Commentary‎ > ‎


posted 4 Apr 2013, 16:27 by Fiona Cram   [ updated 18 Feb 2016, 23:03 ]

In her list of Indigenous qualitative research projects Linda Smith describes the role of testimonies. Linda writes that "Telling our stories from the past, reclaiming the past, giving testimony to the injustices of the past are all strategies which are commonly employed by indigenous peoples struggling for justice" (2012, p.36). Often this past is very recent. Indigenous peoples around the world will undoubtedly be able to recall things that happened yesterday and this morning that highlight for them that there are newcomers living in their lands, and that these newcomers do not honour Indigenous values and practices. Testimony can enable Indigenous people to give voice to their experiences within a social justice and Indigenous rights framing. With this voice can come a sense of release, relief, righteous anger, and a call to action.

Given that Indigenous storytelling is often an oral tradition we can and should struggle in research and evaluation with the notion of writing down spoken testimonies. This issue was highlighted for me by my friend and colleague Morris Lai, from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. What I took away from our conversation was that perhaps the written word is not the best medium in which to honour people's testimony. Oral testimony and storytelling is also a memory task, so perhaps when we revert to a written format we also lose the discipline of memory and the facility it provides for storytellers to emphasise different parts of their story on different occasions, for different audiences, and for different kaupapa (purposes).

The testimonies of whānau (Māori family) transformation as a result of the Whānau Ora (Māori family wellness) initiative are an example of writing it 'how it's spoken'. Some of these testimonies are on the Whānau Ora Research website and 'readers' can also become 'listeners' of the stories by watching the recordings of speakers at the Te Anga Mua Seminar 2012. This combined written and spoken presentation of testimony may be a solution to honouring people's voices. While it leaves us with one version of the testimony that's stuck in time and place, this may have value as a marker on people's journey (that is, on this date, at this place, they were at this point on their journey).

If we apply this approach within research and evaluation a challenge then rests with academic institutions and journals, government departments, and other funders of Indigenous decolonisation and development initiatives to broaden what they understand as valid methodology, and then to accept what this means for how research and evaluations using these methodologies (in this case, testimonies) are reported back to them. Having whānau testimonies valued within the Whānau Ora initiative is a step forward. Being able to record them and place them on a website for other whānau to see and hear is another step. Now we need to consider the centrality of these testimonies to Whānau Ora research and evaluation and think through what this might mean for us as researchers and evaluators, and how we can bring testimonies to life in our own work.

Related posts

A testimony to education, 5 April 2013

Testimonies of forced removal, 16 April 2013

Oral Testimony Project, Panos Institute, 17 May 2013

Testimony and Human Rights, 18 June 2013

'Village Journey' - testimonies of assimilation by legislation, 10 August 2012