November is Native American Heritage Month, and this week’s Roundup is focused on Indigenous researchers in academia, who remain poorly represented, particularly in STEM fields. In the Second Nature article, “Respect and Representation,” four Indigenous scientists speak about the challenges early-career researchers face, and how scientists can respectfully and effectively bring together traditional knowledge and Western science.
The article offers guidance for equitable and respectful collaborations with indigenous researchers and community partners. It takes time, often years, to build such relationships. Indigenous partners should be involved early and significantly in the research process rather than simply treated as a diversity checkbox. This includes delineating the research, determining how the research will matter to Indigenous communities, and ensuring tribal data sovereignty. The goal is not merely to incorporate but to “uplift and center” indigenous communities, their strengths, struggles, and knowledge.
Recruitment and retention of Indigenous scientists is another issue in academia. As one of the four scholars noted, “Being an Indigenous scholar is often a series of firsts,” such as the first in their family to pursue higher education and the first Indigenous graduate from their university. Also, being one of few (if any) Indigenous scholars in an organization “can be difficult, exhausting, and dangerous, culturally and spiritually.”
The article ends by emphasizing that Indigenous people are not the ones who have work to do. Those with power need to change how they think and what they do to ensure that mechanisms are in place to retain and support Indigenous early-career researchers. As one researcher stated, “There is a fine line between creating spaces in institutions for Indigenous people and taking up those spaces.”
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