Tracie Mafile'o

Reconciliation and research: here for good

Thursday, May 30, 2024
Tracie Mafile'o
About the Author

Tracie Mafile'o

Professor Tracie Mafile’o is a social researcher of Tongan and Pakeha New Zealand heritage. She is Research Professor and Associate Director of the Scripture, Spirituality and Society Research Centre at Avondale University. She acknowledges the Awabakal peoples as the traditional custodians of the lands on which Avondale’s Lake Macquarie campus is established.

A National Reconciliation Week challenge for academics

Now more than ever*, researchers have important work to do in the struggle against injustice and in the unfinished business of reconciliation.

We don’t always see it, but research and research systems are riddled with bias. At worse, often unintentionally, research can cause harm. Research can either perpetuate injustice or unsettle settler norms. What can we do, as non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers in Australia, to be here for good?

Now more than ever, researchers can take three important steps: recognise our “situatedness”, share our power and welcome indigenous knowledge.

Recognise our “situatedness”
Research always has context—historical, cultural, social, economic, political. Part of that context is our own position as researchers and research organisations. Whatever the academic discipline, we bring knowing and ways of doing from our own life experience that colours our approach to knowledge production. We also work in organisations that have histories of sometimes harmful impact on First Nations peoples.

We must critically reflect on our “situatedness”—including naming and recognising complex mixes of privilege and marginalisation—which shapes us and the research context. Turning the gaze on ourselves to recognise our “positionality” as non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers is an important action.

Share our power
An important question to ask in research is, “Who’s at the table?” Who are the decision-makers and key stakeholders? Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are key stakeholders whether we are researching business leadership, literature, chemistry or psychology.

Researchers are in positions of power—we have access to highly competitive research funds and our work can influence perception and policy. We can be accomplices by advocating for power sharing. This may mean moving aside and sharing scarce research resources. Sharing power also means accepting that, as researchers, we’re not always experts. We also must be learners.

Welcome indigenous knowledge
What we recognise as legitimate knowledge and ways of knowing in research work may need challenging. We cannot address the unfinished business of reconciliation until we also welcome indigenous knowledge and indigenous research paradigms.

Now more than ever, as researchers, let’s take steps so research in Australia is here for good.

* Now More Than Ever is the National Reconciliation Week theme for 2024. It reminds us that no matter what, the fight for justice and the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will—and must—continue.



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