A Review of Research on Criminal Victimization and First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples 1990 to 2001

Part II: Research Gaps, Framework and Future Agenda

1. Introduction

This document is a research report based on the literature review on criminal victimization among First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. It begins by providing a suggested framework for approaching research in this area that recognizes and takes into account the particular identities and diversity of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Within this framework, research ethics are discussed, which involve unique considerations when Aboriginal peoples and communities are involved. These considerations are important in order to ensure respect for Aboriginal peoples in the context of future research endeavors.

The report then provides a summary of the research that exists in the area of Aboriginal victims of crime. Next, it identifies research gaps, potential projects to address these gaps and suggested methodology for the particular project. The research gaps, potential projects and suggested methodology is set out in chart format.

2. An Aboriginal Research Framework

In identifying and implementing future research on Aboriginal victimization issues, consideration should be given to the proper identification of the Aboriginal peoples concerned and fulfilling the ethical standards appropriate to research involving Aboriginal communities.

2.1 Aboriginal Identity in Research

Aboriginal communities in Canada are very diverse. There are a multitude of distinct Aboriginal nations within the borders of Canada. After applying the criteria of nationhood status to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP, 1996b) found that there would be at least 60 –80 distinct Aboriginal nations.[41] Government policy makers and researchers should be aware of the existence of Aboriginal nations and conduct research that respects these natural political divisions. At a minimum, research should be specific as to whether the group being researched is Indian, Inuit or Métis. There are very different historical, political, social, cultural and legal differences between these broader categories that make it often inappropriate to generalize these groups into one Aboriginal category. In addition, when researchers are including all three groups then it is appropriate to use the term "Aboriginal peoples" in reference to groups being studied. If, however, only First Nations or Inuit are being studied, care must be undertaken to ensure that the reader knows that the Métis are excluded from the definition of Aboriginal under the circumstances. It is preferable to avoid using the term "Aboriginal peoples" when one of the major groupings such as Métis is excluded.

Moreover, there is diversity even within the three main categories of Aboriginal peoples. This is not to say that statistics that lump all Aboriginal peoples into the category of "Aboriginal" are not useful. General comparisons between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples can be very informative particularly in showing discrepancies in basic levels of social welfare and community safety between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians. The demonstration of stark contrasts in social and economic well-being between non-Aboriginal people and Aboriginal peoples are often necessary to motivate governments to act. However, when research is designed to achieve certain policy objectives, then it becomes increasingly more important to be as specific of the Aboriginal population as possible. It is important that government policy makers and researchers have a solid understanding of Aboriginal history and sociology in order to ensure that research is relevant and meaningful.

Ironically, our literature review on Aboriginal criminal victimization can be criticized for failing to be more specific as to whether the research under discussion was related to Indian, Métis or Inuit peoples. Our review more often than not uses the broad category of "Aboriginal peoples" in describing the findings of research reviewed. That this is the case was largely due, however, to the fact that the research and literature we were reviewing failed to make any distinctions within the broader category of Aboriginal peoples. Greater care is needed by researchers in classifying the Aboriginal group studied. Thus, it is important for future research to be as specific as possible about the Aboriginal community under discussion than is currently the practice.

Future research on Aboriginal criminal victimization should ensure that research survey instruments allow for meaningful and relevant identification of Aboriginal community identity. For example, any Aboriginal individual research participants should be allowed to identify if they are Indian, Métis, or Inuit in research instruments. Sub-categories should also be relevant for each of the three larger categories. For example, if someone identifies as Indian or First Nation[42], they should also be allowed to identify if they are, for example, Cree, Ojibwa, Salish or Mi'kmaq. For some of these Indian nations, further sub-categorization would be useful and necessary. For example, the Cree people are a very large group and include Swampy Cree, James Bay Cree and Woodlands Cree peoples. In addition, with respect to Indian or First Nations, depending on the region, particularly in Western Canada, it may be more relevant to have research participants identify with their Treaty affiliation. Similarly within Métis and Inuit groups there are sub-identities that are more accurate in defining these peoples. For example, the Métis are comprised of the Western Métis who are descendants of the historic Métis Nation of the prairies and there are other self-identifying mixed-blood Métis peoples in other parts of Canada who have different evolutions and traditions. Likewise, the Inuit of Nunavut are different from the Inuit of Nunavik or Innuvialuit.

These sub-categories of identity are often more meaningful for Aboriginal peoples than the broader classifications and researchers should have an understanding of these distinctions in order to allow Aboriginal peoples to identify accordingly.

In addition, differences between urban and rural First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples can be very useful comparisons. This victimization literature review shows that urban Aboriginal people are no less immune from high rates of victimization than are rural or on-reserve communities. In fact, some evidence indicates that urban Aboriginal peoples have higher rates of victimization. Arguably, the pressures of assimilation are greater in a heterogeneous urban environment than they are in a relatively homogenous rural environment. Does the increased pressure of assimilation, assuming it is a factor, increase the risk of victimization? The urban/rural distinction is a valid one to consider in addition to the sub-categories of Aboriginal identity discussed above.

The distinction between urban and rural populations may also be a more appropriate factor for researching victimization issues than other distinctions that are typically used in research such as on-reserve/off-reserve living. The on-reserve/off-reserve distinction may be relevant if the research is concerned only with First Nations (status Indians) and not Métis or Inuit communities. Métis or Inuit peoples generally do not live on reserves. There are some Métis in Alberta who live on Métis settlements which are comparable legally and socially to rural reserve communities, but this group represents only a fraction of the Métis population in Canada. Furthermore, the Métis and Inuit peoples have not been directly impacted by the imposition of the Indian Act – a history that is unique to First Nations peoples.

The 1999 General Social Survey focused on victimization in Canada, and for the first time, this victimization survey collected data on race and cultural background including Aboriginal status. It is not clear from the GSS report how Aboriginal peoples were defined. However, as discussed in the literature review above, it acknowledges the significantly higher rates of violent victimization of Aboriginal peoples, but the report provides no further analysis of this population (Statistics Canada, 2001c). Another national study, the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS), dealing with the incidence of reported child abuse in Canada included a section in their report on the incidence of child abuse among parents of Aboriginal heritage (Trocmé et. al., 2001). The CIS report does not inform us about how Aboriginal heritage was defined. One could assume that the CIS report's definition of Aboriginal heritage would include those who identified as Indian, Métis and Inuit.[43] However, the CIS report then goes on to compare the incidence of child abuse between Aboriginal people living on reserve and Aboriginal people living off-reserve. As discussed above, however, this distinction of off-reserve/on-reserve is meaningless for Métis and Inuit peoples. Arguably, a more accurate distinction would have been based on an urban/rural dichotomy.


  1. Future research on victimization of Aboriginal peoples must ensure that the definitions used to define the Aboriginal group are as accurate and as meaningful as possible given the objectives of the research. Distinctions and comparisons must be based on accurate information regarding the unique social and legal circumstances that exist among Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
  2. The inclusion of the Aboriginal population as an identifiable factor in general research such as the GSS or CIS should continue to be encouraged. However, such research should not be undertaken without the advice and expertise of a specialist in Aboriginal studies in order to ensure that adequate categorization of the Aboriginal peoples is made within the research and that appropriate distinctions are drawn. It may not be necessary to consult an expert if the ethical standards for conducting research in Aboriginal communities are followed as discussed below.

2.2 Research Ethics involving Aboriginal Clients

Research involving Aboriginal clients raises unique ethical issues. There are considerations when conducting research involving Aboriginal communities that should be followed in addition to the ethical standards that all researchers must comply with in conducting research involving human subjects. If particular Aboriginal communities are involved in the proposed research, these communities may have unique collective interests in how the research is to be conducted.

Collective Aboriginal interests may arise where cultural property belonging to the community or Aboriginal nation as a whole is affected. These interests may include physical properties such as burial grounds and sacred sites or intellectual interests such as legends, stories and songs. Collective interests may also be affected if the research is intended to analysis or describe characteristics of the group being studied. Thus, it is important that researchers are aware of the unique ethical standards that exist with respect to conducting research that involves Aboriginal peoples and communities. The Tri-Council Policy Statement Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (Tri-Council, 1998) provides a useful list of "good practices" that will assist researchers in complying with ethical standards in this area.

Primary among these "good practices" is that researchers must respect Aboriginal knowledge, traditions and laws. They need to avoid applying Eurocentric assumptions about knowledge and accept that there may be differences between Aboriginal understandings and Western understandings. Respect for Aboriginal communities requires "drawing up appropriate protocols for entering into reciprocal relationships following traditional laws and rights" (Battiste & Henderson, 2000, p. 135). Ideally, researchers, particularly non-Aboriginal researchers, should have cross-cultural training and an understanding of the language. "Indigenous languages offer not just a communication tool for unlocking knowledge, they also offer a theory for understanding that knowledge and an unfolding paradigmatic process for restoration and healing" (Battiste & Henderson, 2000, p. 133).

Related to the respect requirement is the need to form true partnerships with Aboriginal communities. The common theme among the literature dealing Aboriginal research ethics is the importance given to involvement of the Aboriginal community. The more the community is involved, the more likely the research will have complied with the applicable ethical standards.[44] For example, the American Indian Law Center provides a useful "checklist" for researchers to review to ensure that any potential ethical issues are flagged for consideration. This checklist also provides a useful "spectrum" of how a researcher's invitation for community involvement can be measured. It provides summaries of the least satisfactory model to the most satisfactory model. We set out their continuum of involvement in full below:

  1. "Safari" or helicopter research, in which the researcher drops into the community, gathers the data, then leaves with the data for good;
  2. "Show and Tell" research, in which the researcher comes back to report the research results to the community;
  3. The tribe and the researcher agree that in exchange for the tribe's approval of and consent to research in the community (in addition to the essential consent of individual research subjects), certain additional services or benefits will be accorded to the tribe or community by the researcher;
  4. As part of the project, the researcher increases the capacity of the tribe or individuals, i.e., improves the capabilities of the tribe to deliver services or do its own research, trains individuals to work in research projects or conduct their own research;
  5. The researcher and the tribe are partners in the design, execution, analysis and reporting of the research; with its own capacity the tribe contributes resources and ideas that contribute significantly to the research;
  6. The tribe determines its research priorities, and initiates the research. It calls in researchers as needed to be partners or consultants in the design, execution, analysis, and reporting of the research.

Arguably the first and second type of community involvement in research would not meet present day understandings of ethical research when Aboriginal communities are involved unless the communities themselves are fully aware of the nature of their proposed involvement and consent accordingly. The importance of meaningful Aboriginal community involvement is reflected in the emerging literature dealing with Aboriginal governance regarding research. The National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) has been promoting dialogue on this issue recently by holding forums and conferences on the issue of Aboriginal governance and ethics in Aboriginal research. For example, a key recommendation coming from NAHO is that specific Research Ethic Board(s) be created (NAHO, 2002).

Other considerations include ensuring that the research is shaped in such a way that it will benefit the community positively. Outside researchers have not always ensured that this important outcome was a part of their research and in some cases researchers have actually harmed the communities researched (Tri-Council Report, 1998).[45] Also consideration must be given to how information and data will be controlled and disseminated to the public at large. There should be an agreed upon repository. Additional considerations are necessary to protect confidentiality if the knowledge is sensitive and involves Aboriginal culture or customs considered sacred and private. Failure to protect indigenous knowledge and culture may involve legal repercussions to the extent that such knowledge is a protected Aboriginal right under s. 35 of the Constitution. Finally, where conflict exists in interpreting the data between community and researchers, it is important that the community views be explained within any research publication.

The above considerations are important for researchers to apply when projects involve Aboriginal communities and individuals. Thus, researchers in the area of Aboriginal victimization should also incorporate Aboriginal specific ethical standards in any projects that include Aboriginal individuals and Aboriginal communities.


  1. Community-based research on victimization must involve the Aboriginal community at all stages of the research process and conceptualize the research process as a true partnership. Where research is regional, provincial or national in scope, the appropriate Aboriginal organizations representing Aboriginal peoples at those levels should also be approached and invited to participate as partners in proposed research activities.
  2. Justice Canada should continue to not grant any research funds unless it is satisfied that at a minimum the criteria for "good practices" have or will be satisfied.

  • [41] RCAP (1996b) stated:

    An Aboriginal Nation should be defined as a sizeable body of Aboriginal people that possesses a shared sense of national identity and constitutes the predominant population in a certain territory or collection of territories. Thus, the Mi’kmaq, the Innu, the Anishnabe, the Blood, the Haida, the Inuvialuit, the western Métis Nation and other peoples whose bonds have stayed at least partly intact, despite government interference, are nations. There are about 1,000 reserve and settlement communities in Canada, but there are 60 to 80 Aboriginal nations.

  • [42] It may be more correct to identify Indian people as "First Nations" people. In our literature review we define First Nations people as including status and non-status Indians. Furthermore, we restrict the term First Nations to Indians and do not include the Métis or Inuit within this definition.
  • [43] Arguably those who have "Aboriginal heritage" is a larger group than those who identify as "Aboriginal" whether Indian, Métis or Inuit. One can have Aboriginal heritage and not identify with such a part of their heritage.
  • [44] For a useful discussion of how "participatory research" models complement ethical guidelines as they pertain to research involving Aboriginal peoples, see Macaulay and colleagues (1999).
  • [45] Tri-Council Policy Statement Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (Tri-Council Medical Research Council of Canada [MRCC], Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada [NSERC] & Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada [SSHRCC], 1998) provides a useful list of "good practices" that will assist researchers in complying with ethical standards in this area. See http://www.ncehr-cneeh.org
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