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John Poupart: How to Incorporate Indian Values Into Research Methodologies

John Poupart (Chippewa), the president of the American Indian Policy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, spoke at the Collaborative Research Center for American Indian Health (CRCAIH) 2nd Annual Summit last month, highlighting the ways researchers can better encourage and facilitate the involvement of American Indians in important research.

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Poupart offered an analogy to illustrate how agencies should go about incorporating Indian values into research methodologies. 

"'How come old people don't tell us the things we need to know?' and the old man says, 'You never asked,'" Poupart said. "That's kind of the Indian way of learning. ... We have to remember that going to the source of the information is critically important to understand the Indian mind."

The Summit, hosted by the Collaborative Research Center for American Indian Health (CRCAIH), drew nearly 300 attendees to the Sanford Center in Bejmidi, Minnesota. 

"There's a lot of research being done, not all of it on health, but thankfully it is being done in health because we have such ... severe challenges in our communities," he said.

American Indians have the highest health risk factors of any racial minority, according to the CRCAIH. Cardiovascular disease is twice the rate of the general U.S. population and American Indian adults are more than two times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites, according to Indian Health Services.

"While utilizing a method deemed trustworthy by Indian people it must also have sufficient academic credibility so that its work will be understood by the majority community as well," said Poupart. "Thus AIPC (American Indian Policy Center) takes care that the design of its research program encourages involvement of Indian people and organizations in research by and about themselves. The AIPC has committed itself to retrieving and reclaiming knowledge about American Indians from the wider community where it has far too long been ill-defined. AIPC searches as much as researches." 

Poupart recommended researchers form relationships with local tribes. Researchers should also be prepared to provide their results and findings directly to the tribe, he said, reported

"I would mention just a couple of places in our United States where damage has been done with the release of information," Poupart said, specifically mentioning New Mexico, Minnesota and Alaska, "where research was done and it wasn't returned to the people for their review or commentary. Yet it was released to newspapers and news media so that Indian people had to read about those findings in the newspaper."

Reasons why Indians are unique (according to Poupart):

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--Sees the wold through a holistic lens;

--Influenced by traditional ways that are couched in oral history. Indian ways are not written;

--Tend to be "relational," e.g. would like to be communicated with personally, rather than via written, technological or media channels;

--Indians are "transformational, (non-Indians, "transactional") and recognize the value of "extended family."

What else may distinguish Indian identity?

--Indian information comes more likely from internal, rather than external sources;

--The way the Indian "sees" the world is the Indian worldview;

--The "seeing" is based on the traditional values and norms that establish the "reality" of Indian life;

--Indians possess a feature called "non-interferance;"

--"Manifest Destiny," has not always been the friend of Indians;

--Talking Circles are endemic to the Indian way of life.