Book Review: Decolonizing Educational Research: From Ownership to Answerability, by Leigh Patel. New York, NY: Routledge Publishing, 2016, 104 pp

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Reviewed by: Julie Uistienne Poynsenby, doctoral researcher in education, University of Idaho, USA

Indigenous scholars and their allies generally agree that for too long, research in a broad sense, has been consistently uniformed as to the impetus behind maintaining and promoting pervasive colonial practices. Indigenous scholars continue to struggle to get their voices heard and accepted at the same level and frequency as their non-Indigenous peers. In her book, Decolonizing Educational Research, Leigh Patel claims that educational research is problematic in this respect, with doctoral training programs exacerbating the issue by insisting on criteria for dissertation and thesis favoring colonial settler academic viewpoints, and disregarding Indigenous ways of knowing.

This book joins others authored by Indigenous scholars in calling for the decolonization of education and a focus on Indigenous research methodologies (Kovach, 2010; Smith, 2012; Smith, Tuck and Yang, 2019; Wilson, 2008). From the beginning, Patel introduces the central theme of the book, which investigates how oppression, racism and white supremacy are uncritically reinforced through higher education institutions. Patel, analyzing educational research in particular, argues against the production of career scholars, claiming that this approach remains too ingrained in colonial scholarship, suggesting to researchers the necessity to challenge those stratifications within educational institutions and relevant research, as these continue to reinforce colonial structures. Offering a way to tackle this issue, Patel describes the benefits of pedagogy which intentionally pauses; when researching, when learning, when acquiring knowledge.

Pausing allows educational researchers to suspend personal projects and assess, reassess and scrutinize whether the research in question continues to refuel coloniality. The problem manifests within settler nations (like the USA) resulting in educational research becoming part of a state-sanctioned positionality.

Decolonizing Educational Research brings into sharp focus the need for educational researchers to acknowledge perpetuation of the settler-slave-Indigenous relationships. We are forced to accept that the concepts of inclusion and equity are not sufficient to deconstruct and dehumanize settler colonialism. Patel wants us to be answerable; to pause and reflect on those difficult truths, to name and condemn the ugly realities of racism, white supremacy and coloniality, and to then move forward in ways which allow us to see educational research as something far more than a path toward production. While most non-Indigenous, educational researchers probably never consider or even accept the existence of settler colonialism within their institutions, Patel urges readers to recognize the manifestation of coloniality. Citing Cottom (2014), she gives the reader an example of how relationships and social locations can reflect a history of power, status, or privilege.

Eve Tuck, writing in the forward to this book, highlights an important departure that sets Decolonizing Educational Research apart from other literature critiquing research and social justice in educational contexts. That departure is explained through Patel’s blunt portrayal of a perpetual settler colonial narrative, bolstered through the insistence to view people, land and knowledge as commodities in constant competition. Highlighting a contemporary example, Patel demonstrates how the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement from 2001, used the concept and language of occupation; to highlight class inequalities and the distribution of wealth. The ‘Occupy’ movement, however, ignored the fact that they were staging their protest on the aboriginal lands of the Algonquin

people – long since occupied from the arrival of the European colonizers. The irony of this was probably never understood by the majority of ‘Occupiers’. Patel observes that ‘others’ within a settler colonial structure are only ever positioned to try and work toward similar status and property as the colonizers, but they will never achieve it. The accumulation of land and property has always been the goal; educational and social science research participates in this by dispossession of Indigenous peoples, including their intellectual property.

In recent years, there has been steady growth in the number of articles published and written by Indigenous scholars. Not only do these provide direct commentary about issues facing Indigenous scholars within the Western academic paradigm, but they provide hopeful examples of research that is being conducted using Indigenous methodologies, (Brayboy and Dehyle, 2000; Lomawaima, 2016; Solis, 2017; Sterenberg et al, 2010). Even more promising is research that exemplifies Patel’s position – the need to pause; the need for educational researchers to consider and reconsider if they are reinforcing colonialism, or becoming worthwhile allies (Anthony-Stevens, 2017; Hays, 2017; Poupart, Baker and Red Horse, 2009). High-quality research authored by Indigenous scholars is available, but you have to know where to look; it is still not what many would describe as in the ‘mainstream’. There is a further issue, emphasized by Patel, drawing on Tuck and Yang (2012): the use of the term ‘decolonization’, which, if used inaccurately, can reseat settler privilege and erase Indigeneity. Patel would prefer a distinction where ‘anticolonial’ is the preferred term to assist in countering coloniality;‘decolonial’ reserved for only material changes. Echoing Tuck and Yang, the uses of ‘coloniality/decoloniality’ are increasingly heard, becoming buzzwords, often without acknowledgement or sensitivity.

This book offers great insight to a topic often ignored for fear of confrontation. By first introducing the reader to the contemporary vision of public exposure and shaming of bigots through social media, which serves to temporarily raise awareness about racism, Patel stresses the point that failure to consistently challenge colonial structures perpetuates patterns of oppression; which, she argues, becomes tolerated by nations who promote freedom and equity. The first two chapters situate educational research in the settler colonial contexts and provide a clear analysis and understanding of why educational research has failed to improve disparities. In the following chapter, Patel provides thought-provoking sections that guide the reader through understanding how research is relational by questioning, “Why This? Why Me? Why Now?” It is difficult to identify any weaknesses in Pate’s book; scattered with personal reflection and experiences, this book should be on every doctoral students’ list.

Ideology of knowledge production within Eurocentric academic contexts reaffirms Western positional authority and marginalizes the Indigenous research paradigms resulting in Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous accounts not being accepted as valid interpretations (Kovach, 2010; Smith, 2012). The emerging discipline of critical Indigenous studies is expanding through the work of Indigenous scholars such as Aileen Moreton-Robinson (2016) and is moving towards Indigenous ownership of methodologies, epistemologies and paradigms. Expansion, acceptance and recognition will disrupt the certainty of knowledge produced about Indigenous people by non-Indigenous researchers. What sets Patel’s book apart from the aforementioned authors, is her proposal for moving from ownership to answerability; this makes Decolonizing Educational Research an important book for all researchers in the social sciences.

Reference List

Anthony-Stevens, V. (2017). Cultivating Alliances: Reflections on the Role of Non-Indigenous Collaborators in Indigenous Educational Sovereignty Journal of American Indian Education,56 (1): 81-104. doi:10.5749/jamerindieduc.56.1.0081

Brayboy, B.M., & Dehyle, D. (2000). Insider-Outsider: Researchers in American Indian Communities. Theory Into Practice, 39 (3): 163-169. Retrieved from

Cottom, T.M. (2014). The University and the Company Man. Dissent, 61 (2): 42-44. Retrieved from company-man

Hays, A. (2017). Authentically Authored Native American Young Adult Literature (YAL) and Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy (CSP) in the Preparation of Preservice Teachers. Journal of American Indian Education56 (2): 34-56. Retrieved from

Kovach, M. (2010). Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Lomawaima, K.T. (2016). A Principle of Relativity through Indigenous Biography. Biography, 39 (3): 248-269. Retrieved from

Moreton-Robinson, A. (2016). Critical Indigenous Studies: Engagements in First World Locations. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Poupart, J., Baker, L., and Red Horse, J. (2009). Research with American Indian communities: The value of authentic partnerships. Children and Youth Services, 31: 1180-1186. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2009.08.012

Smith, L.T. (2012). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books.

Smith, L.T., Tuck, E. & Yang, K.W. (2018). Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education. New York, NY: Routledge.

Solis, S.P. (2017). Letter to my children from a place called Land. Global Studies of Childhood 7 (2): 196-206. ps://

Sterenberg, G., Barrett, L., Blood, N., Glanfield, F., Lunney Borden, L., McDonnell, T., Nicol, C., and Weston, H. (2010). To become wise to the world around us: Multiple perspectives of relating Indigenous knowledges and mathematics education. vinculum, Journal of the Saskatchewan Mathematics Teachers’ Society (1): 7-20.

Tuck, E., & Yang, K.W. (2012). Decolonization is not a Metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1): 1-40. Retrieved from

Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony : indigenous research methods. Black Point, N.S. Fernwood publishing.

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