Engaged scholarship with tribal communities

Michelle Sarche, Douglas Novins, Annie Belcourt-Dittloff

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

8 Scopus citations


American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) tribal communities have long been the subject of intense interest by outside groups. Like indigenous people around the world, they have been observed, named, and evaluated by outsiders since the time of first contact (Smith, 1999). Academic scholars representing the gamut of Western scientific disciplines are included among those interested in tribal culture, life, health, and development. The research that this interest has generated has led to the perception among AIAN people that they are among the most researched groups in the United States (Burhansstipanov, Christopher, & Schumacher, 2005; Sahota, 2007); given the small percentage of the general population that they represent, this perception is likely well-grounded. Unfortunately, AIAN communities have not always been well-served by this research-whether because they have received little apparent benefit, or because they have been overtly harmed by the research that has been conducted in their communities (Beals, Manson, Mitchell, Spicer, & AISUPERPFP-Team, 2003; Norton & Manson, 1996). In response, tribes have become increasingly wary of research, casting a critical eye upon the enterprise as a whole. As Smith writes, "Indigenous peoples have been, in many ways, oppressed by theory. Any consideration of the ways our origins have been examined, our histories recounted, our arts analyzed, our cultures dissected, measured, torn apart and distorted back to us will suggest that theories have not looked sympathetically or ethically at us" (Smith, 1999, p. 38). Despite these experiences, AIAN communities acknowledge that research, with the appropriate protections, is a (potentially) powerful tool to address the pervasive health disparities AIAN people experience (Bird, 2002; Harris, 2002; Roubideaux, 2002); as a result, there is arguably no community more receptive to the concept of engaged scholarship and participatory research than tribal communities (Burhansstipanov et al., 2005). Indeed, engaged scholarship is at the core of the research process that tribes, as uniquely sovereign entities, require (National Congress of American Indians, 2005). In this chapter, we focus on engaged scholarship as it relates to research in tribal communities. Our goals are to describe the tribal context in which research occurs; review existing models of research engagement with tribes; offer a set of guiding principles, extracted from the current literature, as well as our own experiences, for working with tribal communities to conduct meaningful research; and identify next steps for deepening the engaged relationship between universities and tribal communities.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Engaged Scholarship
PublisherMichigan State University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9780870139741
StatePublished - 2010


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