Community-Engaged Scholarship: A Working Definition for Collaborative Research with American Indian/Indigenous Communities

Engaged scholarship is in vogue these days. Students yearning for active-learning pedagogies; state legislators skeptical of higher education’s importance; citizens left behind by the high cost of higher education—each has contributed to the renewed interest in what Paul Boyer describes as “the “scholarship of application.” Scholarship that is designed for wider publics can take many forms, from designing a museum exhibit to writing a social studies curriculum for a local elementary school. Scholars might work with area non-profits, government agencies, regional or national museums or ederally-recognized tribes. Some define it simply by what it is not: single-authored articles or monographs written exclusively for one’s scholarly peers. At a basic level, engaged scholarship include blog posts and op-eds. But more involved forms of engaged scholarship are peer-reviewed and reflect collaborative partnerships that are often years in the making. The Carnegie Foundation defines the highest form of engagement, Community-Engaged Scholarship (CES) as a “collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.” To meet the CES bar, the Carnegie Foundation argues that faculty must “collaborate as co-educators, co-researchers at every stage of the process.”

In American Indian and/or indigenous communities, best practices in Community-Engaged Scholarship ensure that the research undertaken is meaningful and genuinely desired by the Indigenous community concerned; that Indigenous people and academic researchers work collaboratively to co-design and co-execute research projects; that Indigenous communities and scholars co-create and disseminate the knowledge that emerges from the research and analysis. Projects of this kind result from sustained conversations between Indigenous and academic partners. They derive from trusting relationships that transcend the life of a single research project. One measure of success is the extent to which Community-Engaged Scholarship “builds capacity” within the Indigenous communities that host scholarly projects.