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As researchers, we have a responsibility to ensure that our research is conducted in a way that is respectful to, and does not harm, those who help us find answers to our research questions (i.e. participants) and/or furthers knowledge that is beneficial for society. This is a very big responsibility, and we can only ensure that we are conducting respectful and safe research if we have carefully considered all aspects of the research project.

Ethics and Research with Indigenous Communities

Research with Indigenous communities underlies special considerations. Consider how in the past, Indigenous communities have been either completely ignored or been made part of research or investigation without their consent. The new ethical regulations are there to prevent any of this from happening again and need to be strictly adhered to.

Research Process

In the following section you will walk through the different steps of developing your research project, from identifying a gap in the literature to your research question to the methodologies and methods you will choose. Use the pop-up button to click through the three steps.



You can never start your data collection unless you have received approval from your ethics organisation!

In most organisations, there are two different levels of ethical clearance: high-risk and low-risk research. Low-risk projects that have minimal interaction with participants and may only pose a minor inconvenience for them by having to dedicate a specific and limited time to the project, which might entail having to complete a surveys or questionnaire. In many cases, these ethics applications are relatively easy to put together, require fewer forms and have faster turnaround times. However, you will still need to have considered participant information, consent forms and your research project design and process.

The other category are high-risk projects that either investigate difficult topics (e.g. trauma) and/or are reliant on participants from vulnerable populations, such as children, minorities, disadvantaged people. Projects that fall into this category usually need to provide a lot of in-depth information about the project protocol and rationale of the research, and how the risks associated with this project are outweighed by the benefits of the research outcomes. They require the ethics committee to discuss and consider the application. As ethics committee may only convene at certain times of the year, these applications tend to have slower turnaround times. You will need to know when these committee meetings are so you can time your application accordingly. In most organisations, this information is available on internal web pages or can be obtained through your faculty’s or school’s ethics advisor.

Ethics – Core Principles

Interact with the menu to understand more about the core principles that you need to identify when you are undertaking research with Indigenous groups.


Integrity Integrity

Ensure that research methods are respectful and acknowledge the cultural distinctiveness of discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities or groups participating in the research; evidence of support for the research project from relevant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities or groups and the research methodology should be informed by the social and cultural practices of the Indigenous community you wish to engage with.

Mutuality Mutuality

Research methods include mutually agreed mechanisms for such matters as appropriate recruitment techniques, suitable information about the research, notification of participants’ consent and of research progress, as well as final reporting. Any potential negative consequences of the proposed research are identified and processes need to be put in place to monitor and rectify them if needed.

Respect Respect

As evidence of respectful engagement and depending on the circumstances, this might require letters of support from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community councils or other organisations accepted by the participating communities. The research processes should foster respectful, ethical research relationships that affirm the right of people to have different values, norms and aspirations.

Engagement Engagement

The research approach should value and create opportunities to draw on the knowledge and wisdom of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples by their active engagement in the research processes, including the interpretation of the research data. National or multi-centre researchers should take care to gain local-level support for research methods that may risk not respecting cultural and language protocols.

Justice Justice

The research methods and processes should provide opportunities to develop trust and a sense of equal research partnerships. Where the geographic location of the research is such that a significant number of the population is likely to be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and/or the research is focused on a topic or disease or health burden identified as being of specific concern to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the research should provide fair opportunity for involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Beneficence Beneficence

The benefits from research should include the enhancement or establishment of capabilities, opportunities or research outcomes that advance the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples. The described benefits from research should have been discussed with and agreed to by the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people research stakeholders. The realisable benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants from the research processes, outcomes and outputs should be distributed in a way that is agreed to and considered fair by these participants.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) has established a Code of Ethics that re-emphasises the importance of Indigenous self-determination, Indigenous leadership, and impacts and values as core considerations in research, and includes sustainability and accountability as responsibilities. This section emphasises the importance of the cultural, social, and economical sustainability of the research. The strong connection between country and people means that there is no difference between scientific and social research. If country is damaged, people are harmed. An acknowledgement of the custodianship and knowledge of the land must be always respected. Collected data needs to benefit current and future generations and must be available through appropriate archiving and/or its return to communities.

The AIATSIS Code of Research is strongly linked to other bodies of Ethics guidelines, for example, the NHMRC ethical guidelines.

There is the whole process of ethics and understanding that; and so there’s a fair bit of reading in that and understanding what your methods are going to be; really narrowing those down to complete those forms for the ethics.” (PhD candidate)

Additional Resources

Browse our comprehensive list of cheat sheets


Brewer, K.M., Harwood, M. L. N., McCann, C. M., Crengle, S. M., & Worrall, L. E. (2014). The Use of Interpretive Description Within Kaupapa Māori Research. Qualitative Health Research, 24(9), 1287–1297. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732314546002

Church, A.T., & Katigbak, M. S. (2002). Indigenization of psychology in the Philippines. International Journal of Psychology, 37(3), 129–148. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207590143000315

Drawson, A.S., Toombs, E., & Mushquash, C. J. (2017). Indigenous research methods: A systematic review. International Indigenous Policy Journal, 8(2). https://doi.org/10.18584/iipj.2017.8.2.5

Lavallee, L. (2009). Practical Application of an Indigenous Research Framework and Two Qualitative Indigenous Research Methods: Sharing Circles and Anishnaabe Symbol-Based Reflection. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 8(1), pp22-40.

Kelly, J. (2008). Moving Forward Together in Aboriginal Women’s Health:
A Participatory Action Research Exploring Knowledge Sharing, Working Together and Addressing Issues Collaboratively in Urban Primary Health Care Settings
. Dissertation. Flinders University

Ku Kahakalau (2004). Indigenous Action Research: Bridging Western and Indigenous Research Methodologies. Hulili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being, 1(1).

McCleland, A.(2011). Culturally Safe Nursing Research: Exploring the Use of an Indigenous Research Methodology From an Indigenous Researcher’s Perspective. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 22(4), 362–367. https://doi.org/10.1177/1043659611414141

Moreton-Robinson, A. (2013). Towards an Australian Indigenous Women’s Standpoint Theory. A Methodological Tool Australian Feminist Studies, Volume 28(78), Pages 331-347.

Moustakas, C. (1990). Heuristic research: Design, methodology, and applications. London: Sage.

Pe-Pua. (1989). Pagtatanong-tanong: A cross-cultural research method. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 13(2), 147–163. https://doi.org/10.1016/0147-1767(89)90003-5

Pe-Pua, & Protacio-Marcelino, E. A. (2000). Sikolohiyang Pilipino (Filipino psychology): A legacy of Virgilio G. Enriquez. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 3(1), 49–71. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-839X.00054

Smith, L.T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies : research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books.

Stronach, M.M. & Adair, D. (2014). Dadirri: Using a Philosophical Approach to Research to Build Trust between a Non-Indigenous Researcher and Indigenous Participants. Cosmopolitan Civil Societies, 6(2), 117–134. https://doi.org/10.5130/ccs.v6i2.3859

Weber-Pillwax, C. (2004). Indigenous Researchers and Indigenous Research Methods: Cultural Influences or Cultural Determinants of Research Methods, Pimatisiw. A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health 2(1); pp. 77-90.

Yunggirringa, D. & Garnggulkpuy, J. (2007). ‘Yolngu Participatory Action
Research’, paper presented to Moving Forwards Together; Action
Learning and Action Research, Tauondi College, Port Adelaide


Frequently Asked Questions

When you start your ethics application it is important that you know exactly what you are going to do – what your research questions are, how you are collecting data, from whom and what you are going to do with the data. So, the best way to start your ethics application is by going through your methods step by step ensuring that you know all bits and pieces that are important to your research so you can talk about them in detail and in layman’s terms for your ethics application.

Check out the Ethics and Research Process pages on this web site and the ethics sheet for more information.

Changes in research approaches are not uncommon. You will need to inform the ethics office at your institution about those changes, though. In most cases, it is sufficient to submit a so-called variation request in which you state the changes to your protocol, and also amend the previously submitted files where necessary. At many institutions this can be done via email, but it is recommended you check with your ethics advisors on how to best proceed as this may depend on the scope of changes.

This is a tricky question and there is not one answer that fits all as a start into a HDR journey depends on where you come from (e.g. industry or university), what you are interested in and if or if not you already know who you want to work with as your supervisory team. If you are from outside the university, but have an idea of what you want to research, it might be best to identify the faculty and school that suits your needs best and get in touch with the respective postgraduate coordinator to see how you can best identify people who can help you.

If you are from within the university, it might be easiest to speak to the lecturers and unit coordinators you have come across and see if they can help you along.

In addition to understanding who your supervisory team might be, it will also make sense to familiarise yourself with the requirements for the HDR journey you are interested in so you know what you will need to deliver.

Also engage with the information on choosing a supervisor and the milestone process.

Reading critically and writing academically are two very specialised skills that need ongoing training. Most institutions offer training courses for HDR students for both skill sets. It will be best to check with your library or institution for appropriate workshops.

Also engage with the information sheet on critical reading and academic writing from the web page.

No. While you are very likely going to use a qualitative data collection method when you are engaging in research with Indigenous Communities, it is not appropriate the use a Western model to engage in this kind of research. When researching with Indigenous Communities, you will need to find a methodology and method that are appropriate for the context that you working within.

Explore the pages on Indigenous Research Methodologies and Methods to learn more about appropriate ways in engaging with Indigenous communities.

No. The skills you learn during your HDR journey are very broad-set and are useful and applicable in a number of contexts. For example, public speaking and presenting are important in many industry contexts and so are project management skills. All of these and more are skill you will learn and develop during your HDR journey.

Engage with the section and skill development and career planning to learn more about the skills you will learn.

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Research Methodologies and Methods

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