[Content adapted, with permission, from the Institutional Review Board of the University of Montana]
Self-Reflection and Cultural Humility
Honor Community Time Frames
Build on Strengths
Co-Learning and Ownership
Transparency and Accountability
Alaska is home to 229 federally recognized Alaskan villages or tribal entities as of August 2018. 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 area that falls under their legal sovereign right.
As a research university, the University of Alaska Fairbanks often collaborates with indigenous people in the role of research participants. All UAF employees and students doing research with human participants must follow requirements per UAF’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 with their respective peoples. When UAF undertakes activities affecting Alaska Native 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.
The UAF project director or principal investigator (PI) must work closely with the UAF IRB and secure IRB approval. The UAF IRB may conduct a review at the tribe’s request. Final approval from the UAF IRB must be received before any research is conducted. If the research does not involve human participants, collective written permission by the tribal governing body may be adequate. Consult with the UAF IRB to determine appropriate documentation. When planning projects, UAF 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 three months.
All UAF 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.
- 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).
Typically initiated by the Tribe, an MOU may be written in addition to IRB review. 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 UAF, whether verbal or written, and the level of detail required
- an expectation that the UAF PI will conduct presentations to interested tribal entities to inform the community of project findings and to garner feedback and suggestions
- procedures for UAF 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.
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. Due to differences in law, including but not limited to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), the term ‘Alaska Native’ signifies the ethnic, cultural, and historical differences between the indigenous peoples of Alaska and those of the Lower-48 states and Hawai’i, and this is the preferred referent in Alaska.
The collective tribal governing body is the recognized, official Tribal Council or Tribal Government of a village (though this term may vary locally). 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 and traditions vary greatly between Alaska Native communities. Alaska Native individuals and communities also vary in adherence to their cultures of origin and to Western cultural values and beliefs. For many Alaska Native people, spirituality and religion are generally perceived as an integral aspect of culture. Spirituality also takes on many forms within Alaska Native communities, from use of traditional Indigenous practices to Christian beliefs.
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 is expected.
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 Alaska Native community could refer to an entire tribe, an entire village, smaller groups within the tribe, an urban Native community composed of individuals from different tribes, or the larger American Indian/Alaska Native community within a city, state, country, or the globe.
Researchers are expected to undertake 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 making 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.
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.
An individual who is not a member of the Indigenous peoples of a federally recognize or non-federally recognized American Indian tribe is considered to be non-Native. We recognize the diverse histories of researchers of different backgrounds. We have selected this general term to increase the applicability of this document to researchers of all ethnicities not of Native American (Alaska Native) descent or heritage. This encourages the reader to consider differences in historical experiences, assumptions and stereotypes.
The Principal Investigator is responsible for designing, conducting and reporting on objective research funded through an independent grant. They 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 UAF departments and central administration personnel to assure research is conducted in accordance with Federal regulations and University and sponsoring agency policies and procedures.
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.
“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.
When collaborating with Alaska Native communities, the following eleven guiding principles are of equal importance. Following an explanation of each principle is a vignette to demonstrate the principle and questions to elicit discussion and reflection.
- Native centered means that Alaska Native communities and people are the driving force of the research.
- Native knowledge is at the heart of the research endeavor and Alaska Native people are the leaders and voice. “Nothing about us without us.”
- Research activity and action are centered on issues that are central to the Alaska Native community, not the research center, sponsoring institution, or agency. Unite with Alaska Native people to assist in achieving their visions and goals.
Researchers invested many hours with an Alaska Native 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.
- Am I working to achieve my own 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 Alaska Native community the time, resources, and expertise needed to meet their expectations?
- Treat all individuals and communities participating in research with respect. Remember, it is an honor to work with Alaska Native 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 Alaska Native 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.
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 might 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.”
- Am I aware of the protocols within a particular Alaska Native 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 Alaska Native 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.?
- Be mindful of one’s own cultural and class biases and how these biases can affect researcher interactions in Alaska Native 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 Alaska Native community members have wisdom, knowledge, expertise, and experience that are relevant to their community and to our efforts as investigators.
- An individual cannot master cultural competence for all Alaska Native cultures or tribes. Believing that one has attained “cultural competence” when working with Alaska Native communities can lead to reliance on faulty assumptions and stereotypes, and undermine the research.
An Alaska Native 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.
- 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?
- 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.
A local provider was asked to assist a rural Alaska Native 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, 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.
- How am I demonstrating that I am fully present with this person/community?
- Am I an active participant in interactions and interpersonal moments that show my sincerity in assisting the community?
- Am I willing to commit to working through challenges that will inevitably arise, 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?
- 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’ time frame. 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.
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 activities, funerals, school functions, 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.
- 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 the project into its own Native worldview?
- 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.
A new researcher was excited to begin a project in an Alaska Native 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 had the researcher balanced out his meeting by bringing forth some positive qualities inherent in this community.
- 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 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 Alaska Native 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.
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.
- 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?
- 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 ongoing basis.
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 between the community and the researcher, in order for local decision-making to occur and project goals/requirements to be met.
- 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?
- 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.
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 seemingly small detail. Although the information on the website by 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 to remedy the situation.
- Have I clearly deﬁned what my position as a researcher entails? Have I clearly communicated what my institution can and cannot agree to or 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.?
- 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 Alaska Native 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 each member of the community have the right to say no to any part of or the entire research project.
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.
- 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?
- 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.
A researcher came before tribal leadership to present an HIV prevention project that she wanted to begin at a school-based clinic in the village. 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.
- 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 Alaska Native communities, now that I know the history of disrespect/abuse?
As a research institution, the University of Alaska Fairbanks has far-reaching potential to collaborate with and conduct research, outreach, and instructional activities with a variety of indigenous peoples, including the recognized Alaska Native Tribes located within the State of Alaska.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks recognizes that property for indigenous people may have intangible, spiritual manifestations and that it, along with knowledge and traditional resources (such as plants, animals, and other material objects with sacred, ceremonial, heritage, or aesthetic qualities), are central to the maintenance of identity for indigenous people.
Any research conducted with indigenous people or on sovereign tribal land comes under the indigenous people’s individual governing authority. UAF involvement must comply with all applicable tribal, federal, state, and university regulations, policies, and procedures.
Here are just a few of the tribal councils in the state of Alaska. Researchers are required to reach out to the community they wish to work with and make contact with the relevant tribal authority there.
- Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments (CATG)
- Kawerak Inc.
- Knik Tribal Council
- Tanana Chiefs Conference
- Many tribal health organizations can be found here: https://www.ihs.gov/alaska/tribalhealthorganizations/