Working with First Nations

Tips for students on conducting research with First Nations

1. Learn about the OCAP principles, which mean that First Nations own, control, access and possess any data collected in or about their communities. This may be very different from the way you are used to working. Here is a link to the OCAP principles for your review.

2. The best research projects are initiated by members of First Nations who are concerned about their own drinking water and wastewater. Check with the H2O program co-ordinator whether any First Nations are looking for help from experts in your field.

3. Your First Nation partners need to be involved in designing the research project, regardless of who came up with the original idea. If you don’t already have a contact in the First Nation where you want to work, ask the H2O program co-ordinator how to approach a First Nation staff member with relevant expertise. The co-ordinator is sometimes available to attend the initial meeting.

4. You will need permission from chief and council to conduct any research in a First Nation community. Sometimes this comes in the form of a band council resolution. Here is a sample of Band Council Resolution wording (BCR). Ask advice from your initial community contact person on how to approach chief and council. Some councils have occasional meetings in Winnipeg where it might be easier for you to attend in person to explain the research proposal.

5. Prepare a two-page outline of the research you would like to conduct that is free of jargon and clearly explains how you expect the First Nation would be involved and benefit. Also explain how and when you expect to deliver results to the community.

6. Before you visit a community, prepare a simple half-page notice that explains what you’re doing and why and that you have permission from chief and council. Include your contact information. If people ask you questions while you’re collecting samples, you can leave the flier behind after you have answered their questions verbally.

7. Wherever possible, conduct the research with a local person. Get to know a range of people in the community where you are working. Explain to passers-by what you’re doing if they’re curious. You may find that the quality of the research you’re able to do depends on the quality of your relationships with community members.

8. Any research that involves human subjects requires approval from a University of Manitoba ethics board. This is a lengthy process, so start it as soon as possible. If you are taking water samples inside or outside homes, you don’t need formal ethics approval but you should get permission from a resident. Sometimes your local contact person will arrange this for you.

9. Long before submitting results for academic presentations or publication, consult with your community contact about obtaining permission to use the data. Ideally, your local partner will be a co-author and present with you at conferences.

10. Try to visit the community to explain the final research results in person before publication. Never identify the community’s name in a presentation or publication without permission.

11. Aim to leave the research results behind in the community in a usable form – for example, plain-language fact sheets or a poster – along with a copy of the raw data.

12. If you run into difficulties, ask the H2O program co-ordinator for advice.