Tribal communities often are highly distrustful of research due to experiences with unethical practices, stereotyping, discrimination, stigmatization, failure to share benefits from research with their communities, and lack of respect for culture and beliefs. This pocket guide provides information on tribal sovereignty and appropriate steps prevention specialists and researchers should take when working with tribal communities.
Western-based research unfortunately has some major scandals in its history (the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study, and, more recently, the ASU-Havasupai DNA scandal), which have deepened Indigenous distrust of outsiders. Western-based research methods also often disregard Indigenous traditions, values, and ways of knowing. For example, the principles of the 1978 Belmont Report on ethical human subject research focus on individuals rather than communities. Likewise, a typical academic Institutional Review Board does not consider interviews with community members to qualify as “human subject research” and therefore may not require informed consent. But many Native communities expect to know exactly what such interviews are intended to reveal, how the information will be used, how it will benefit their community, and how their community will be protected from harm – all elements of informed consent.
In short, conducting research in Indigenous communities is not the same as conducting research anywhere else. This document is intended as a broad guide for researchers and Indigenous communities to help them understand some of the complexities they may encounter and elements they must consider when approaching research with Native populations. It is our hope that this guide will help researchers and the Indigenous communities they work with to avoid common pitfalls, improve their relationships, and strengthen the value of their research efforts.