and from that assumption, being and thinking hold equal weight. This leads me to assume that determining what is right in research means not only thinking in order to know what is right, but the experiential component of being—in this case, being in the interview with whom you interview—tells you what is right. This source of knowing cannot be written beforehand and in this arena, Karrmen’s point about making visible accountability and responsibility in the research process becomes not simply about responding to, but becoming part of the ongoing negotiation and changing environment in which the research is conducted.

It is in this need for presence that as researchers, we also find the theory in the work of interviewing itself by the nature of not only research, but oral history and interviewing as collaborative knowledge production.


[1] Transformations is not a general verb here, but refers to the work that was done by the Transformers—known in Coast Salish philosophy as Xexá:ls—in the time of chaos before the human and spirit worlds were distinguished from each other (Blomfield et al., 2001).

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