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Ethical research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Any research undertaken by schools with or about Aboriginal peoples or Torres Strait Islander peoples should follow a process of respectful relationship building and reciprocity between the researchers and the individuals and/or communities involved in the research.

Important ethical principles relevant to research in schools are set out below, drawn from ethical research guidelines published by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).

Rights, respect and recognition

  • Recognise the diversity and uniqueness of peoples, as well as of individuals.

  • Recognise the rights of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples to self-determination.

  • Respect and protect the rights of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples to their tangible and intangible heritage. This includes artefacts, traditional knowledge, practices, cultural expressions and innovations. Protecting rights requires respect for both Australian intellectual property laws and community protocols.

Negotiation, agreement and mutual understanding

  • Ensure that informed consent, freely given, is the foundation for any research with or about Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

  • Commit to consultation and negotiation that achieve shared understanding about the proposed research.

  • Record the results of negotiations in a formal agreement for the conduct of a research project.

  • Take responsibility for ongoing consultation and negotiation.

Participation, partnership and giving back

  • Offer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals full participation in research projects and processes, appropriate to their skills and experiences, but recognise that they have other commitments and may prefer an advisory role.

  • Ensure that the community involved in research, or who may be affected by research, benefits from, and is not disadvantaged by, the research project.

  • Design research outcomes to include specific results that respond to the needs and interests of the community.

Research use, access and reporting

  • Negotiate how the research results will be used and accessed.

  • Anticipate the evolving use of technology and possible issues of confidentiality that could arise in relation to research results and their storage.

  • Include appropriate procedures for reporting on ethical aspects of the research and complying with the AIATSIS guidelines.

  • Ensure that there are appropriate, ongoing processes in place for reporting research progress, especially relating to any actual or potential changes in the ethical conditions or context. This is the responsibility of supervising teachers and sponsoring schools or other organisations.

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