While performing your research, it is important to think critically about the history of scientific research that has been done with Native American communities. Particularly, researchers have gone into these communities promising to use DNA samples for one type of research that would benefit the community, and then end up sharing the samples with outside researchers without the community’s permission. This is harmful to the Native community and results in negative conclusions that lead to negative perceptions. Read more about this harmful research on the following tribes:
When conducting research, think about how the research was collected and how it benefits the community that it’s about. If you can’t see any benefit to the community, this is probably not the research you want to be using. Some tribes call this “helicopter research”: the researcher comes in with only an external entity’s benefits in mind, never returning the benefits back to the Native community.
Throughout the United States, researchers need to get Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval from their own institutions before conducting research that will be widely distributed afterward. The purpose of an IRB is to protect the rights, privacy, and welfare of these people who participate in the research and most IRB-approved research involves human subjects. Most IRB-approved research involves human subjects. Research that does not meet certain guidelines regarding human interaction does not have to be approved by an IRB.
Many tribes also have their own IRBs or utilize the Indian Health Service’s IRBs, which must approve any outside research that involves Native peoples. There are currently approximately 28 IRBs serving tribal nations that are registered with the Office of Human Research Protection. Tribal IRBs differ from institutional IRBs because they consider any activity involving histories, intellectual property, or the participation of community members as human subject research, even if it does not meet the federal definition of human subject research.
These tribal IRBs are critical in preserving and protecting Native knowledge and lifeways from outside researchers who may not have regard for the sanctity of certain histories, ceremonies, or other ways of knowing. They also protect Native peoples from what we already referred to as “helicopter research” that has no benefit to the community and all the benefits to the researcher.
Washington State is home to 29 federally recognized tribes and 7 that are not federally recognized.
Photograph shows a Native American man, seated on a dugout canoe, Celilo, Columbia River, Oregon, 1897