If you have any sort of public presence as an Indigenous person, it is very likely that you will be approached for your opinion and help on all manner of issues and projects. At first it might be a little heartening, that people are making an effort to look beyond stereotypes, but from my experience it can start to wear thin, when the time and effort you put into these requests is never reciprocated in any way.
I have had many students contact me to help them with projects, to point them in the right direction in terms of research on specific topics, or even to be interviewed as part of their work. At first I thought that it was obvious and did not need to be stated that I would want to see the final product, but after enough times of never hearing from the person again I made a point of stating this. If I help you with your work, I want to see what you do with what I gave you. Still, in the vast majority of cases, I am not contacted again.
So I address this to the students and professionals who have an interest in Indigenous issues.
Before you contact someone to help you with your work, please consider a few things.
You are asking someone to help you with your project, which is of great benefit to you, but requires the time, energy and expertise of someone who will not necessarily benefit and who undoubtedly has a full-schedule as it is. Consider what it is that you are bringing to the table in such a situation, aside from the desire to not perpetuate stereotypes, or to ‘get better information out there’.
Also please consider why it is you wish to incorporate information so far outside your own base of knowledge, and whether you have the time and resources to do this accurately and respectfully, without requiring an outside expert to do the bulk of the work for you. To do your project justice, you may need to do more than search for a few quotes or pieces of information, and you need to evaluate whether you have the time and interest to do what is required. PARTICULARLY if you are straying into areas of traditional knowledge and culture, even if your interests is purely ‘artistic’. Indigenous cultures are very much based on the concept of reciprocal obligation. Generosity is highly valued, and is expected in return.
Many post-secondary institutions have implemented fairly rigorous ethical standards when conducting research involving Indigenous peoples. You should approach your institution to see what threshold your project/interest meets, and what standard you should adhere to.Do not assume that your work does not trigger these obligations just because no one has made it clear to you that it does.
At the very minimum, in my opinion, is this standard, from the CIHR Guidelines for Health Research Involving Aboriginal People: Research should be of benefit to the community as well as to the researcher.
If you do not know how your work will have a benefit beyond what you are personally getting out of it, then please consider choosing another topic.
We are not textbooks that can be checked out, skimmed for information and hastily acknowledged in a bibliography, if at all. Not even when you ‘just have a few questions’.