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The community-first Land-centred theoretical framework: bringing a 'good mind' to Indigenous education research?



This article introduces an emergent research theoretical framework, the community-first Land-centred research framework. Carefully examining the literature within Indigenous educational research, we noted the limited approaches for engaging in culturally aligned and relevant research within Indigenous communities. The community-first Land-centred research framework was created by reflecting on how we engaged in research collaborations with Indigenous communities. This process of reflection led us to realize that within our research we had been developing a research framework that was culturally-aligned, relevant, and based on respectful relations that differed in important ways from other community oriented research framework. We articulate how we differentiate this framework from community-based approaches to research and discuss the community-first Land-centred research framework's foundational principles. We draw upon lessons learned through our various collaborations over the past seven years.
CANADIAN JOURNAL OF EDUCATION 36, 2 (2013): 284 - 313
©2013 Canadian Society for the Study of Education/
Société canadienne pour l’étude de l’éducation
The Community-First Land-Centred Theoretical
Framework: Bringing a ‘Good Mind’ to Indigenous
Education Research?
Sandra Styres
Brock University
Dawn Zinga
Brock University
This article introduces an emergent research theoretical framework, the
community-first Land-centred research framework. Carefully examining the
literature within Indigenous educational research, we noted the limited approaches
for engaging in culturally aligned and relevant research within Indigenous
communities. The community-first Land-centred research framework was created
by reflecting on how we engaged in research collaborations with Indigenous
communities. This process of reflection led us to realize that within our research
we had been developing a research framework that was culturally-aligned,
relevant, and based on respectful relations that differed in important ways from
other community oriented research framework. We articulate how we
differentiate this framework from community-based approaches to research and
discuss the community-first Land-centred research framework’s foundational
principles. We draw upon lessons learned through our various collaborations over
the past seven years.
Keywords: Indigenous; Land-centred research; community engagement
Cet article présent un cadre théorique de la recherche émergente, la communauté
et unième cadre de recherche concernant la Terre. Examiner attentivement la
littérature au sein de la recherche en éducation autochtone, nous avons noté les
approches limitées pour s'engager dans la recherche culturellement alignés et
pertinents au sein des communautés autochtones. La communauté premier cadre
de recherches sur les Terres centrée été créé par une réflexion sur la façon dont
nous nous sommes engagés dans des collaborations de recherche avec les
communautés autochtones. Ce processus de réflexion nous a amené à réaliser que,
dans notre recherche, nous avons mis au point un cadre de recherche qui a été
adaptés à la culture, pertinente et fondée sur des relations respectueuses qui
diffèrent de façon importante des autres cadres de recherche axée sur la
communauté. Nous articulons comment nous différencions ce cadre des
approches communautaires de recherche et de discuter des principes fondateurs de
la communauté et unième cadre de recherche concernant la Terre. Nous nous
appuyons sur les leçons apprises à travers nos différentes collaborations au cours
des sept dernières années.
The Community-First Land-Centred Theoretical Framework: Bringing a ‘Good
Mind’ to Indigenous Education Research?
Sharing Our Journey
In this article, we are introducing a new theoretical framework that is designed to
address the complexities that arise when Indigenous1 and non-Indigenous research
collaborations are formed. It has emerged out of our own struggles with these
complexities and the questions that we had to engage as part of those struggles. It is
offered as a starting point for further conversations about research and research
collaborations and as a sharing of where our mutual journey has taken us.i In our journey
we have reflected on what it means to “bring a good mind” and/or do things in a “good
way” regarding research and intercultural collaborations. We have questioned who gets
to define these terms and in what ways they are expressed. This article does not provide
an intensive analysis of the theoretical framework, but rather, is focused on the
foundational principles upon which it is informed. We examine the ways Indigenous and
non-Indigenous researchers may collaborate and engage the concept of ethical space
identified by Willie Ermine (2007). This concept, we believe, is central to successful
collaborations. These ways of collaborating and engaging are addressed specifically
from the perspective of the partnership between us as an Indigenous researcher and a
non-Indigenous researcher, who have been working collaboratively together for over
seven years.
Our collaboration has grown over time and been informed by our understandings
of Landii in its various forms as well as our relationship with and our responsibilities to
Land and all our relations. It is important that we locate ourselves both in terms of
recognizing the traditional lands on which we stand and the backgrounds informing our
perspectives. We are on the traditional territory of initially, the Mississauga of the New
Credit First Nations and subsequently the Six Nations Confederacy (Mohawk, Oneida,
Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora). As an Indigenous researcher, Author resides
on Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, a First Nations community located in
Southern Ontario. As a non-Indigenous researcher, Author identifies herself as a white
woman who is a several-generations-removed immigrant to the ancestral lands upon
which she resides. Together, we been challenged to reconsider concepts related to
Indigenous research and explore the tensions, challenges, and possibilities associated
with Indigenous and non-Indigenous research collaborations.
Through our joint and independent research, we have continued these
conversations. We have spoken about the historical imbalances within Indigenous
research where non-Indigenous researchers have problematized and misrepresented
Indigenous communities and conducted research on rather than with those communities.
According to Ermine, Sinclair, and Jeffery (2004) researchers tend to problematize or use
a “pathologizing” (p. 12) lens within Indigenous research contexts. His views are
grounded in his understanding of Smith’s (1999) position that “the word research is
believed to mean, quite literally, the continued construction of Indigenous Peoples as the
problem…and that problematizing the Indigenous is a Western obsession.” (Smith, 1999,
p. 91-92). In the context of Indigenous and non-Indigenous research collaborations, the
question that needs to be asked is how can “two knowledge systems work together in an
ethical manner from a place where both traditions are respected?” (Ermine, Nilson,
Sauchyn, Sauve & Smith, n.d., p. 35). Solution-oriented and strength-based research is
emerging with increasing frequency, and collaborations that balance the two knowledge
systems, in an equitable and ethical manner, have a chance to contribute to that growing
body of scholarship. We also recognize the challenges posed by collaborations between
Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers as they experience unique challenges and
tensions as identified by Smith (1999):
While researchers are trained to conform to the models provided for them,
Indigenous researchers have to meet these criteria as well as Indigenous criteria
which can judge research as not ‘useful’, ‘not indigenous’, ‘not friendly’, ‘not
just’. Reconciling such views can be difficult. The Indigenous agenda challenges
Indigenous researchers to work across these boundaries. It is a challenge which
provides focus and direction which helps in thinking through the complexities of
Indigenous research. (p. 140)
The community-first land-centred theoretical framework opens up opportunities
to engage in Indigenous research through respectful relations. We have designed it to
work as a full theoretical framework when all of its core concepts are adhered to and all
its tenets are embedded within the research. If it is only used in part to inform research
then it should be referenced as informing the research and not cited as the theoretical
framework underpinning the research. It operates as a principled approach that must be
customized to the specific research context in which it is engaged and is premised upon
the purposeful and mindful creation of ethical space. While not minimizing or erasing
the realities of historical and contemporary tensions and power struggles inherent in these
relations, its principles provide guides for how Indigenous and non-Indigenous
collaborations can be accomplished in respectful, meaningful, and equitable ways, whilst
contextualized to the realities and needs of those involved.
We acknowledge that there are many culturally aligned research methods and
theoretical frameworks that are grounded in the understanding of respectful and
meaningful relations (see Archibald, 2008; Bishop, 1996; Bishop & Glynn, 1999;
Jiménez- Estrada, 2005; Kompf & Hodson, 2000; Kovach, 2009; Smith, 1999; Author,
2008; Toulouse, n.d.; Wilson, 2008). While we hold many of principles in common,
these methods/theoretical frameworks are primarily designed for Indigenous researchers
doing Indigenous research, whereas the community-first land-centred theoretical
framework focuses specifically on Indigenous and non-Indigenous research
collaborations. Several of these methods/theoretical frameworks engage issues around
power-sharing and the potential involvement of non-Indigenous researchers. They have
informed our understanding and conceptualization of culturally-informed research
including the following: power and privilege, insider/outsider positionality, decolonizing
approaches to research processes, and privileging Indigenous ways of knowing. It is also
important to note that while issues around the possible involvement of non-Indigenous
researchers are considered by some of these theorists, several of the methods/theoretical
frameworks draw upon ceremony and other intimate cultural knowledges which are not
appropriate for use by non-Indigenous researchers. Through our own experiences
attempting to work with some of these methods/theoretical frameworks in an Indigenous
and non-Indigenous research collaboration, we found that there were some places that the
non-Indigenous researcher could not and should not go while the Indigenous researcher
could and did. We noticed that our approach evolved to address those tensions and it
made us aware of various power-relations that we had not been engaging consciously.
This was the catalyst that encouraged us to explore models for balanced power-sharing
and to consider how we might address those issues within Indigenous and non-
Indigenous research collaborations.
Community-First Land-Centred Theoretical Framework
In laying out our conceptualization of the community-first Land-centred
theoretical framework, we are offering to share own struggles with issues around
collaboration and engaging related issues of power and privilege. In some ways, we see
ourselves as creating our own treaty agreement—our own wampum. We are drilling and
threading the beads; we are creating our own story. Our relationship to each other and
what we are modelling within the theoretical framework is as sovereign nation to
sovereign nation in so far as we each represent in some ways those traditions of knowing
and bring them together in respectful and receptive ways that promote equitable power-
sharing in the research processes. It is not about privileging either the Indigenous or the
non-Indigenous researcher in the research process but about finding an equitable balance
and braiding together the knowledges. As Alfred Metallic (as cited in McLean, 2010)
stated, it is possible for knowledges to “co-exist without having to complete for voice” (p.
3) and we believe that this co-existence and the inherent equitable balance that can be
created are essential components of Indigenous and non-Indigenous research
collaborations. In addition, the imagery and conceptualization of two parties holding
wampum is essential as it communicates the responsibilities that each has to the
relationship that is being formed and nurtured as well as the depth of trust that each is
giving and receiving. It is helpful to think of the associations that wampum holds,
“Norman Jacobs, who was the keeper of belts for the Hodenosaunee Confederacy,
offered that wampum was a reflection of honesty and integrity, and that the approach of
someone carrying wampum indicated that they could be trusted” (Sherman, 2010, p.114).
This trust and willingness to take on these responsibilities by working through the
tensions and challenges together is the foundation of the theoretical framework proposed
in this article.
We believe that all collaborators need to be cognizant of the challenges and
tensions associated with braiding together two knowledge systems. More specifically,
the non-Indigenous collaborator needs to be mindful of the ways they are implicated in
colonial relations and the impact this has had and continues to have on the Indigenous
collaborator. The Indigenous collaborator must frequently walk in two worlds, while the
non-Indigenous collaborator retains the protections and privileges of the dominant society
and can check-out in a way that fails to recognize the Indigenous collaborator’s lived
reality—in effect putting the relationship on hold or containing it in a box until the non-
Indigenous collaborator is willing to re-engage. This creates an unequal power
relationship. In contrast, choosing to remain together in spaces created by these tensions
and consciously and mindfully creating ethical space together is what moves these
collaborations forward in ways that balance community realities with dominant systemic
structures while always placing relationships in a position of prominence and being
willing to question our “unquestioned answers” (Wilson, 2008) within the context of the
Willie Ermine (2007) describes the creation of ethical space as the “space
between the Indigenous and Western thought worlds” (p. 94). We draw upon his
metaphor of two men sitting together as representing two sets of intentions (Indigenous
and Western) poised to confront each other and extend it further to think about our
theoretical framework as a two-party (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) theoretical
framework with each party bearing certain responsibilities in terms of engaging and
nurturing the relationship. Each must be willing to remain together and deal with the
space as tensions and power relations emerge until that ethical space is created in a
mindful way. That space must include the recognition that the Indigenous party is not
responsible for dealing with the colonial baggage that has been left behind from historical
colonial relations and research that is the non-Indigenous party’s responsibility. Each
collaborator has a responsibility to deal with the fallout of the colonial relations in a way
that brings internal balance as well as balancing and restores restoring the collaborative
relationship. Both are responsible for their willingness to engage with their own
preconceived notions and to consider how what the other is introducing into the space
might inform or shift those notions. This relationship is not something that can be put in
a box on a shelf until it is convenient to engage the tensions, challenges, and power
relations. We see it as a continuous engagement wherein strength is created through the
act of pushing through and staying engaged. It is essential to address the questions that
have not previously been asked that cause us to reflect on how we know what we know
and how others’ ways of knowing may both challenge and inform our perspectives and
taken-for-granted assumptions.
Relationships are central. Wilson (2008) has described Indigenous research as
ceremony that centres on the development of relationships and on maintaining
accountability to those relationships. Our approach to research is grounded in the
development of relationships and shaped by the responsibilities we have to those
relationships. It is based on the elements of respect, relevance, reciprocity, and
responsibility introduced by Kirkness and Bernhardt (1991) in relation to First Nations
and higher education that has since been extended by researchers to apply within research
contexts. This has commonly been referred to as the four R’s of research but we prefer to
use the five R’s as we believe it is essential to include relationships. Relationships are
fundamental because respect, relevance, reciprocity, and responsibility are grounded in
an understanding and acknowledgement of interconnected relationships and are
expressed through those relationships.
Community consultation is often identified as part of doing research in a “good
way.” However, the centrality of relationships must be respected within potential
collaborations. Part of the work that must be done is to define what consultation means
within the context of the collaboration. For some, consultation means having the
community approve a research plan developed outside of the community while others see
consultation as community input and involvement in every stage of the process. The Tri-
Council Policy Statement 2nd Edition (TCPS2) acknowledges that the nature and extent of
community engagement should be determined collaboratively and may take various
forms. However, while the TCPS2 provides some examples it does not address the
potential range in defining consultation nor does it set a minimum level of engagement.
We agree with the TCPS2 in that consultation should be jointly determined by the
community and researcher and contextualized, but as a bare minimum it must involve
establishing egalitarian and collaborative relationships within the community. When
consultation occurs without first establishing relationships, then we assert that it is not
representative of the complex meanings embedded in the term bringing a “good mind” to
research. We recognize the term “good mind” as based on the three principles of peace
established by the Peacemaker to the original five nations of the Hodenosaunee
Confederacy. The power of a good mind was one of the three principles and as such is
grounded in very old and sacred knowledges reflecting a particular way of knowing and
being that should not be misappropriated. While we generally choose not to use the term
“good mind” as we frequently find it to be misappropriated, we have used it in the title to
call attention to this tendency to misappropriate Indigenous thought and turn the
associated terms into buzzwords. We choose instead to deeply reflect on our principles
and ways we enact those principles in our collaborations and research.
The community-first Land-centered theoretical framework is premised on the idea
that the parties will work from their respective areas of strength so that equitable balance
is created. This strength-based approach means that each may be prominent at different
points in accordance with their areas of strength and at other times the collaboration may
be more equal in terms of the prominence of the parties. The theoretical framework is
not only emergent and responsive in terms of community needs and the research, but also
in terms of consultation. Consultation is not a static process but rather is responsive and
emergent, evolving with the collaboration as all the members build and enhance their
strengths and skills. As the relationship progresses, so, too, should the nature and
intensity of the collaboration. Thus, it is constantly in flux: Periods of withdrawal and
more intense engagement should be expected with members of the collaboration,
collectively and individually, as they work through internal tensions and challenges
triggered by their own growth within the relationship. There are pivotal points in the
relationship where things could go either way and it is the ways members of the
collaboration choose to engage those moments that shape how the relationship will
continue or dissipate.
The theoretical framework is provocative. In the words of Wilson (2008), “if
research doesn’t change you as a person, then you haven’t done it right” (p. 135). It is
transformative because by following its principles, collaborators are brought to a place
where they are exposed to experiences throughout the collaboration and called on to
make a choice to embrace those experiences along with the associated transformation, or
repudiate them. This often occurs as a series of pivotal moments that can bridge one to
the other, or allow collaborators the space to disengage and then reengage, or act as the
ending point for the relationship. As previously discussed, relationship is central and the
other R’s are grounded within the understanding of relationships and our responsibilities
to those relationships. They serve as guiding principles within the theoretical framework
and are interconnected with the framework’s two primary interrelated elements, namely
community-first and Land-centred that also open up opportunities that can lead to
Community-first seeks to transform the ways we think about and do research
because it causes us to reorient and reprioritize previously held assumptions; for example,
the distinction between research on a community and research with a community. By
incorporating Land-centred we seek to shift the ways researchers think about
relationality by exposing them to thinking about Land, not solely as a geographical and
material place, but as a spiritual and relational place where “the world of spirit is
interconnected with the world we see and interact with on a daily basis” (Haig-Brown &
Hodson, 2009, p. 168). As such, it may offer a decolonizing approach to research. These
elements form the name of our theoretical framework as they are the central underpinning
of the framework while the five R’s serve as its guiding principles. Together, they act to
provoke, challenge, and bring to the surface complex tensions related to various issues
around colonial relations and assumed privilege, connected through systemic structures
and may be enacted in Indigenous and non-Indigenous research collaborations. We have
chosen these terms with careful attention to their implications and meanings.
In developing our community-first Land-centered theoretical framework, we
carefully examined why the tendency for others to identify us as community-based
research did not adequately capture what we were doing (see Author, Author, Bennett, &
Bomberry, 2009). Ermine (2004) identifies the current methodological trend in research
with Indigenous populations as being “primarily qualitative, participatory, collaborative,
and community-based”(p.12) in character. In identifying our research as being
community-first research, we differentiate it from community-based research and
associated research approaches. The main distinction being that community is
recognized first in all aspects of research and associated collaborative relationships and
this positioning is enacted throughout the research.
While the term “community-based research” has strong community connotations
and does generally refer to research involving community partnerships where research is
situated in a community and may be around an issue of importance to the community (see
Centre for Community Based Research, 2007; Israel et al., 2005; Israel et al., 2003), it
does not always emphasize the relational position of community in the way that
community-first research does. Community-based research tends to apply the following
principles: work to establish equitable partnerships in all stages of the research; recognize
the community as a separate identity; ensure that knowledge generation has a mutual
benefit for all partners; focus on issues that have relevance to the community; employ a
cyclical/iterative process in conducting the research; build on community strengths and
resources; allow time to develop relationships and commitment to sustainability; be
aware of social inequalities and work to empower communities and develop power-
sharing processes; and, ensuring all partners are both involved in the dissemination
process and recipients of the dissemination materials (Israel et al., 2005; Israel, et al.,
2003; Postma, 2008). There is usually an emphasis on the co-production of knowledge
and social action with community (Postma, 2008).
Postma (2008) describes community-based research as a “strategic approach to
increasing the relevancy, acceptability, and usefulness of evidence-based scientific
findings”(p.17) and is frequently conceptualized as benefitting marginalized
communities. Characterization of communities as being marginalized problematizes the
community and moves away from a power-sharing model into a deficit-based model.
This is particularly troubling for Indigenous communities as such communities are
frequently described as marginalized and engaging in relationships from that perspective
not only decentres the community but also sets up a framework where the principles may
be positive and directed at empowerment but the fundamental structure and processes are
operating from a deficit-based approach that implicitly positions the community as being
less than other partners and stakeholders in the research. This makes power-sharing
models ineffective because the necessary base of assumed equality is absent. In addition,
the idea of empowering a community is fraught with contradictions as the idea that one
group or individual can empower another group or individual is also based on implicitly
assumed inequalities grounded in colonial relations.
Using the terminology community-first is essential to indicate that our approach
does not implicitly position the community as deficient, unequal, or less than other
partners, but rather, explicitly places the community first. This recognizes our awareness
that researchers tend to problematize or use a “pathologizing” (Ermine, 2004, p. 12) lens
within Indigenous research contexts and that this can contribute to research that may be
perceived as being done in a good way while it is actually based on implicitly assumed
inequalities, colonial relations, and imperialist positioning. Our explicit positioning of
the community as primary also marks our willingness to engage in the power differentials
and struggles that continue to exist and may be triggered by bringing together disparate
world views. By designing our theoretical framework as a decolonizing approach , we
seek to expose researchers to the complex challenges, tensions, and shades of resistance
that are embedded in collaborative relationships, and to the engagement that occurs while
negotiating the ethical space created by the clashing of disparate world views.
Researchers working within community-based paradigms may be actively engaging some
of these same tensions but the critical difference between community-first and
community-based is that within community-based approaches, research can be done
without engaging the tensions because it is not an explicit requirement of the approach.
In contrast, community-first explicitly requires the active engagement of ethical space
and the ongoing negotiation of tensions between worldviews and any baggage (e.g.
assumptions, mistrust, interaction patterns) associated with those views.
Other approaches are often paired with community-based research and often have
promising elements but not explicit commitment to engaging the relational tensions in a
meaningful way. Participatory research and action research are commonly paired with
community-based approaches (Giese-Davis, 2008; Shore, Wong, Seifer, Grignon, &
Gamble, 2008; Silka, Cleghorn, Grullon, & Tellez, 2008; Stoecker, 2008). One of the
most common pairings is between community-based research and participatory action
research (PAR). PAR has been characterized as an approach conducive to research with
Indigenous peoples because it aims to be non-intrusive, to promote equal relationships, to
be empowering, inclusive, community centred, and flexible (Ball & Janyst, 2008; Bishop
& Berryman, 2006; Castellano, 1993; Dickson & Green, 2001; Ermine, 2005 Green, et
al., 1995; Hudson, 1982; Jackson, 1993; Jacklin & Kinoshameg, 2008; Smith, 1999;
Webster & Nabigon, 1993). However, as discussed in relation to the community-based
approach, the idea of empowerment is flawed because it implies an inequality and power
differential that positions one partner as superior and able to bestow power, and continues
to foster unequal power relations.
Ermine (2005) identifies the current methodological trend in research with
Indigenous populations as being “primarily qualitative, participatory, collaborative, and
community-based” (p. 12) in character. He indicates that the hallmarks of research
within Indigenous populations are as follows: the inclusion of one or more members of
the community in a role of importance on the research team; Native involvement in the
research design and delivery; explicit outline of the usefulness and benefit offered by the
research to the community; cultural relevance of the research; and research based within
authentic collaboration and partnership. These elements of research have also been
identified by other Indigenous researchers (Bishop, 1996; Bishop & Berryman, 2006;
Smith, 1999). It should be noted that the hallmarks identified by Ermine and others
should be considered as minimum requirements that need to be addressed. Community-
based research and PAR often meet many of these hallmarks, but if they are based on
flawed concepts of empowerment and do not engage relational tensions then they are not
well suited to research within Indigenous contexts and will have difficulty achieving the
collaborations and partnerships described by Ermine.
While community-based and PAR might work well within many different
community-based contexts, Indigenous communities have particular relational contexts
which are addressed by our proposed theoretical framework. Many Indigenous
researchers have identified community-based and PAR approaches as appropriate for
Indigenous communities because they are seen to be more sensitive to community needs
and more likely to include power-sharing aspects—but in many ways this has been an
identification of what might constitute a good choice out of the available options. Our
approach provides a different option in that it emerged in response to lessons learned
working with Indigenous peoples and communities and being open to new ways of doing
research. The community-first Land-centred approach pushes against the established and
accepted normative boundaries in traditional mainstream ways of doing research. The
community-first aspect of this theoretical framework pushes against these margins by
requiring researchers to explicitly put community first and to respectfully and responsibly
immerse themselves in the research elements inherently embedded in that positioning.
Specifically, researchers need to actively engage the ethical space created within their
collaborations, negotiate tensions and power differentials as well as constantly and
consistently redefine shared terminology, relationships, and the responsibilities of those
relationships through consultation and collaboration.
Having addressed the community-first aspect of our theoretical framework, we
now explore the importance of the Land-centred research component. We have
incorporated Land into our theoretical model since the importance of Land for Indigenous
peoples as the central underpinning of all life and its relational nature has been
recognized and embraced across the ages. We have chosen to capitalize Land when we
are referring to it as a proper
name indicating a primary relationship rather than when used in a more general sense.
For us, land (the more general term) refers to landscapes as a fixed geographical and
physical space that includes earth, rocks, and waterways; whereas, “Land” (the proper
name) extends beyond a material fixed space. Land is a spiritually infused place
grounded in interconnected and interdependent relationships, cultural positioning, and is
highly contextualized.
Let us begin by asking ourselves whose traditional lands are we on? As we sit
and write we are cognizant that we are on the traditional territory of firstly, the
Mississauga of the New Credit First Nations and, subsequently the Six Nations
Confederacy (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora). We are
also conscious of the relationships between readers and this story (which is at once us and
yet not us directly) and as such we ask that readers also reflect on whose traditional lands
they are located on as they read this text. Wilson (2008) asserts that there is a reciprocal
relationship that develops between the storyteller (author), listener (reader), and the ideas
being presented. Haig-Brown (2009) writes that “long before it [land] was disrupted by
cities and sprawling suburbs, this land was and continues to be a gathering place of
Indigenous peoples with complex histories of dwelling and travelling” (p. 5). As such
First Nations communities are woven into a complex web of historical and contemporary
relationships with urban and rural landscapes. These vistas form intimate and storied
connections with the First Nations people who were born, lived, travelled, and died on
these landscapes since time immemorial. Their stories may lie beneath layers of colonial
settler encroachment and occupation mounds of concrete and asphalt, and be eclipsed by
skyscrapers; nevertheless, their lives were and are assiduously recorded in the land and
waterways. For Elders in the Isi Askiwan research project, ancestral connections to Land
are spiritual relationships between the natural world and human responsibility (Ermine,
Nilson, Sauchyn, Sauve & Smith, n.d.). According to Wilson (2008) “all knowledge is
cultural and based in a relational context” (p. 95) with Land, ancestors, and ecology;
therefore, a theoretical framework is required that can be accountable to those
relationships. The Isi Askiwan Elders write that community centres on the values,
beliefs, stories, ceremonies, knowledges, and languages that are grounded in Land.
Land from an Indigenous perspective carries with it the idea of journeying, of
being connected to, and interconnected with, geographic and spiritual space—in other
words a deep sense of identification through a cosmological and ecological connection to
both natural and spiritual worlds. This connection and identification lead us into a
discussion of land-based research as a model for sovereignty and self-determination
whereby community is the privileged voice that dictates and guides the research and
academia is a respected but marginalized voice. Land has traditionally been considered a
sacred, healing space where anyone who is connected to a place can find what he or she
needs to maintain, sustain, and build a healthy life. Land-centred research moves beyond
the boundaries of traditional mainstream conceptualizations of research and is, therefore,
in essence a decolonizing journey into a space where community protocols, norms, voice,
needs, values, knowledge, traditions, and stories are privileged and centralized within a
culturally aligned theoretical framework. It is a space whereby the community mentors,
teaches, and guides researchers in ways to conduct research within their space, on their
land, and under their terms. The researchers willingly and humbly place themselves in
the role of non-expert and allow the community to be the experts in the research
processes. This is particularly crucial for non-Indigenous researchers “because the Indian
people are the scientists to their own land” (Ermine, Nilson, Sauchyn, Sauve & Smith,
n.d., p. 33). Our theoretical framework has been informed by Haig-Brown and
Dannenmann’s work on land as the first teacher (see Haig-Brown, 2005; Haig-Brown &
Dannenmann, 2002; 2008) as well as the Indigenous scholars mentioned above.
Applying the Community-First Land-Centred Theoretical Framework
As previously mentioned, our community-first, Land-centred theoretical
framework is a principled approach based on the five R’s that must be contextualized to
specific research contexts. It is premised upon the purposeful and mindful creation of
ethical space that is constantly shifting as collaborators (re)engage difficult questions, and
navigate the space where two worlds come together. Our theoretical framework can be
used either as a full theoretical framework, in which the framework is embedded in all
aspects of the research or to inform research. The theoretical framework provides the
opportunity to engage in a transformative process and requires collaborators to embrace
the multi-layered experience. Collaborators need to choose their levels of engagement
and commitment and decide whether they will engage with the process by having their
research informed by the theoretical framework or by choosing to embrace the full
theoretical framework, working through how to embed it into all aspects of the research.
Collaborators who choose to use our community-first Land-centred theoretical
framework to inform their research should meet certain core criteria but do not have to
apply the principles of the theoretical framework throughout the entire research process.
Instead the core concepts of the theoretical framework inform the collaboration but an
alternate method such as PAR or Action Research may be used within the research
process and would also inform the analysis and as such the approach to dissemination
may vary. In practical terms, this means that in establishing and nurturing the
collaboration, the core principles or the five R’s (Relationships, Respect, Relevance,
Reciprocity, and Responsibility) together with the interconnected components of
community-first and Land-centred, inform and guide the collaboration to promote
transformation and lead to decolonizing approaches to research collaborations.
Collaborators should be aware that tensions are likely to arise between the decolonizing
approaches to research collaborations that are provoked by the framework and the use of
alternative methods that may be informed by colonial relations. These tensions arise as
the collaborators engage in creating ethical space within the collaboration, which results
in an increasing awareness of colonial influences and associated treacherous
undercurrents leading collaborators to become more aware of the colonial underpinnings
and related assumptions that may be embedded in their chosen method.
Thus, collaborators engage in a transformative process, whether choosing to
employ the full theoretical framework or using it to inform their research. It is essential
to remember that as it is intended to be a transformational process, the level of awareness
and the willingness to engage may vary between collaborators. It is highly unlikely that
an Indigenous collaborator would be totally unaware of colonial influences; however, it is
possible that a non-Indigenous collaborator may be largely or completely unaware of
colonial influences. A non-Indigenous collaborator may be entering into the
collaboration with good intentions but without an understanding of what the core
principles really mean when they are enacted on a daily basis and without an appreciation
of the depth and insidiousness of colonial relations. This is not the latest, sexy approach
to doing research, it is based on ancient relevant knowledges and offers a different way of
collaborating that takes into account the shifting ground that must be navigated when
engaging in meaningful, respectful, and equitable collaborations between Indigenous and
non-Indigenous researchers.
The choice to use our community-first Land-centred theoretical framework
requires that collaborators commit to applying the principles and the interconnected
components to inform and guide the collaboration and throughout the entire research
process. The theoretical framework will be embedded in all methods or approaches to
analysis and dissemination used within the research. Every aspect of the research process
will be informed and guided by the community-first Land-centred theoretical framework.
The challenge is not only in the commitment to the theoretical framework, but also in the
contextualization of the theoretical framework. Each of the core principles and the
interconnected components provoke challenging questions that guide collaborators in
establishing what each means in the current context. For example, consider the following
challenges: deciding what reciprocal looks like in a particular context; navigating what is
meaningful or relevant to whom and in what ways; learning how to show and earn
respect; establishing the multilayered responsibilities triggered by the collaboration;
understanding responsibility within relationships and ways to nurture respectful
relationships; recognizing community as first and conceptualizing the multitude ways to
enact that positioning; exploring the conceptualization of Land going beyond
geographical and physical space and making connections about how Land can inform and
be enacted in research and collaborations. As indicated by these challenges, our
theoretical framework provokes, challenges, and brings to the surface complex tensions
related to various issues around colonial relations and assumed privilege that are
connected through systemic structures and may be enacted in the research collaboration.
The mindful and purposeful creation of ethical space provides a place to engage these
tensions and challenges the collaborators to maintain the space and collectively navigate
the tensions keeping in mind that each collaborator may have different and shifting levels
of awareness and willingness to engage.
As previously mentioned, this article does not provide an in-depth introduction to
our community-first Land-centred theoretical framework, but rather has focused on its
core principles (the five R’s - Relationship, Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, and
Responsibility) and its interconnected components (community-first and Land-centred).
While the concept of a good mind was not central to our framework, its principles, based
on ancient relevant knowledges, form the foundation for the 5 R’s that underpin the core
principles and interconnected components outlined in this article. Once again, we caution
against the tendency to misappropriate Indigenous thought by turning Indigenous
concepts into buzz words, such as good mind, that become devoid of meaning through
their widespread and ambiguous use. We are challenging readers to think about the
implications of our theoretical framework and to consider how it might be enacted
through collaborations and research processes. It is also essential to note that our
theoretical framework does not ignore the power imbalances between community and
university researchers, but rather, is designed to move beyond colonizer/colonized and
academia/community binaries in ways that offer an approach to ensuring imbalances,
struggles, and associated tensions are mindfully and purposefully engaged. The detailed
description of our theoretical framework and its implementation goes beyond the scope of
this article but will be forthcoming through another medium.
Concluding Thoughts: Sharing Our Wampum
Throughout this article we have spoken generally about research, but our
theoretical framework was developed through our experiences with educational research.
While we assert that the theoretical framework can be used in any type of Indigenous
research, it has a particular affinity for educational research having emerged out of
educational research contexts. It lends itself to the active involvement of youth and
children in collaborations and research processes while providing guiding principles that
will inform and nurture the involvement. Furthermore, the educational context often calls
for multiple levels of collaboration and is one of the primary historical and contemporary
sites of struggle and resistance involving colonial relations. As such, it requires
theoretical frameworks that can offer decolonizing approaches to research processes and
collaborations that require meaningful and deliberate considerations of underlying
currents and associated assumptions expressed through daily interactions. The core
principles and interconnected components of the theoretical framework encourage
collaborators to create ethical space where these assumptions can be explored and
challenged, having implications for transformative practices.
We have discussed the many ways this theoretical framework is our own
wampum. In sharing our learning, we have drilled and threaded the beads forming
particular patterns that are continuing to emerge throughout our journeys. Each
enactment of our theoretical framework in varied research contexts will continue to
weave a wampum story with common threads (core values and interconnected
components) and unique emergent and intricate patterns (contextualization) that can be
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i Our collaborative writing of this article does not lend itself to a clear title of ownership as it is collectively
and not individually held, and our mutual journey is offered up to others. We actively resist and reject the
imposition of Western concepts around authorship. When we write, we do so collaboratively and stating
that our authorship is equal does not fully capture the collaborative nature of our writing. Our work
together is best captured by the concepts associated with circularity rather than by linear or mathematical
concepts such as equality and order. As current publishing practices tend to be linear in regards to
authorship, within that structure we content that the order of authors as interchangeable. In reference lists
readers must reference the article twice noting each author as first author. In-text citations must be done as
follows: (Author & Author, 2012; Author & Author, 2012) for single citations; multiple citations must
consecutively alternate authors throughout.
ii In this article we have chosen to capitalize Land when we are referring to it as a proper
name indicating a primary relationship rather than when used in a more general sense.
... Indigenous worldviews and ontologies recognize Land as more than a fixed geographical and physical space, but a "spiritually infused place grounded in interconnected and interdependent relationships" [1] (p. 301). ...
... Indigenous worldviews and ontologies recognize Land as more than a fixed geographical and physical space, but a "spiritually infused place grounded in interconnected and interdependent relationships" [1] (p. 301). Land encompasses all aspects of the natural world, including the plants, animals, water, earth, air, as well as the historical and contemporary relationships with spirits and ancestors to geographic places [1][2][3]. Land is dynamic, alive, and thinking [1,4,5]. As Daigle [5] conveys, the Land is "an animate being, relative, food provider, and a teacher of law and governance to whom we are accountable" (p. ...
... Land encompasses all aspects of the natural world, including the plants, animals, water, earth, air, as well as the historical and contemporary relationships with spirits and ancestors to geographic places [1][2][3]. Land is dynamic, alive, and thinking [1,4,5]. As Daigle [5] conveys, the Land is "an animate being, relative, food provider, and a teacher of law and governance to whom we are accountable" (p. ...
Full-text available
There is a growing emergence of Indigenous Food Sovereignty (IFS) initiatives across urban centers within many regions of Canada. Urban Indigenous communities are leading these efforts to revitalize Indigenous foods and agricultural practices while promoting food security and increasing Land-based connections within cities. However, the socio-ecological environments within these urban contexts affect IFS initiatives in unique ways which have not been previously explored. This study addresses these gaps by drawing on qualitative interviews with seven urban Indigenous people leading IFS initiatives within Grand River Territory (situated within southern Ontario, Canada). Applying community-based participatory methods, this research explored how place impacts IFS initiatives within urban environments. Thematic analysis generated two overarching thematic categories: Land access, and place-making practices, revealing a bi-directional, dynamic interaction between place and urban IFS initiatives. Relationships with landowners, control of land, and external factors determined how Land was accessed in urban environments. Place-making practices involved fostering relationships with Land, upholding responsibilities, and cultivating Land-based knowledges. Therefore, IFS initiatives are impacted by Land access, but also facilitate place-making for urban Indigenous Peoples. These findings demonstrate pathways towards Indigenous self-determination and IFS within urban contexts, which can be applicable to other urban Indigenous communities
... For example, in higher education we can consider how Western views and assumptions of authorship collide and frequently dominate Indigenous worldviews related to knowledges and the sharing of knowledge. As outlined by Zinga and Styres (2011; see also Styres and Zinga 2013), authorship is an interesting and important contestation within mainstream academia that is assumed but not often talked about-rarely, if ever, do we venture outside our comfort zones created by assumed hierarchicality to have the important conversations around it. It is often said that actions speak louder than words. ...
... When capitalised, I am referring to Land as a proper noun to indicate a primary relationship, and as something highly contextualised and specific to one culture, time, and place . A capitalised Land, therefore, extends beyond the materiality of earth, rocks, and waterways to become a spiritually infused place grounded in cultural positionings, relational, and interdependent relationships (Styres & Zinga, 2013). When land is not capitalised, I am referring to it through colonial imaginaries, in which landscapes are generalised, universalised, and seen as a blank slate for cultural inscriptions . ...
Full-text available
This book is situated in the simultaneous thinking (theory) and doing (action) of posthumanist performativity and new materialist methodologies to bring forth a multitude of stories that demonstrate co-constituted and co-implicated worldmaking practices. It is written in response to the fact that our Earth is at a critical juncture. As atmospheric temperatures rise and cast unprecedented and wide-spread social and ecological crises across the planet, social and ecological injustices and threats cannot be separated from globalising, neoliberal, capitalist, and colonial discourses that proliferate through anthropocentric and humancentric logics. Manifesting in binary classifications that position the human as separate from the Earth, and dominant categories of the human in hierarchies of power, such logics homogenise and institutionalise the field of environmental education and result in an over-emphasis on instrumentalist, technicist, and mechanistic teaching and learning practices. Exploring the affects emerging within, and between, an assemblage comprising Researcher/Teacher/Environmental Education Worldings, this book seeks to understand how the researcher makes sense of herself with/in the broader ecologies of the world; collaborative processes with an elementary-school teacher in Saskatchewan, Canada, as actualised through four co-created and co-implemented multisensory researcher/teacher enactments (Mindful Walking, Mapping Worlds, Eco-art Installation, and Photographic Encounters); and how the researcher/teacher organises themselves with Land-based pedagogies, environmental education curriculum policy, and wider discourses of Western education. This book does not propose a better way of teaching and learning in environmental education. Rather, showing how difference between categories is relationally bound, this book offers a conceptual (re)storying of human/Earth relationships in environmental education for social and ecological justice in these times of the Anthropocene.
... When capitalised, I am referring to Land as a proper noun to indicate a primary relationship, and as something highly contextualised and specific to one culture, time, and place . A capitalised Land, therefore, extends beyond the materiality of earth, rocks, and waterways to become a spiritually infused place grounded in cultural positionings, relational, and interdependent relationships (Styres & Zinga, 2013). When land is not capitalised, I am referring to it through colonial imaginaries, in which landscapes are generalised, universalised, and seen as a blank slate for cultural inscriptions . ...
This chapter begins with an exploration of pedagogical events in the Eco-art Installation researcher/teacher enactment that prompted considerations of top-down curriculum policy to be relationally entangled/differentiated with a lived curriculum. Bringing forth transdisciplinary approaches to curriculum that are grounded in lived, embodied, and embedded practices between, and across, disciplinary categories, boundaries, and borders, this chapter explores Deleuze and Guattari (in: Massumi (trans) A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1987) ecosophy of becoming that begets performance-causality relationships, and thus, relational accountabilities, obligations, and response-abilities to Earthly systems and structures by inhabitants within these Earthly systems and structures.KeywordsTransdisciplinary approaches to curriculumEcosophyCurriculum-as-planLived curriculumPerformance-causality relationships
... Expanding upon these scholarly conversations, this Special Issue calls for manuscripts in which authors combine rigorous theorisation with intensive empirical inquiry that is situated in action and liveliness of specific and focused practices within multispecies worldings. Through 1 We acknowledge Indigenous scholarship has a long history of relational ontologies and ethics of earthly materiality, well before Eurocentric/continental philosophy of new materialism (see: De Line, 2016; Martin, 2017;Todd, 2016;Tuck, 2014;Watts, 2013). 2 Land (as a term adopted by Indigenous peoples of North America , Country (as a term adopted by Indigenous Australians (Rose, 1996), and Place (as a term commonly adopted in Western perspectives) (Somerville & Green, 2015) are capitalised to indicate a primary relationship, and as something highly contextualised and specific to cultural positionings (Liboiron, 2021;Styres & Zinga, 2013). This is a move to differentiate from colonial imaginaries, in which lowercase land/country/place is generalised, universalised, and seen as a blank slate for cultural inscriptions (Nxumalo & Cedillo, 2017). ...
... This process occurs within the education system and through education. For instance, reflecting on their engagement in research collaborations with Indigenous communities, Styres and Zinga [109] argue that the educational environment requires theoretical frameworks that "encourage collaborators to create ethical space where these assumptions can be explored and challenged, having implications for transformative practices". ...
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Society faces many challenges in promoting a just transition to a low-carbon economy, a transition that does not create or exacerbate injustices. Notably, the just transition can only be attained with new educational approaches which revolve around social, climate and environmental justice. This paper advances that for a just transition, the shift to a greener economy cannot be driven by the traditional neoliberal engine, which has captured educational practices. Rather, the necessary educational transformation needs the principles of critical pedagogy and the dimensions of justice provided by the JUST Framework. We bring these two important schools together and draw on the experience of the global periphery and Latin America in particular, to develop a unique theoretical framework that contributes to the literature on education for sustainable development. Therefore, this conceptual research provides a theoretical framework that should guide education for a just transition. This paper establishes what is referred to as CCR Education Framework which involves: Critical thinking about climate, environmental and social costs of fossil fuels; Coexistence with nature and the other; and Resistance against neoliberalism and other forces that jeopardise the just transition. The CCR Education Framework is a response to the question of what education needs to include to achieve a just transition. The paper also opens the discussion about the implications of the Framework in terms of teacher training and education and appropriate pedagogical approaches. The key theoretical advancements here is that education for the just transition must affirm the importance of teachers and students as agents of transformation, and promote critical educational practices and approaches which support the transition to a low-carbon economy, and which value the characteristics of justice (which include equity, equality, fairness, and inclusiveness) to build a curriculum that advocates sustainable growth and a societal just transition.
... We begin with the concept of land, recognising an important distinction between this and Land (capitalised), which we believe has strong relevance in the context of colonial occupation through militarism. Here we follow Styres andZinga (2013, pp. 300-301 andcited in Liboiron, 2021, p. 6) who, capitalise Land when referring to it as a proper name indicating a primary relationship rather than when used in a more general sense. ...
Full-text available
Cold War legacies pose significant challenges for heritage management and interpretation at landscape scale. This paper explores an area where management and interpretation overlap, in terms of how postcolonial attitudes usually require something to be done with these sites. We argue that this need not be the case and that a ‘rest state’ can be an important stage in a site’s lifecycle. We focus in particular on United States Ground-launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) sites, of which six were built across Europe. All six are reminiscent of more conventional industrial sites co-located with their occupational communities yet they also exist as homes from home on gifted foreign soil typically occupying large areas. By examining these comparable sites at different stages of their heritage itineraries, we test the validity of some new interpretive and heritage management concepts including, if not leading towards, a rest state.
To challenge the idea that the Earth is something to learn about from detached and distant human positions, this chapter begins the project of (re)conceptualising binary classifications through the possibilities (and promises) of posthumanist performativity to generate new and different worldmaking practices in, and for, environmental education. Grappling with what it means to be human living amongst impoverished social and environmental systems, this chapter offers a (re)configuring of human/Earth relationships as entangled/differentiated, and thus, opens environmental education to ethical horizons of hope within co-implicated and shared futures.KeywordsPosthumanist performativityNew materialismRelational agencyBinary classificationsAnthropocentric and humancentric logicsAnthropocenePolicy-driven discourses of pragmatics
This article explores the meaning of community‐driven and owned science in the context of an Inuit‐led land‐based program, the Young Hunters Program. It is the foundational program of the Arviat Aqqiumavvik Society, situated in Nunavut, Canada, a community‐led group dedicated to researching challenges to community wellness and designing and delivering programs to help address those challenges. We show how the program emerged locally and blends Indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) with tools of western science in respectful ways given its core sits within and emerges from what Inuit have always known to be true. We offer a description of six dimensions inherent in Inuit cultural practices and beliefs and foundational to the program activities and show how they open up various learning trajectories and possibilities for the involved young people to engage in community science. We then discuss in what ways the revitalization of IKS and practices led to community science projects that were locally meaningful and empowering with important implications for scientific work that mattered in light of locally experienced and devastating climate change threats. The study speaks to the importance of rebuilding relations and decolonizing knowledge systems and science practices, two key tools to Inuit self‐determination and social transformations, and essential to achieving more social justice and equity in and beyond community science.
This exploratory study assessed links among children’s moral concern and their ideas about the rights and protection of companion, farm, wild animals and ecosystems. Sixty-one children responded to three interview questions that were coded as either anthropocentric or biocentric in orientation. Results revealed unique links among children’s moral concern and their ideas about the rights and protection of different types of animals and ecosystems. Biocentric moral concern was associated with two protection strategies: 1) advocacy to protect companion animals and ecosystems, and 2) the need for peer support to help protect wild animals. Overall, results revealed the nuanced diversity of children’s moral concern and ideas about the rights and protection of all types of animals and ecosystems. Implications for moral education programs include a balanced approach to foster compassion, environmental awareness, and social justice among youth.
Full-text available
This paper is grounded on the premise that research, as a colonising practice, needs constant reconceptualisation and rethinking. I propose a methodology based on some of the values, visions and stories from my own Maya Indigenous culture and knowledge in addition to other Indigenous cultures across the world. I argue that researchers need to constantly acknowledge and change the negative impacts of ignoring multiple ways of knowing by engaging in respectful methods of knowledge collection and production. This paper contributes to the work Indigenous scholars have done in the area of research methodologies and knowledge production. First, a general overview of the values and concepts embedded in the Ceiba or the “Tree of Life” is presented; then, a discussion of what respectful research practices entail follows; finally, it concludes with a reflection on how the Ceiba is a small example of how researchers can adapt their research methodology to the local context.
Full-text available
Research that is centered on a community-first perspective must be negotiated so as to cultivate respectful, reciprocal, and responsible relationships with the community in which the research is situated. The Student Success Research Consortium on Six Nations of the Grand River Territory is a research collaboration that seeks to examine ways of defining and supporting student success from a community perspective. This article explores the emergence of community-first processes that occurred while the foundation for the educational research was being developed. We discuss the distinctions between community-based research and our approach to community-first research that we describe as land-based research. We also focus on the consideration of Aboriginal ethics from a community viewpoint, the development of a memorandum of understanding, and the emergence and implications of ethical space.
Let us begin by acknowledging that this chapter has been written on the traditional lands of the Mississauga people of the great Anishinaabe Nation, those of the Huron, the Neutral, and the Petun, and the lands of the Hotinonshó:ni, of the Six Nations located in what some now call the province of Ontario in Canada. We locate all of what we do in relation to the lands and the Aboriginal peoples who have lived with those lands. We bring that belief to bear on the thoughts we lay out for the reader in this chapter. Persisting questions guide us: What happens when Indigenous3 ways of knowing and being in the world, exemplified in this recognition, come to bear on Eurocentric4 forms of education and schooling?
VII RECONCILIATION 201 The "ethical space" is formed when two societies, with disparate worldviews, are poised to engage each other. It is the thought about diverse societies and the space in between them that contributes to the development of a framework for dialogue between human communities. The ethical space of engagement proposes a framework as a way of examining the diversity and positioning of Indigenous peoples and Western society in the pursuit of a relevant discussion on Indigenous legal issues and particularly to the fragile intersection of Indigenous law and Canadian legal systems. Ethical * M.Ed., Ethicist / Researcher with the Indigenous Peoples Health Research Centre ("IPHRC"), and Assistant Professor with the First Nations University of Canada. Willie is Cree and is from the Sturgeon Lake First Nation in the north central part of Saskatchewan where he lives with his family. As faculty with the First Nations University of Canada, he lectures in subject areas of Cree Literature, and Indigenous systems of religion and philosophy. Willie has published numerous academic articles, including a widely read academic paper entitled "Aboriginal Epistemology" through UBC Press, and contributed recent reports to the Tri Council Panel on Research Ethics, and is a member of the Panel on Research Ethics Technical Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Research ("PRE TACAR"). His primary focus as an Ethicist / Researcher is to promote ethical practices of research involving Indigenous peoples with particular interest in the conceptual development of the "ethical space"—a theoretical space between cultures and worldviews.