CCI guide for research involving Indigenous Peoples and communities

The College and Community Innovation (CCI) program is committed to supporting research that is led by and respectfully involves and engages First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples or other Indigenous nations, communities, societies or individuals. The CCI program embraces their languages, cultures, perspectives, worldviews, experiences, wisdom, and Indigenous Knowledge systems, as expressed in their dynamic forms, past and present, regardless of their locale.

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The CCI program’s commitment reflects and aligns with the Tri-agency’s support for Indigenous research and research training models, leading to renewed and meaningful relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples.

The Tri-agency’s strategic plan, Setting new directions to support Indigenous research and research training in Canada, identifies strategic directions guided by the following key principles:

Fostering the right of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples to set their own research priorities

Decolonization of research:
Respecting Indigenous ways of knowing and supporting community-led research

Strengthening accountability in respecting Indigenous ethics and protocols in research and identifying the benefits and impacts of research in Indigenous communities

Equitable access:
Facilitating and promoting equitable access and support for Indigenous students and researchers

This guide was developed to help applicants whose research involves and engages with Indigenous Peoples, communities and individuals.

Engagement must start at the very beginning of project planning, in developing the research question itself and continue throughout the remainder of the research process.

Applicants whose research involves Indigenous Peoples and communities must:

  • consult and consider this guide and its concepts, principles and protocols, or other similar guidance
  • consult the specific requirements of the appropriate CCI funding opportunity

Additional resources, including resources developed by other organizations, are listed at the end of this guide. Since the definitions and resources cited here are evolving, this page will be updated periodically. Applicants are invited to consult this guide regularly.

Concepts, principles and protocols

Research involving Indigenous Peoples, communities or individuals must adhere to the relevant concepts, principles and protocols for this type of research, some of which are outlined in the documents listed below.

We also encourage you to contact your institution for additional resources, policies and guidance.

  • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
    • Article 31: “Indigenous Peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.”
  • Tri-Council Policy Statement 2 (TCPS 2) - Chapter 9: Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples of Canada
    • Chapter 9 of the TCPS 2 “is offered in a spirit of respect. It is not intended to override or replace ethical guidance offered by Indigenous Peoples themselves. Its purpose is to ensure, to the extent possible, that research involving Indigenous Peoples is premised on respectful relationships. It also encourages collaboration and engagement between researchers and participants.”
    • Article 9.1 provides examples of conditions when community engagement is required:
      • Research conducted on First Nations, Inuit or Métis lands
      • Recruitment criteria that include Indigenous identity as a factor for the entire study or for a subgroup in the study
      • Research that seeks input from participants regarding a community's cultural heritage, artefacts, traditional knowledge or unique characteristics
      • Research in which Indigenous identity or membership in an Indigenous community is used as a variable for the purpose of analysis of the research data
      • Interpretation of research results that will refer to Indigenous communities, Peoples, language, history or culture
  • CIHR’s definition of meaningful and culturally safe health research 
    • “In a meaningful and culturally safe research environment, each person's distinct identity, beliefs, physical and cultural needs and reality is acknowledged. Participants feel safe based on a foundation of trust and respect, a commitment to continued learning, and shared knowledge. Cultural safety empowers people and ensures that the participating community, group or individual is a partner in decision-making.”
    • Note: the principles underpinning meaningful and culturally safe health research also apply to disciplines and fields other than health.
  • SSHRC’s definition of Indigenous research
    • “Research in any field or discipline that is conducted by, grounded in or engaged with First Nations, Inuit, Métis or other Indigenous nations, communities, societies or individuals, and their wisdom, cultures, experiences or knowledge systems, as expressed in their dynamic forms, past and present. Indigenous research can embrace the intellectual, physical, emotional and/or spiritual dimensions of knowledge in creative and interconnected relationships with people, places and the natural environment.”
    • “Whatever the methodologies or perspectives that apply in a given context, researchers who conduct Indigenous research, whether they are Indigenous or non-Indigenous themselves, commit to respectful relationships with all Indigenous Peoples and communities.”
  • Key concepts from SSHRC’s Guidelines for the Merit Review of Indigenous Research
    • Indigenous or traditional knowledge, according to Chapter 9 of the TCPS2, “is usually described by Indigenous Peoples as holistic, involving body, mind, feelings and spirit”. Indigenous Knowledge is rarely acquired through written documents, but, rather, a worldview adopted through living, listening and learning in the ancestral languages and within the contexts of living on the land. Engagement with elders and other Knowledge Holders is acknowledged as valued and vital to knowledge transmission within the context of Indigenous Peoples living in place. Both Indigenous knowledge content and processes of knowledge transmission are, thus, embedded in the performance of living, including storytelling, ceremonies, living on the land, the use of natural resources and medicine plants, arts and crafts, singing and dancing, as well as engagement with the more than human world.
    • Reciprocity is considered an important value in Indigenous ways of knowing, in that it emphasizes the mutuality of knowledge giving and receiving. In the context of research […] the emphasis on a co-creation model should result in reciprocity in the form of partnerships and collaborative practices, which can include: identification of research objectives and methods; conduct of the research; ethical research protocols; data analysis and presentation; and transmission of knowledge. It also recognizes that access and benefits are, thus, integrally connected.
    • Community, in the context of Indigenous research, can refer to places or land-based communities, as well as thematic communities and communities of practice. Furthermore, community-based, community-initiated and community-driven research can involve varying degrees of community engagement; the research outputs will be negotiated taking into account the interests of relevant Indigenous community members.
    • Respect, relevance and contributions are important considerations [and] should demonstrate that the proposed research identifies and respects relevant community research protocols and current goals, as well as the contributions to and from the community that are likely to emerge or are in place. A respectful research relationship necessitates a deep level of collaboration and ethical engagement. This may include engaging with existing, distinctive research processes and protocols for conducting ethical research reviews in the community; learning within language and/or traditional knowledge systems; collaboratively rebuilding or revitalizing processes that have been displaced or replaced; and/or codeveloping new processes, based on the community’s expressed interests. Finally, this level of collaboration and engagement may also require additional, targeted consultative or review processes.
  • Setting new directions to support Indigenous research and research training in Canada
    In addition to the four key principles mentioned above, the strategic plan has four strategic directions:
    • Building relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples
    • Supporting research priorities of Indigenous Peoples
    • Creating greater funding accessibility to granting agency programs
    • Championing Indigenous leadership, self-determination and capacity in research
  • Tri-Agency Research Data Management Policy provisions that are relevant to research involving Indigenous Peoples and communities
    • “In line with the concept of Indigenous self-determination and in an effort to support Indigenous communities to conduct research and partner with the broader research community, the agencies recognize that data related to research by and with the First Nations, Métis, or Inuit whose traditional and ancestral territories are in Canada must be managed in accordance with data management principles developed and approved by these communities, and on the basis of free, prior and informed consent. This includes, but is not limited to, considerations of Indigenous data sovereignty, as well as data collection, ownership, protection, use, and sharing. The principles of Ownership, Control, Access and Possession (OCAP®) are one model for First Nations data governance, but this model does not necessarily respond to the needs and values of distinct First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities, collectives and organizations. The agencies recognize that a distinctions-based approach is needed to ensure that the unique rights, interests and circumstances of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit are acknowledged, affirmed, and implemented.”
    • “For research conducted by and with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, collectives and organizations, [Data Management Plans] DMPs must be co-developed with these communities, collectives and organizations, in accordance with [Research Data Management] RDM principles or DMP formats that they accept. DMPs in the context of research by and with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, collectives and organizations should recognize Indigenous data sovereignty and include options for renegotiation of the DMP.”

Best practices

The examples listed here may not reflect all community contexts and projects. The nature and extent of meaningful engagement in a project should be determined jointly by the relevant individuals or communities and the research team and appropriate to community characteristics and the nature of the research, as stated in Article 9.2 of the TCPS 2 (2022).

Applicants should also demonstrate how they will integrate the relevant concepts, principles and protocols for conducting respectful research with Indigenous Peoples, communities or individuals into each stage of the research process. Evidence of this may include:

  • A description of how the proposed research respects and contributes to a community’s current goals, needs and priorities; for example, including evidence of support (e.g., letters of support or equivalent) from members of the Indigenous communities that may be affected by the project or have rights or a stake in the proposed research, confirming that the project is a research need or priority for these communities.
  • Plans for engaging with existing, distinctive research processes and protocols for conducting ethical research reviews with the individuals from communities, or whole communities, participating in the project.
  • A research plan that considers communities’ distinct governance or administrative structures and available resources, opportunities to build community-based capacity, and affirming the validity and value of Indigenous ways of knowing and perspectives.
  • Plans for engaging with and appropriately recognizing the role of Elders, Knowledge Keepers and/or Knowledge Holders in the research process. Article 9.15 of the TCPS 2 (2022) states: “researchers should engage the community in identifying Elders or other recognized Knowledge Holders to participate in the design and execution of research, and the interpretation of findings in the context of cultural norms and traditional knowledge.” Recognition may also be expressed through reciprocity and may include appropriate remuneration for sharing the gift of knowledge.
  • Plans for promoting the participation of students, trainees and/or research personnel from Indigenous communities in the research team, as well as for fostering a culturally safe, equitable, inclusive and accessible research environment for everyone.
  • The research teams’ experience working with Indigenous communities, expertise in Indigenous research and/or plans to address any deficiencies (for example, training, guidance and mentorship plans for team members with different or more limited experience or expertise in Indigenous research).
  • Proposed methodologies (e.g., land-based learning) for the co-creation of knowledge could include interpretive approaches that are jointly developed, reviewed and confirmed by and with community members or their community-delegated organization(s).
  • A research plan that demonstrates awareness and understanding of the communities’ expectations about the authorship, management and governance of the coproduction and outputs of knowledge, both during and beyond the grant.
  • Plans to address the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous self-determination and self-governance, as well as the protection and ownership of knowledge and data resulting from the research; for example, the First Nations Principles of OCAP®(Ownership, Control, Access and Possession) for First Nations or other principles as determined by Indigenous partners (e.g., National Inuit Strategy on Research).
  • Plans to use institutional resources to support a deep level of collaboration and ethical engagement with Indigenous communities or partners and to enable reciprocity in terms of the benefits derived from the research process and outcomes.

If applicants or members of the research team feel that their lived experience(s) are important in the context of the proposed research, they may consider adding a brief, high-level statement of positionality within the proposal. Positionality statements in applications allow individuals to express relevant information without disclosing any individual’s identity. For example, saying that a team has lived experiences with the intersections of Indigenous identity, gender, and socio-economic marginalization does not identify any particular team member. 

Additional resources

Tri-agency resources

External resources

Acknowledgement and contact

This guide draws primarily on resources developed by CIHR, SSHRC and the Secretariat for the Responsible Conduct of Research (SRCR) and individuals with shared Indigenous or traditional knowledge.

We would like to thank everyone for their time, wisdom and guidance in developing this guide.

CCI program staff would like to acknowledge that we are committed to learning more about how we can contribute to affirming the inherent rights of the customary keepers and defenders of the land. We are also committed to continuing dialogue and building relationships with community members.

If you have comments or would like to discuss how we can improve this guide, please contact us at

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