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Perspectives on Conducting Research in Indian Country

Jones, Emily J.; Haozous, Emily; Larsson, Laura S.; Moss, Margaret P.

doi: 10.1097/NNR.0000000000000379

Background Certain research principles, framed within an indigenous context, are helpful guideposts to practice ethical, relevant, and sensitive inquiries. It is essential to further adapt research approaches based on the unique geographical, sociopolitical, and cultural attributes of partnering tribal communities. These adaptations are largely shaped by trial and error.

Objectives The purpose of this article is to offer the prospective novice nurse researcher lessons that we learned when entering Indian country to conduct research for the first time. As indigenous and nonindigenous researchers, we are not seeking to set down a methodology but rather offer a list of processes, environments, timelines, and barriers that we never learned in didactic, seminar, clinical, practicum, or any other academic setting.

Methods We organized a set of memories and thoughts through a series of semistructured iterative sessions specific to our first encounters as researchers in Indian country. We compiled our written responses and field notes from our dialogue, interpreted these data, and organized them into themes. We have reported what we felt would be the most surprising, frequent, or important information to note.

Results We identified three overarching themes in our collective experience: orientation and negotiation, situating ourselves and our work, and navigating our way. Subthemes included perceiving ourselves as outsiders, negotiating distance and time realities, relying on the goodness of gatekeepers, shaping research questions per community priorities, honing our cross-cultural and intercultural communication skills, discovering the many layers of tribal approval processes, and developing sensibilities and intuition.

Discussion Our previous experiences as novices leading research projects in Indian country have produced unique sensibilities that may serve to guide nurse researchers who seek to partner with tribal communities.

Emily J. Jones, PhD, RNC-OB, is Associate Professor, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts Boston.

Emily Haozous, PhD, RN, FAAN, is Senior Research Scientist, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Behavioral Health Research Center of the Southwest, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Laura S. Larsson, PhD, RN, is Associate Professor, Montana State University, College of Nursing, Bozeman.

Margaret P. Moss, PhD, JD, RN, FAAN, is Associate Professor, University of British Columbia, School of Nursing, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Accepted for publication February 24, 2019.

The time needed to prepare this article was supported primarily by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars Program (Jones, PI, ID# 72116), and the Montana Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence of the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health Award Number 5P20RR016455-1 and National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health Award Number 8 P20 GM103474-11. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Corresponding author: Emily J. Jones, PhD, RNC-OB, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts Boston, 100 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125 (e-mail:

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