Smith (2012). Research Adventures on Indigenous Lands. (Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples.)

Smith, L. T. (2012). Research Adventures on Indigenous Lands. In Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (Second edition, pp. 81-97). Dunedin: Otago University Press.

“Although always ethnocentric and patriarchal, travellers’ accounts remain interesting because of the details and sometimes perceptive (and on occasions reflective) comments made by some writers of the events they were recording.” (p 95)

[“They Came, They Saw, They Named, They Claimed” (p 96) …]

“Joseph Banks was regarded highly as a botanist and sailed with Cook … Banks’s journal covers a number of topics which were of great interest at that time and was full of comparisons with other places known to the British. The ease with which [page break] comparisons could be made reinforces our sense of the imperial gaze with which Banks assessed the land and all that was part of it. While at one level this ability could be called knowledge, it was imperial knowledge that measured everything new against what was known by Banks himself.” (p 96-97)

“Naming the world has been likened by Paulo Freire to claiming the world and claiming those ways of viewing the world that count as legitimate.10” (p 97)

“‘Researchers’ were also missionaries, amateur botanists, surveyors, officials, traders — any European, in fact, who was able to write or draw pictures.” (p 98)

“… multiple roles of colonists became far more problematic for some tribes, as military men who led campaigns against Maori then became resident magistrates or land commissioners who presided over the alienation of Maori land, or interpreters in trials or land dealings, or, in later life, ‘reliable’ and respected sources on Maori beliefs and customs.13 … Their ‘informants’ were relegated to obscurity, their colonial activities seen as unproblematic, and their chronic ethnocentrism viewed as a sign of the times.” (p 98)

“Those observers of indigenous peoples whose interest was of a more ‘scientific’ nature could be regarded as being far more dangerous in that they had theories to prove, evidence and data to gather and specific languages by which they could classify and describe the indigenous world.” (p 99)

[“On the Road to … Research” (p 99) …]

[“Organizing Research” (p 102) …]

“Learned societies exerted some form of ethical control over their members, partly by encouraging the view that they were good scholars with open minds, and mostly by insisting that they should be gentlemen with the ‘right conduct’.23 Access to the status of gentleman and scholar was based on class divisions and wealth. The significance of these societies for indigenous peoples, however, is that [page break] they defined, produced and reproduced ‘culture’: not just scientific culture, but the culture of knowledge, the culture of elitism, the culture of patriarchy.” (p 102-103)

“The ‘fatal impact’ of the West on indigenous societies generally has been theorized as a phased progression through: (1) initial discovery and contact, (2) population decline, (3) acculturation, (4) assimilation, (5) ‘reinvention’ as a hybrid, ethnic culture. … Indigenous perspectives also show a phased progression, more likely to be articulated as: (1) contact and invasion, (2) genocide and destruction, (3) resistance and survival (4) [page break] recovery as indigenous peoples.” (p 104-105)

[“Trading the Other” (p 105) …]

“The legacy, however, of the fragmentation and alienation of a cultural ‘estate’ over hundreds of years is that the material connection between people, their place, their languages, their beliefs and their practices has been torn apart.” (p 106)

“The real critical question in this discussion relates to the commercial nature of knowledge ‘transfer’ … In this sense, the people and their culture, the material and the spiritual, the exotic and the fantastic, became not just the stuff of dreams and imagination, or stereotypes and eroticism, but of the first truly global commercial enterprise: _trading the Other_. This trade had its origins before the Enlightenment, but capitalism and Western culture have transformed earlier trade practices (such as feudal systems of tribute), through the development of native appetites for goods and foreign desires for the strange; the making of labour and consumer markets; the protection of trade routes, markets and practices; and the creation of systems for protecting the power of the rich and maintaining the powerlessness of the poor. … positional superiority … Trading the Other deeply, intimately, defines Western thinking and identity.” (p 106)

“… bell hooks in an essay called ‘Eating the Other’, a ‘commodification of otherness’, which, she argues, ‘has been so successful because it is offered as a new delight, more intense, more satisfying than normal ways of doing and feeling’.28 … commodification of such things as: treaty rights, identity, traditional knowledge, traditional customs, traditional organizations, land titles, fauna and flora.29” (p 107)

[“Defining the Indigenous ‘Problem'” (p 107) …]

“One of the sites where different knowledges about indigenous peoples intersect is in discussions on ‘The … (_insert name of indigenous group_) problem’. This was sometimes expressed as ‘The … question’.” (p 107)

“The systematic undermining of the legitimacy of indigenous leaders was part of the wider strategy for colonization. This strategy has not gone away as contemporary indigenous activists are also represented in the same ways.” (p 108)

“The natives were, according to this view, to blame for not accepting the terms of their colonization. In time social policies — for example, in health and education — were also viewed as remedies for the ‘indigenous problem’. By the 1960s this approach had been theorized repeatedly around notions of cultural deprivation or cultural deficit which laid the blame for indigenous poverty and marginalization even more [page break] securely on the people themselves. The ‘indigenous problem’ had by then also become an academic discourse in which research played a crucial role. … Problematizing the indigenous is a Western obsession.” (p 108-109)

“A continuing legacy of what has come to be taken for granted as a natural link between the term ‘indigenous’ (or its substitutes) and ‘problem’ is that many researchers, even those with the best of intentions, frame their research in ways that assume that the locus of a particular research problem lies with the indigenous individual or community rather than with other social or structural issues.” (p 109)

“For many indigenous communities research itself is taken to mean ‘problem’; the word research is believed to mean, quite literally, the continued construction of indigenous peoples as the problem.” (p 109)

Selected References

  • 8. Beaglehole, J. C. (1962), The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks 1768-1771, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, p. 3.
  • 10. Freire, P. (1987), Literacy: Reading the Word and the World, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.
  • 23. McClellan, J. E. (1985), Science Reorganized: Scientific Societies in the Eighteenth Century, Columbia Press, New York, p. 29.
  • 28. hooks, b. (1992), Black Looks, Race and Representation, South End Press, Boston, p. 21.
  • 29. Smith, G. H. (1995), ‘New Formations of Colonization’, in The Fiscal Enveloped: Economics, Politics and Colonization, Moko Productions and The Research Unit for Maori Education, Auckland, pp. 33–9.
See this page at

Leave a Comment