Collaborating With Indigenous People

  • Procedures
  • Policy
  • Definitions
  • Guiding principles
    • Native Centered
    • Respect
    • Self-Reflection and Cultural Humility
    • Authentic Relationships
    • Honor Community Time Frames
    • Build on Strengths
    • Co-Learning and Ownership
    • Continual Dialogue
    • Transparency and Accountability
    • Integrity
    • Community Relevance

Montana is home to seven federally recognized tribal entities. Each tribal government has differing requirements to conduct research on its lands. It is extremely important for researchers to build a positive relationship with the tribal entities with which they plan to work and to learn what the tribal requirements are to conduct research.

Equally critical is that researchers and tribal entities work together to build a clear understanding of what is to be researched and how this information will be used. It is the Tribes’ legal right to stop any and all research and to control how any information will be used. Information collected may become the Tribes sole property. Ultimately, Tribes have the right to say no to any type of research on items that fall under their legal sovereign right.

Procedures

As a research university, the University of Montana most often collaborates with indigenous people in the role of research subjects.  All UM employees and students doing research on human subjects must follow requirements per UM's Institutional Review Board (IRB) for the Protection of Human Subjects and meet any course requirements for human subjects protection.

Tribes are sovereign nations and establish their own rules, policies, and procedures for conducting research on their respective reservations. When UM undertakes activities affecting American Indian tribal rights or interests, such activities should be implemented in a knowledgeable, sensitive manner that is respectful of tribal sovereignty and reflects tribal cultural protection and preservation concerns.

Approvals and Agreements

The UM project director or principal investigator (PI) must work closely with the UM IRB and secure IRB approval. The UM IRB may conduct a review at the tribe's request, or it may enter into a reliance agreement with the tribal IRB, such that the tribal IRB assumes oversight. When the UM IRB conducts the review, separate written permission must be obtained from the collective tribal governing body to conduct research on the reservation. UM IRB approval or an approved reliance agreement and tribal IRB approval must be finalized before any research is conducted. If the research does not involve human subjects, collective written permission by the tribal governing body may be adequate. Consult with the UM IRB to determine appropriate documentation.

When planning projects, UM researchers should allow adequate time to obtain the proper approvals. Depending on the nature of the project and type of review, this may take from one to ten months.

All UM projects involving indigenous people should be performed in a culturally appropriate manner and consistent with tribal customs and traditions, as determined by the involved Tribe(s). Thus, there may be occasions where food or gifts are given to tribal participants during gatherings, as well as when collecting materials, information, data, and samples.

Any proposed research at an Indian Health Service (IHS) facility, whether on or off a reservation, will require additional review by the IHS IRB or its designee. 

If the activity is externally sponsored, the UM PI will follow ORSP guidelines to ensure compliance with sponsor, state, and University requirements.  If appropriate, UM may informally involve tribal members as UM employees or independent contractors, or may issue a subaward to the tribal entity. Subrecipients function as co-investigators on a sponsored activity, and are involved in a creative way in designing or conducting the sponsored activity.

The UM project director or PI will, at a minimum: 

  • ensure compliance with University, tribal, and federal guidelines, policies and/or regulations.
  • work effectively with indigenous people and respect tribal cultural and intellectual property, and recognize the rights the involved Tribe(s) retains over all shared information (e.g., cultural knowledge, practices, and traditions)
  • comply with tribal requirements regarding cultural and data ownership, and adhere to the feedback of the involved Tribe(s) regarding collection or handling of materials, information, data, and samples.
  • collaborate with the involved Tribe(s) to identify what information should be protected, and establish and agree upon safeguards.
  • secure appropriate written permission from the involved Tribe(s) that details any expectations of the Tribe regarding reports or involvement.
  • work closely with the involved Tribe(s) and provide - in layman's terms - reports, presentations, or other updates as requested and entertain feedback and suggestions. 
  • update the tribal governing body on research progress as requested (quarterly is recommended)
  • provide the tribal governing body a yearly written report, unless the involved Tribe(s) requests more frequent reports, that contains a full summary of all research activities.
  • request and secure permission to disseminate research findings in academic or popular literature, conferences, and/or any other endeavors that will involve the presentation of the research findings (e.g., submission of abstracts, poster presentations, oral presentations, and publication).

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) may be executed between the Tribe and UM 

Typically initiated by the Tribe, an MOU may be written in addition to IRB review and an IRB reliance agreement.  The MOU will be signed by the UM IRB manager or other authorized insitutional official.  Components may include:

  • a collaborative scope of work, timeframe, target population, and materials, information, data, and/or samples collected
  • a description of how the research process will benefit the tribal community or tribal members (e.g., financial benefits, social benefits, economic development, increased knowledge and innovation, capacity building)
  • a description of any required progress reports to be supplied by UM, whether verbal or written, and the level of detail required
  • an expectation that the UM PI will conduct presentations to interested tribal entities to inform the community of project findings and to garner feedback and suggestions
  • procedures for UM dissemination of research findings
  • ownership of materials, information, data, and/or samples is typically retained by the involved Tribe(s)
  • procedures for returning, storing, and/or destroying materials, information, data, and/or samples to the involved Tribe(s), specifying any agreed-upon confidentiality requirements
  • an expectation that all sensitive materials, information, data, and/or samples have been destroyed, or disposed of in accordance with involved Tribe(s) instructions upon the completion of the research project.

Definitions

American Indian

A member of any of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. We recognize that there are a number of other preferred terms. We also recognize that there are native peoples outside of the United States, but for the purposes of this document, we refer to Indigenous peoples of, or residing in, the United States when we use the term American Indian.

Collective Tribal Governing Body

The recognized, official Tribal Council or Tribal Government on a reservation.  The term “collective” is used to ensure that permissions are granted by the Council or Government, not by an individual.  Official documents are typically signed by the Chair of the governing body.  The Council or Government may delegate review and decisions to other official committees, such as the Cultural Committee.

Culture

Culture and traditions vary greatly between American Indian communities. American Indian individuals and communities also vary in adherence to their cultures of origin and to Western cultural values and beliefs. For many American Indian people, spirituality and religion are generally perceived as an integral aspect of culture. Spirituality also takes on many forms within American Indian communities, from use of traditional Indigenous practices to Christian beliefs.

Cultural Humility

A commitment and active engagement of continual self- evaluation regarding the interaction and impact of one’s culture(s) on a given situation or relationship so as to cultivate mutually beneficial partnerships that recognize and remedy any power imbalances.

Community

There is no single definition of community that applies to every situation. This term can be co-defined with partners in the research process. For example, an American Indian community could refer to an entire tribe, smaller groups within the tribe, an urban Indian community composed of individuals from different tribes, or the larger American Indian community within a city, state, country, or the globe.

Consultation

Requires meaningful efforts to communicate, at the earliest possible point in the process, with Tribal Officials regarding proposed actions or matters, which either directly or indirectly implicate recognized tribal interests. Communication should be open, transparent and conducted in a manner promoting trust and respect. The process must include an exchange of information, ideas and suggestions, as well as seeking active input from the appropriate level of decision maker within the tribal system.  Tribal Official must be given an opportunity to identify concerns with the action or matter and articulate how they wish to participate in the process.

Government-to-Government Consultation: 

In accordance with the principles identified in President Clinton’s executive Order 13175 and President Obama’s memorandum of November 5, 2009, government related entities must engage in regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with Tribal Officials anytime governmental funding or personnel are being utilized in a manner implicating or affecting tribal interests.

Non-Native

An individual who is not a member of the Indigenous peoples of a federally recognize or non-federally recognized American Indian tribe. We recognize the diverse histories of researchers of different races. We have selected this general term to increase the applicability of this document to researchers of all races/ethnicities not of Native American descent or heritage. This encourages the reader to consider differences in historical experiences, assumptions and stereotypes.

Principal Investigator

The person responsible for designing, conducting and reporting on objective research funded through an independent grant. Must also manage, monitor, and ensure the integrity of any collaborative relationships associated with the grant. This person is responsible for the direction and oversight of compliance, financial, personnel, and other related aspects of the research project and for coordination with the appropriate UM departments and central administration personnel to assure research in is conducted in accordance with Federal regulations and University and sponsoring agency policies and procedures.

Traditional Resource Rights

The term "Traditional Resource Rights" (TRR) is used to define the many 'bundles of rights' that can be used for protection, compensation, and conservation of resources and properties of indigenous people. TRR includes basic human rights, the right to self-determination, collective rights, land and territorial rights, intellectual property rights, rights to protection of cultural property, folklore and cultural heritage, the recognition of cultural landscapes, and recognition of customary law and practice. Every indigenous community has its own customs and laws covering privacy, respect, permission, and compensation for its people during research, exploitation or non-indigenous uses of traditional resources or properties.

Tribal Sovereignty

“Sovereignty” is the authority of a state or nation to govern itself. Tribal sovereignty in the United States of America includes the principle that federally recognized Indigenous tribes have retained the inherent authority for self-governance. However, the federal government recognizes tribes as “domestic, dependent nations,” meaning that they have limited sovereignty in matters beyond their recognized territory or membership as a result of treaties, federal statutes, tribal laws and federal court decisions.

Guiding Principles

When collaborating with Native American communities, the following principles are of equal importance and are presented in no particular order. Within the explanation provided for each principle, questions are offered to elicit discussion. 

Native Centered

  • Native centered means that Native American communities and people are the driving force of the research.
  • Native knowledge is at the heart of the research endeavor and Native American people are the leaders and voice. “Nothing about us without us.”
  • Research activity and action are centered on issues that are central to the Native American community, not the research center, sponsoring institution, or agency. Unite with Native American people to assist in achieving their visions and goals.

Vignette

Researchers invested many hours with a Native American community by attending community programs, going to public events, and connecting with community members in informal ways before they were invited by the leadership of that community to assist with the writing of a grant for research purposes. Members from the community, including family members, youth, service providers, elders, and cultural leaders, participated in the initial planning meetings, as well as subsequent meetings to provide continued guidance. Respecting the knowledge that already existed in the community and listening to what the community wanted allowed the researchers to integrate their ideas into the grant proposal. A community member became the identified Principle Investigator, and other community members were also selected to fill key roles.

Questions To Facilitate Putting Principle Into Practice
  • Am I working to achieve my agenda or am I working with the community to assist in visualizing, articulating, and developing their plan of action?
  • Is my institution able and/or willing to give this Native American community the time, resources, and expertise needed to meet their expectations?

Respect

  • Treat all individuals and communities participating in research with respect. Remember, it is an honor to work with Native American peoples in research.
  • Purposefully seek understanding of the community and their reasons for collaborating in research. This understanding will guide the researcher in showing regard for the community.
  • Respect and honor tribal sovereignty, cultural traditions, and diversity among and within Native American communities.
  • Be aware and respectful of existing community protocols. Many communities have specific protocols of who to go to and how to go about garnering approvals for all research activities.

Vignette

A seasoned researcher attended a meeting in a new community to introduce a project to local residents. One of the community members spoke up and said, “We have been researched to death” and “We never see anything come out of the research.” The researcher realized the community members may be responding to past injustices of researchers whose work ended up stigmatizing the community. The researcher showed respect by taking the time to listen and validated their concerns by asking, “What is it that I can do differently?” One person responded, “Show your respect by spending time in our community, being patient and listening when leaders speak, attending our community events, and advocating for our tribe’s voice to be heard. Sit back, listen, and be involved.”

 Questions To Facilitate Putting Principle Into Practice
  • Am I aware of the protocols within a particular Native American community    for research projects? Am I aware of the protocols for convening and facilitating meetings? To whom can I go and how else can I learn the protocols (e.g., calling tribal community center to ask for guidance, talking with an elder or youth from the community, knowledgeable colleague familiar with community, etc.)?
  • Is the Native American community with whom I am working a sovereign nation? Am I aware of and respecting the government structure, laws, and policies, as well as specific procedures for engaging in research with this community? Am I aware of where the Native community’s laws might converge or diverge from the laws and policies of my institution, university, state, etc.?

Self-Reflection and Cultural Humility

  • Be mindful of one’s own cultural and class biases and how these biases can affect researcher interactions in Native American communities and the research they undertake.
  • Strive to develop self-awareness and have a respectful and humble attitude toward diverse points of view, which are shaped by the individual histories of each community, as well as the distinct traditions that inform these perspectives.
  • Engage in research with the understanding that Native American community members have wisdom, knowledge, expertise, and experience that is relevant to their community and to our efforts as investigators.
  • An individual cannot master cultural competence for all Native American cultures or tribes. Believing that one has attained “cultural competence” when working with Native American communities can lead to reliance on faulty assumptions and stereotypes, and undermine the research.

Vignette

A Native American researcher was attending a meeting in her own community. A non-Native community provider introduced her as “a resource from the University.” The researcher then handed out program materials and business cards. The community’s initial response was, “We are all resources, too!” One community member pushed the researcher’s materials aside. The researcher suddenly realized that, although unintentional, the introduction and the institutional authority implied by the materials suggested to community members that the researcher considered herself the expert in this situation. After a lot of thought and consulting with colleagues, the researcher realized the importance of approaching projects with humility and careful self-reflection to ameliorate power imbalances.

Questions To Facilitate Putting Principle Into Practice
  • Am I using my position, credentials, or power for this person/community?
  • Am I continually mindful and actively reflecting on myself for any assumptions I may be making that influence the way I interact with others and conduct research?
  • Am I recognizing the expertise of everyone in the community? 

Authentic Relationships

  • Build relationships that are sincere, enduring, and based upon mutual trust and respect. Genuine relationships are the cornerstone of mutually beneficial collaborations and equal partnerships.
  • Relationship-based research will emerge and survive through challenges with positive transformations on all sides of the partnership.
  • Enter into partnerships with the community and community members with the intention of building and sustaining a long-term commitment to the community.

Vignette

A local provider was asked to assist a rural Native American community during a crisis situation. He gave the community his full attention and was genuine in his willingness to serve. He engaged with many community members and providers as they dealt with the issues at hand. Once the crisis was over, the community reached out to him to work on other projects that would benefit their tribe. Again, he was genuine and always willing to help. His partnership with the tribal community has grown into developing more proposals and projects. His years working with the tribe have led to authentic partnerships and lasting friendships. Community members often consult with him over the phone, text message him and send him emails when they want him to review something. The tribal members have grown fond of the provider and continue to engage in research projects with him to this day.

Questions To Facilitate Putting Principle Into Practice
  • How am I demonstrating that I am fully present with this person/community?
  • Am I an active participant in interactions and interpersonal moments that shows my sincerity in assisting the community?
  • Am I willing to commit to working through challenges that will inevitably rise, to grow and learn within myself as I get to know the community, and develop relationships that may extend beyond the life of the project. 

Honor Community Time Frames

  • Concepts of time differ among various cultures. Tribal community timelines may be influenced by seasonal cycles, traditional events, and governmental functions. As one Native community member phrased it, “spiritual time” is the ultimate clock by which all events take place and goals or projects are accomplished.
  • Research culture sometimes creates pressure to “get things done quickly” without consideration for the communities’ timeframe. At other times, the research process may move so slowly that Native community members question whether the original purpose of the project will meet community needs in a timely fashion.
  • Many Native people value time to process information. This time may be used to reflect on new concepts or translate the concepts into Native thought. Provide time for moments of thoughtful silence.

Vignette

As a researcher was starting the planning process, she asked a local tribal community member what to keep in mind during the yearlong project. The designated community liaison stated that the tribal community had certain events (ceremony, political, funerals, school activities, etc.) throughout the coming year. The liaison recommended the researcher sit down with their local community contact to outline the length of the project and to develop a timeline that encompasses both the research and community events. During this conversation, the community contact also reminded her that the research timeline and the community event timeline had to complement each other in order to be respectful and move the research initiative forward. The researcher made sure to keep her timeline flexible and allow additional time at the end for unexpected community events.

Questions To Facilitate Putting Principle Into Practice
  • Is my time frame realistic for the research project in relation to the community’s activity level and am I planning accordingly given the different concepts of time?
  • What projects or activities occur annually to which my community partners will need to attend?
  • Am I taking time to reflect on the information and how it translates into Native thought? Am I giving the community time to translate into their own Native worldview?

Build on Strengths

  • Become aware of the strengths and particular abilities within Native communities; explicitly recognize these aspects and build upon them. Focus on the community’s culturally-protective strengths and other assets throughout all stages of research.
  • The tone of written research is highly valuable for its ability to positively impact the community by emphasizing resiliency factors and inspiring hope.

Vignette

A new researcher was excited to begin a project in a Native American community. He came to the initial meeting with data and statistics from recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Indian Health Services reports. He brought up concerns regarding the high rates of alcohol use, depression, diabetes, and adverse childhood events among this population. He began by asking the community partners to give their opinions and examples of why and how these statistics are played out in their community. After the initial meeting was over, the community partners were left with feelings of negativity and hopelessness. They were not sure that they wanted to continue working with this particular researcher because he pointed out all the bad things going on in their community. This might have been avoided if the researcher balanced out his meeting by bringing forth some positive qualities inherent in this community.

Questions To Facilitate Putting Principle Into Practice
  • Am I actively searching for positive qualities or strengths in the community?
  • Am I coming from a positive or negative framework in how I perceive the community?

Co-Learning and Ownership

  • Co-learning involves a reciprocal exchange of knowledge and ideas. Tribal community partners bring their expertise across multiple areas, including a deep understanding of their communities’ traditions, values, methods, and knowledge. Researchers bring expertise in academic research methods and processes.
  • Build community capacity. Consider what the Native American community would like to learn and benefit from the researchers just as the researcher gains important knowledge from community members.
  • Acknowledge that everyone has important contributions to make in research. Community input is vital to fostering ownership and sustainability of the positive project outcomes.
  • Native communities have the right to ownership and control over their own data and may choose to share or not choose to share ownership of the data.

Vignette

In one collaboration between a Native community and a research center, community members determined the degree to which their culture and traditions would be included in the project. Both community members and researchers took different sections of the grant to write, with all contributing equally to the final product. Research partners provided technical assistance whenever needed during the grant writing process, facilitating the community’s capacity to write grants on their own  in the future. The community gained approval for the project by consulting with the elders and tribal leaders. The researchers learned the approval process in the community while the community members learned the approval process through the institutional IRB. This process helped build capacity for the community and for the researchers. It also instilled a sense of pride and ownership that carried the project forward even after funding ended.

Questions To Facilitate Putting Principle Into Practice
  • How am I helping to build capacity in the community through the research process (e.g., using research funds for equipment retained by the community, hiring community members, bringing tribal representatives to the research center, providing trainings, etc.) and what am I learning from the community that increases my own skills and capacity?
  • Am I providing community members opportunities to contribute their knowledge in meaningful ways? Am I prioritizing the use of existing programs and resources in the community?
  • In what ways am I encouraging community members to take ownership of the project to ensure sustainability?

Continual Dialogue

  • Ensure that communication to the members of the community involved is
    • understandable,
    • relevant, and
    • accessible
  • Communication flows both ways. A continual and open dialogue may facilitate co-learning, prevent misunderstandings, and address concerns before they become problems.
  • Be proactive in finding out the appropriate people and programs needed for ongoing communication within each community and research project.
  • Provide findings back to community stakeholders on an on-going basis.

Vignette

A researcher came before the tribal council: 

Council – When was the last time you provided council with an update on this project? 

Researcher – I have not provided an update to council since the project was approved by the Institutional Review Board two years ago last spring. I didn’t know I was required to. 

The Council’s questioning caused the researcher to reflect on her own expectations for communication. She realized she needed to put more effort in aligning with the community’s protocol for how information flows to and from the community/ researcher, in order for local decision-making to occur and project goals/ requirements to be met.

Questions To Facilitate Putting Principle Into Practice
  • Am I actively listening? Am I choosing not to talk in order to give community members a chance to speak?
  • Am I intentionally creating a relationship and atmosphere that allows my partners to feel comfortable enough to bring up issues of concern?
  • Am I communicating with the proper stakeholders of this community? Is there a health board, tribal IRB, health director, tribal council or traditional leader with whom I should be in contact? Am I updating the right people at the right time?

Transparency and Accountability

  • Be open and clear about all activities and information throughout the research process in order to build trust which may have been compromised by past negative research endeavors in the community.
  • Take responsibility for all actions and consequences of those actions when engaging in research with communities.

Vignette

A tribal leader came across information regarding her community while surfing the web and was concerned at the way her community was portrayed. When asked about this information, the researcher, who had posted the information, stated that he had assumed the proper approvals had already been obtained and it was not his fault that the information was put on the web. The researcher was caught off-guard by the community member. He did not reveal that, despite being made aware of the need to update tribal administration about new actions related to the research project, he still neglected to inform them this information was being placed on the web for fear that it would cause more discussion and delays than were necessary for such a small detail. Although the information on the website of itself was not a huge concern to the community and would have easily been approved if taken through the appropriate protocols, the community lost some trust with this researcher for not being open and for not taking the responsibility of remedying the situation.

Questions To Facilitate Putting Principle Into Practice
  • Have I clearly defined what my position as a researcher entails? Have I clearly defined what my institution can and cannot provide? Should these expectations be in writing?
  • Am I being open about and taking responsibility for all research activities?
  • Do we have a mutual understanding of each other’s expectations?
  • Do I know whose approval is needed for different aspects of my project? Do I know whom to work with in the community regarding consents, permissions, etc.?

Integrity

  • Act with honesty and morality throughout every phase of research.
  • Adhere to the existing ethical guidelines that are developed for and by Native peoples and communities in addition to general ethical guidelines for researchers.
  • Be vigilant about protecting Native American communities, as well as individuals, from harm.
  • Work to preserve and strengthen the wholeness of Native peoples and communities.
  • Understand that the community’s rights take precedence over the researcher’s pursuit of knowledge and personal career development. The community and any member of the community has the right to say no to any part of or the entire research project.

Vignette

A tribal council required a researcher to make several changes to his submitted presentation before they would give approval for the researcher to present at an upcoming conference. One request required the researcher to delete a major finding from his presentation. After much discussion, the researcher asked if there was any way that the information could be presented in a more acceptable manner in order to keep this central finding in the presentation. Ultimately, the researcher took out this finding from the presentation. This researcher struggled with which guidelines to adhere in order to maintain the integrity of his work, and decided that the reasons for which this Native community had asked him to take out his findings held greater justice for this community than would be demonstrated in presenting the findings.

Questions To Facilitate Putting Principle Into Practice
  • How am I showing my integrity? What are the code of ethics to which I refer in guiding my actions and decisions to ensure the morality of my research?
  • Where is all the private/confidential documentation being kept? How will all the private/confidential documentation be handed back to the community or destroyed at the end? If destroyed, how will this be documented?

Community Relevance

  • Be mindful that historical experiences directly relate to Native communities’ present situations and impact the relevance of any research project.
  • Develop research projects that have meaning and purpose within the Native community’s way of being and knowing.
  • Ensure that research findings are useful and accessible to participating communities by providing information that contributes to tribal-specific solutions, greater well-being, and positive policy impact.

Vignette

A researcher came before tribal leadership to present an HIV prevention project that she wanted to begin at a school-based clinic on the reservation. She presented information that supported counseling and testing as an HIV prevention strategy. Leadership was skeptical of the need for such an intervention and questioned whether it was the most productive use of the clinic’s limited resources. Leadership said that the wellbeing of their youth was of utmost importance and they were open to other project ideas that may better meet concerns such as substance abuse and teen pregnancy, but they did not endorse the proposed project since HIV prevention was not a priority. During the discussion of the project, members of council expressed concern about the loss of their tribal language and the limited number of youth in the community learning to speak the language. The researcher still hoped to offer her expertise in children’s behavioral health, but also realized her previous proposal did not take into account the community’s present concerns. Incorporating what she had learned, a few months later the researcher presented a different project. This time the project was a comprehensive substance abuse and risky sexual behavior prevention project that focused on strengthening cultural identity. A major component of the intervention was language preservation. Tribal leadership endorsed the project and devoted tribal resources to support the program. 

Questions To Facilitate Putting Principle Into Practice:
  • How is this research going to help the community and/or individuals in addressing the community’s identified priorities (e.g., treatment/intervention, prevention, jobs, training, and equipment)?
  • Rather than going into the community and leaving once my research project is complete, am I willing to follow up with research findings that reveal barriers, inequalities or other issues negatively impacting the community by providing culturally relevant recommendations and engaging in socially responsive action at a systemic level?
  • How am I changing policies/behavior/norms in my current institution and the way I engage in research with Native American communities, now that I know the history of disrespect/abuse?