APHA book details need, approaches to research in US Native communities – by Natalie McGil*

Leslie RandallIt has been nearly two decades since Leslie Randall, RN, MPH, participated in a research project measuring the infant mortality rate among American Indian tribes in South Dakota. Yet she said residents still remember her and her fellow researchers. “When I go back I’m constantly surprised that people still remember, even after all these years,” said Randall, who is now a doctoral nursing student at Washington State University.”They still remember, and they appreciate the information that they got back because that was one of the things they made sure they did.”

The trust built among researchers and American Indian and Alaska Native populations is one of many topics Randall and Teshia Arambula Solomon, PhD, cover as editors of “Conducting Health Research with Native American Communities,” available for purchase this month at www.aphabookstore.org.

The book was born out of an educational session on research and Native populations held at APHA’s 129th Annual Meeting and Exposition in Atlanta in 2001, said Solomon, director of the Native American Research and Training Center at the University of Arizona, who is also an associate professor within the university’s Department of Family and Community Medicine.

Twelve chapters span topics such as the need for cultural sensitivity, an overview of epidemiology in research on Native populations and approaches to study design and community- based participatory research in Native communities. Research and public health interventions in Native populations are important because of the disproportionate levels of chronic disease and infant mortality in the populations.

The book begins with a history of the struggles of Native populations, whose trust in the medical research community may waver. Some past studies did not consider their needs, traditions and challenges of specific communities and ultimately did not benefit participants, the book notes.

The editors cite an example of 50 years of diabetes research done on the Pima people in Arizona. Although the research was valuable in developing drugs to treat kidney disease, diabetes rates in Native communities continue to remain high, ranking the fourth leading cause of death, according to 2009 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

“Everyone that’s written a chapter in this book has advocated that instead of just having people come in and do stuff to you, actively say, ‘These are our terms. This is how you can come in’ but work in a partnership with people who are culturally safe, culturally sensitive, who believe that doing research is not just to benefit themselves but to benefit the community,” said Solomon, a member of the Choctaw Nation.

Solomon said positive shifts seen in research on other racial and ethnic populations are not taking place in Native communities. Such gaps may exist because of a lack of resources to analyze data or because researchers are not asking communities the right questions, she said.

Solomon said she recommends the book to people teaching courses in research methods for special populations and for students who want to work with Native populations, as well as for people who conduct health programs in tribal or urban communities. Randall, a member of the Nez Perce tribe, said the book would also be a resource for grant writers from federal, state and non-governmental organizations.

*McGil, N. (2014). APBA book details need, approaches to research in US Native communities. Nation’s Health, 44(2), 2.