Category: Georgetown Magazine, Spring 2023

Title:‘Indigenous research methods respect subjects as Knowers’

Author: Kate Colwell
Date Published: April 17, 2023
a woman with black hair and a light blue shirt holds a round object
Professor Shelbi Nahwilet Meissner weaves Indigenous methods into her teaching and scholarship. Photo: Courtesy of Shelbi Nahwilet Meissner

Georgetown Magazine spoke with Shelbi Nahwilet Meissner, an assistant professor of philosophy at Georgetown University of Luiseño (La Jolla) and Cupeño descent who specializes in American Indian and Indigenous philosophy, feminist epistemology, and philosophy of language. Meissner has taught a range of courses during her three years at Georgetown, including Introduction to Indigenous Philosophy, Philosophy of Language, Indigenous Epistemologies in Higher Education, and Topics in Anti-Colonialism.

Tell me about your course, Introduction to Indigenous Philosophy, which is so popular that it often fills up within minutes of registration launch.

That class is my absolute favorite. We do a deep dive on five key threshold concepts in Indigenous philosophy: land, sovereignty, Indigenous feminism, decolonization, and cultural reclamation. I wish that there were more classes like this offered more often at Georgetown just because there are obviously so many students interested in taking them.

Are you offering any new classes in 2023 that you’re excited about?

This spring, I am teaching Indigenous and Non-Western Aesthetics, in which we have conversations about Indigenous artists and their contributions to the world, philosophically. One thing I’m known for as a teacher is my insistence that we use crafts in our classrooms. I have a literal craft wagon: a big wagon that I bring around campus with me that’s full of craft supplies. Through crafts we can really get into more physical and hands-on ways of creating meaning.


Before you came to Georgetown, you taught elders in tribal colleges and universities. What educational techniques have you brought from tribal colleges to the Hilltop?

At tribal colleges we dispersed power, assigning responsibility to everyone in the room to make meaning together. At Georgetown, the students in my Topics in Anti-Colonialism course stay in groups for the whole semester to form strong relationships, learn from each other, and hold each other emotionally accountable as they move through very difficult material, such as stories of violence and genocide.

You’ve spoken about how some tribal communities view western research practices as harmful. How do Indigenous research methods offer an alternative model?

Research has been weaponized against Indigenous communities for so long. There is a colonial, western way of pursuing knowledge that can oftentimes be extractive, but there are also all of these other creative modes of research. So reciprocity is something I like to bake into research ethics all the way through the curriculum. Indigenous research methods respect subjects as Knowers to whom we have a responsibility.

How do you and your students demonstrate respect for subjects of Indigenous cultural research?

We embrace the ethic of reciprocity when we collaborate with Indigenous communities in many ways, but gifting plays an important role in our research. My Intro to Indigenous Philosophy course culminates in a student research project with community engagement. Students have done podcast transcription work for Indigenous communities, made beautiful posters to honor missing and murdered Indigenous women, and shared information about the colonial context of Indigenous spaces through a campus tour. The students that find their way to my classes are amazingly compassionate and interested and curious.

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