Indigenous Research and Ethics Review


The Musqueam post installed at UBC's Vancouver campus, which is located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. Carved by talented Musqueam artist, Brent Sparrow Jr., the post tells an origin story of the Musqueam involving a two-headed serpent.

The UBC Vancouver BREB is located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) people. The UBC Okanagan BREB is located on the unceded territory of the Syilx People.

As the Behavioural Research Ethics Boards (BREBs) work through the UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan and the BC Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, we have realized that our website does not provide clarity about how the Behavioural Research Ethics Boards review Indigenous research. This webpage aims to make our current ethics review practices more transparent for UBC researchers and for graduate students submitting to UBC BREBs. We plan on also providing content that will be useful to Indigenous researchers and to research participants or organizations that are involved in research with UBC. We are also in the process of making changes to our review practices, and welcome your input. To be informed when content is added to this page or to provide your suggestions, please consider taking this short feedback survey. Your identifying details will not be visible to us unless you request follow up. 

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Introduction and Values 

The Behavioural Research Ethics Boards at UBC approach the review of research by and with Indigenous Peoples and communities with a lens of cultural safety, humility and learning. The BREB recognizes the impact of colonialism and the systematic oppression of Indigenous cultures, including by post-secondary research institutions in Canada. Guiding BREB reviews is a commitment to facilitate Indigenous led and partnered research. The BREB recognizes the distinctness of Indigenous groups, including First Nations, Métis, and Inuit in Canada and Indigenous Peoples around the world. It also recognizes the diversity of protocols and traditions amongst communities within different Nations and groups. The BREB uses the frameworks and guidance provided by OCAP®, the BC Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA), the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and trauma-informed research guidelines, as well as the TCPS2* Chapter 9, among others, to guide our reviews.  

See the section Is my proposal considered Indigenous Research? for a description of how the BREB identifies Indigenous research.  

* Tri-Council Policy Statement issued by the Panel on Research Ethics (https://ethics.gc.ca/eng/policy-politique_tcps2-eptc2_2018.html).

Reconciliation Pole at UBC's Vancouver Campus. The pole tells the story of the time before, during, and after the Indian residential school system. Carved by 7idansuu (Edenshaw), James Hart, Haida Hereditary Chief and Master Carver.

The BREB approach to Indigenous Research Ethics

The BREB appreciates that the format and questions in the ethics applications may not be appropriate in many contexts. With this in mind, ethics reviewers strive to be adaptable and flexible, while looking for evidence that meaningful collaboration and engagement has taken place before the research design and protocols are finalized. This applies whether the research is initiated from within or outside a community. Reviewers also look for a clear articulation of the costs and benefits of the research for the community. The researcher is responsible for explaining the particular research context in the ethics application, including what is considered appropriate collaboration or engagement.

The BREBs require researchers to provide evidence of support from an appropriate Indigenous partner representative before they will issue a certificate of research ethics approval. 

More information about engaging with Indigenous partners in the context of research ethics is provided in the Pre-Ethics Engagement section under How to Complete the Ethics Review Process below. 

For sponsored or grant-funded studies: if budget is needed to engage in the important work of relationship building and community collaboration, partial funding can be released prior to ethics approval. For UBC Vancouver, see UBCV Request for funding release prior to ethics approval. For UBC Okanagan, see UBCO Request for funding release prior to human ethics approval.

Is my proposal considered Indigenous Research? 

If your research is likely to include commentary on an Indigenous community, peoples or lands, or involve Indigenous partners/collaborators, the BREB considers it to be Indigenous research. Some examples (as described in Section C of the TCPS2 Chapter 9) are: 

  1. Where recruitment criteria include Indigenous identity as a factor for the entire study or for a subgroup in the study 
  2. If the research is about a community’s cultural heritage, traditional knowledge or unique characteristics 
  3. If Indigenous identity or membership in an Indigenous community is used as a variable for the purpose of analysis of the research data 
  4. Where interpretation of research results will refer to Indigenous communities, peoples, languages, history or culture  
  5. If the research is conducted on and is about Indigenous lands, e.g., studying traditional place-based knowledge, fishing ecology, or mining practices 

If you are unsure of whether any of these criteria apply to your research, please contact the BREB before submitting your ethics application. 

How to Complete the Ethics Review Process
Pre-Ethics Engagement

The collection of research data may not proceed until research ethics approval has been given. However, you do not require research ethics approval in order to engage with potential partners about proposed research, nor to collaborate on the design phase of research.  

The BREB will be looking for approval of the research project from appropriate Indigenous partner representatives. Approvers could be recognized representatives of Indigenous peoples which have political/economic/cultural interests in the research topic or the place where research is taking place. Approvers might also be urban Indigenous youth groups, Indigenous associations, cooperatives, community centres, or an advisory committee brought together for the purpose of overseeing the research and its goals.  Although the ways of confirming approval may vary - and may be formal or informal - evidence of engagement and approval will need to be provided in the ethics application. Attachments such as the following can be used: 

  • a signed research agreement 
  • an email or letter from an authorized community representative 
  • Band Council Resolution 
  • MOU (memorandums of understanding) 
  • letters of support 

If you are delayed in obtaining confirmation of support, your ethics application will be given conditional approval until the required documentation is provided. If your research involves multiple sites that each require a separate approval, you may want to submit your ethics application or proviso response after the first partner approval has been received. Subsequent confirmations of approval can be submitted through post-approval amendments (PAAs) to your ethics application. 

Understanding and respecting protocols  

  1. The PI (principal investigator or research lead) is responsible for ensuring that the research team is appropriately educated about the Indigenous partner or community with whom they are collaborating. Training (in Cultural Safety, for example) should be provided to new research team members.  
  2. Become informed about community protocols before connecting with a community and before finalizing your research plan. The BREB expects that researchers will incorporate existing protocols into their ethics application. 
    • Some Indigenous partners will have formal research ethics processes and protocols that researchers will need to follow in order to ensure ethical engagement.   
    • Protocols may be in place for how to approach Elders and/or Knowledge Keepers. 
    •  Some activities that may seem largely administrative might hold greater significance within a community, e.g., sending letters of invitation, recruiting or consenting participants. 
  3. Per OCAP® and other Indigenous data governance standards, ensure that the principles of ownership, control, access and possession are explicitly supported in your research design and procedures. Before submitting your ethics application, ensure there is a common understanding about the ownership and custodianship of resulting data, reports, etc. UBC’s Scholarly Integrity Policy (SC6, Article 2.1.4) requires that UBC Faculty store their research data in a UBC facility for 5 years after publication.  However, UBC BREB understands that some community MOUs or research agreements may not allow for this and data must be kept in community.  When this is the case, ensure there is a clear process for how to request access to the data should it be needed and, if acceptable, store a copy at UBC. 
  4. Ensure that a culturally appropriate knowledge translation plan is in place, for giving back to the community. 

Where to find more information 

  1. Visit the Indigenous Research Services Initiative/IRSI website for helpful resources and links, including financial guidelines.  
  2. Indigenous community websites and other social media outlets may provide information about their preferred methods of interaction. 
  3. Ask for help from colleagues and others who have experience in your subject area or in the communities with whom you are seeking to engage.  
  4. If you are having trouble making a connection with your intended Indigenous partners/collaborators, be mindful that they may not have the capacity to take on additional work or to support your research project.  
  5. If you have not yet done so, we recommend that you review the recently updated TCPS2 Chapter 9.
Filling in the Ethics Application 

A fillable (and shareable) Word version of the ethics application is available.

Once you have appropriately engaged with the communities and people involved in your research and there is agreement about the purpose, methods, and proposed deliverables of the project or program, you can submit your ethics application via RISe. Keep in mind: 

  1. Ensure that the ethics application demonstrates how the research team has engaged with the community, for example by describing the community's preferences and practices for recruitment, consent processes and data collection.  
  2. Describe the research team’s position in relation to the community or populations you are engaging with, e.g., are members of the research team Indigenous? How does the research team’s background, experiences or affiliations influence the approach being taken?  What role will community members or leaders play in the research team? 
  3. If you are collecting research data while finalizing the goals, design, and methods (emergent design), acknowledge this on page 5. Include a statement (Box 5.1.B) that you will submit an amendment once more details have been solidified with the community/collaborators. At that time, you will be able to attach recruitment, consent, and scripts that have been co-developed with the community (or approved by them). This provides clarity to the BREB that more detail will be submitted before the next phase of the research commences.  
Considerations about Research Risk and Participant Vulnerability

Regarding the questions in section 4.5 of the ethics application, reviewers will look at the research context in order to confirm whether, in their view, research with Indigenous peoples should be considered above minimal risk and in need of full board review. Research involving Indigenous participants or subject matter will not automatically be considered higher risk unless there are specific factors within the research context that warrant above minimal risk review. Researchers are encouraged to describe the historical or current circumstances that may have disadvantaged the research community or cause participant vulnerability. Mitigating factors, such as strong cultural supports and mental health services in community, should also be described so that BREB reviewers have a full picture of the risk dynamics of a specific research project.

The BREB encourages researchers to use a trauma-informed approach in their research and to take their direction from the communities they are working with when designing research interactions and resolving issues. Where a researcher is not working within a specific community (e.g., in urban settings), Indigenous community centres or groups can be consulted. Please do not hesitate to reach out to BREB staff to discuss risk considerations in your project.   

Completing Page 7 and the Indigenous-specific branch off 

Although we recognize that the questions in Section 7.G will not be framed appropriately for every research scenario, they provide space for including valuable information that will help reviewers understand your project. Please feel free to interpret the questions in the context of your own research. This is where you can discuss how relationships with communities were developed, the unique characteristics of your community engagement, and other details about your research project that may not fit into other areas of the application.   

Responding to BREB review comments (provisos) 

Provisos should be considered as prompts for further discussion rather than as a set of strict instructions for making changes. If you disagree with a proviso, or feel that your intent has been misunderstood, we encourage you to let us know why in your provisos response document.  

The BREB team brings their knowledge of research ethics and academic research activities into their ethics review responsibilities, but we are not experts in all research contexts, nor in all fields of research. Reviewers appreciate that researchers/community members bring their own specialized knowledge and expertise. The proviso response is an important opportunity for researchers to have a dialogue with reviewers about their research.

Making changes to your application after initial approval 

Amendments are required for any changes to your research project, including: 

  1. Modifications to data collection, recruitment, or consenting methods, including those requested by the community or sponsors.  
  2. Addition of new communities or research locations 
  3. Changes in inclusion criteria (who can participate)
  4. Changes to research questions and scope 
  5. Receipt of new funding 
  6. Addition of research team members 

Applications require annual renewal as long as data is being collected, even if no changes to the application have been made. Once all data collection has been completed, you are required to submit a final post-approval amendment (PAA) to close your ethics application. This does not signify nor does it require that your relationship with the community ends. It does mean that no further data will be collected under the ethics application. 

Indigenous Representation on the Behavioural Research Ethics Boards 

We understand that an undue burden has been placed on Indigenous scholars to represent the Indigenous voice on committees. At the same time, we welcome the contributions of Indigenous community members, Faculty, and students who are interested in sharing their experience and knowledge with the research ethics boards.   

The Vancouver BREB currently has Indigenous representation on its Board. UBC Okanagan is currently seeking to replace its Indigenous representation.  Outside of direct input from Indigenous members, we rely on the guidance of other Indigenous units on and off campus (including consultations about single applications) to assist us in our reviews.  

BREB staff are committed to increasing their awareness and understanding of Indigenous approaches to research and participate in cultural safety training (San’yas), OCAP® and other learning opportunities. 

UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan and the BREB 

The BREB is currently working to integrate UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan calls to action into our review practices and operations. This means that our research ethics guidance and support services will be evolving over the coming months and beyond.  This webpage is one part of our commitment and we will continue to expand our website as new content becomes available.  

We follow the lead of Indigenous partners on campus as well as external organizations that represent Indigenous Peoples and perspectives. On campus, we collaborate with the Centre for Critical Indigenous Studies, the Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, and IRSI (Indigenous Research Support Initiative). Off campus, we are engaged in initiatives with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) among others. Although we understand that an undue burden has been placed on Indigenous scholars to assist in making change, we welcome the contributions of community members and researchers who are interested in sharing their experience. Please consider providing your feedback using the survey

Integrating the Indigenous Strategic Plan into behavioural research ethics review 

Several projects are underway, and include:  

  1. A working group consisting of staff and REB members meets regularly to reflect on areas where BREB practices can be improved, to review and plan initiatives arising from the UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan, to be informed of opportunities from other units across and outside UBC, and to report on collaborations between BREB and provincial organizations undertaking complementary work. 

  2. Implementing a consistent payment structure for all work being carried out on behalf of the Behavioural REBs, in recognition of contributions from Indigenous experts and community members. 

  3. Identifying and promoting opportunities to modify the behavioural ethics applications based on feedback from Indigenous scholars and through community consultations. 

Indigenous Research Ethics Resources

Indigenous research ethics resources can be found on the Research Ethics BC (REBC) website and include information on cultural safety and anti-racism, engagement, data governance, and community-based ethics review.  Links are provided to essential documents such as OCAP®, UNDRIP and the report, In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care. The UBC REBs are REBC partner boards. For more information on REBC, visit Health Research BC (www.bcahsn.ca/our-units/research-ethics-bc).

The BC NEIHR (British Columbia Network Environment for Indigenous Health Research site) includes an interactive map of ethics/research frameworks.

For UBC-specific information, including financial guidelines, visit IRSI (Indigenous Research Support Initiative).

Other Articles & Sites of Interest

“Want to reach out to an Indigenous scholar? Awesome! But first, here are 10 things to consider” by Dr. Jesse Popp: https://theconversation.com/want-to-reach-out-to-an-indigenous-scholar-awesome-but-first-here-are-10-things-to-consider-168558

The Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA-global.org) published the “CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance” (collective benefit, authority to control, responsibility and ethics). 

For a discussion of disaggregated demographic data collection in British Columbia, go to the BC Human Rights website to access the report: “Disaggregated demographic data collection in British Columbia: The grandmother perspective” (September 2020)  

National Inuit Strategy on Research (© Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, 2018) 

If you would like to suggest additional resources for this section, please use the feedback survey to submit for consideration. 

 

Contact for assistance

Research Ethics 

If you have any questions about your ethics application or changes being requested, we are available to provide support. 

For Vancouver campus: wendy.bond@ubc.ca 

For Okanagan campus: lisa.shearer@ubc.ca 

Indigenous Graduate Student Support

See the dedicated website for Indigenous Students https://www.grad.ubc.ca/prospective-students/indigenous-students, or contact Rebecca Jules, Specialist, Indigenous Graduate Initiatives.

RISe Help Desk 

If you have any questions about the RISe platform (where research ethics applications are stored), or about your registration in RISe, please contact RISe Technical Support: 

risesupport@ors.ubc.ca | (604) 827-4449 

We welcome your feedback on this page and on the BREB's approach to reviewing Indigenous research. Please complete the survey and provide your contact details if you would like us to get in touch.