Indigenous innovation

Indigenous Innovations graphic


This research space can be described as an opportunity to explore trust, balance, respect, and understanding in intercultural relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Canada, with an overall aim of fostering new, responsible, reciprocal and respectful relationships in place of old conflicts .Preliminary research suggests that social innovations initiated and led by Iidigenous peoples prioritize holistic health and wellbeing and have a strong link to sustainability and social justice agendas. Future research directions will focus on whether social innovation could (or should) be interpreted from a critical indigenist lens, with applications for innovations in resource and environmental management in Canada and abroad.

Our working definition : indigenous innovations are a unique type of social innovation continually informed by the application of indigenous knowledge to promote the resurgence of indigenous knowledge and practices, as guided by the wisdom of the ancestors.

Research questions

  • How are the processes of social innovation altered in an indigenous context? This involves questions about the choices facing indigenous communities about whether to integrate into mainstream Canadian society or to try to create an 'indigenous modernity'.
  • Having this research funded by the Suncor Energy Foundation brings up issues inherent to university-community-private partnerships for funding research.
  • How do you promote sustainability in a context of unsustainable economic activity? Challenges involve the potential for moral hazard in partnering with companies involved in clearly unsustainable activities. 
  • Is there common ground between social innovation and critical indigenist methodologies?

Recent activities

Kinomaagwinan maamwaye: exploring indigenist methodologies and social innovation

This one-day symposium brought together Shawn Wilson and Frances Westley, leading experts in the fields of indigenist methodologies and social innovation, respectively, to explore the concept of indigenist innovation. Held at the Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre, the symposium was attended by graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, and administrators with the intent to open a long-term and intercultural dialogue on the opportunities and barriers to advancing indigenist research and innovation at the University of Waterloo.

Key questions discussed at the event include:

1.     What is an indigenist research paradigm?

2.     What is social innovation?

3.     Can we have indigenist innovation?

4.    Can/should social innovation be interpreted using an indigenist paradigm?

5.    Does social innovation have useful tools and strategies for fostering change in Indigenous communities?

6.     What are the opportunities and barriers to advancing change-oriented critical indigenist research at the University of Waterloo?


Anishanaabe maamwaye aki kiigayewin (AMAK)This research aims to explore models of, and approaches to, mine restoration and rehabilitation that integrate, in a meaningful way, traditional indigenous knowledge and practice that helps to foster decolonization and promote constructive intercultural relationships, especially Indigenous-corporate relations in the mining industry.


McCarthy DDP, Millen M, Boyden M, Alexiuk A, Whitelaw G, Viswanathan L, Westley F.  Under Review.  A first nations-led social innovation: a moose, a gold mining company and a policy window. Ecology and Society.

Alexiuk E, McCarthy DDP, King C, Macbeth J, Whitelaw GS, Viswanathan L.  Under Review.  A critical indigenist approach to social innovation: building municipal-indigenous relations in Southern Ontario, Canada. Ecology and Society. (manuscript under review)

Alexiuk, E. (2013). Exploring the common ground between social innovation and indigenous resurgence: two critical indigenist case studies in indigenous innovation in Ontario, Canada. Masters Thesis, University of Waterloo: Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.