Building Capacity for Productive Indigenous Community-University Partnerships

  • Joel GittelsohnEmail author
  • Annie Belcourt
  • Maya Magarati
  • Cathryn Booth-LaForce
  • Bonnie Duran
  • Shiraz I. Mishra
  • Lorenda Belone
  • Valarie Blue Bird Jernigan


This paper describes capacity development as a key aspect of community-based research with indigenous communities. University research engagement with indigenous communities includes extensive, and often negative, historical antecedents. We discuss strategies for developing effective, egalitarian, and balanced indigenous community-university relationships to build research capacity of these communities, and to create sustainable partnerships to improve health and wellness, and to reduce health disparities. We draw on the experience of eight investigators conducting research with indigenous communities to assess effective strategies for building and enhancing partnerships, including (1) supporting indigenous investigator development; (2) developing university policies and practices sensitive and responsive to Indigenous community settings and resources, and training for research; (3) developing community and scientifically acceptable research designs and practices; (4) aligning indigenous community and university review boards to enhance community as well as individual protection (e.g., new human subjects training for Indigenous research, joint research oversight, adaptation of shorter consent forms, appropriate incentives, etc.); (5) determining appropriate forms of dissemination (i.e., Indian Health Services provider presentation, community reports, digital stories, etc.); (6) best practices for sharing credit; and (7) reducing systematic discrimination in promotion and tenure of indigenous investigators and allies working in indigenous communities.


Research capacity Indigenous Tribal-academic partnerships Collaboration 



The authors would like to thank the many indigenous communities that have been interested and engaged partners in the IRINAH studies.


Funding support for the studies described was received from the National Cancer Institute (# R01CA192967 MPI: Mishra/English), the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (R01HL122150 PI: Gittelsohn) (R01HL771129 PI: Jernigan; R01HL126578 PI: Jernigan), the National Institute of Minority Health Disparities (R01MD011266 PI: Jernigan), the National Institute of Nursing Research (R01NR014153 MPI: Booth-LaForce/Buchwald/Oxford), the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (R01ES02258303 MPI: Noonan/Ward/Belcourt), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (R01AA022068 PI: Duran), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (5R01DA037174-05 PI: Belone/Wallerstein).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All studies received Indigenous community, tribal colleges and universities, Indian Health Services, and university approvals, and their funding NIH institute’s Certificate of Confidentiality as appropriate.

Informed Consent

All studies collected informed consent on participants as designated by their respective IRBs.

Supplementary material

11121_2018_949_MOESM1_ESM.docx (15 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 15 kb)


  1. Belone, L., Tosa, J., Shendo, K., Toya, A., Straits, K., Tafoya, G., & Wallerstein, N. (2016). Community-based participatory research for co-creating interventions with Native communities: A partnership between the University of New Mexico and the Pueblo of Jemez. In N. Zane, G. Bernal, & F. T. L. Leong (Eds.), Evidence-based psychological practice with ethnic minorities: Culturally informed research and clinical strategies (pp. 199–220). Baltimore: United Book Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Belone, L., Orosco, A., Damon, E., Smith-McNeal, W., Rae, R., Sherpa, M. L., et al. (2017). The piloting of a culturally centered American Indian family prevention program: A CBPR partnership between Mescalero Apache and the University of New Mexico. Public Health Reviews, 38, 1–3. Scholar
  3. Belone, L., Griffith, D. M., & Baquero, B. (2018). Academic positions for faculty of color: Combining calling, service, and research. In N. Wallerstein, B. Duran, J. Oetzel, & M. Minkler (Eds.), Community-based participatory research for health: Advancing social and health equity (Third ed., pp. 265–271). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  4. Blackshear, E., Nelson, C., Van Dyke, E., Echo-Hawk, A., Bassett, D., & Buchwald, D. (2016). Conversations about community-based participatory research and trust: “We are explorers together”. Progress in Community Health Partnerships, 10, 305–309. Scholar
  5. Brandenburger, S. J., Wells, K., & Stluka, S. (2016). Utilizing talking circles as a means of gathering American Indian stories for developing a nutrition and physical activity curriculum. Health Education & Behavior.Google Scholar
  6. Cochran, P. A. L., Marshall, C. A., Garcia-Downing, C., Kendall, E., Cook, D., McCubbin, L., & Gover, R. M. S. (2008). Indigenous ways of knowing: Implications for participatory research and community. American Journal of Public Health, 98, 22–27. Scholar
  7. Crump, A. D., Etz, K., Arroyo, J. A., Hemberger, N., & Srinivasan, S. (2017). Accelerating and strengthening Native American health research through a collaborative initiative. Prevention Science.
  8. Fleischhacker, S., Vu, M., Ries, A., & McPhail, A. (2011). Engaging tribal leaders in an American Indian healthy eating project through modified talking circles. Family & Community Health, 34, 202–210. Scholar
  9. Gittelsohn, J., Evans, M., Story, M., Davis, S. M., Metcalfe, L., Helitzer, D. L., & Clay, T. (1999). Multi-site formative research to prevent obesity in American Indian school children. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 69, s767–s772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gittelsohn, J., Steckler, A., Johnson, C. C., Pratt, C., Grieser, M., Pickrel, J., et al. (2006). Formative research in school and community-based health programs and studies: “State of the art” and the TAAG approach. Health Education & Behavior, 33, 25–39. Scholar
  11. Gittelsohn, J., Roache, C., Kratzmann, M., Reid, R., Ogina, J., & Sharma, S. (2010). Participatory research for chronic disease prevention in Inuit communities. American Journal of Health Behavior, 34, 453–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gittelsohn, J., Jock, B., Redmond, L., Fleischhacker, S., Eckmann, T., Bleich, S. N., & Caballero, B. (2017). OPREVENT2: Design of a multi-institutional intervention for obesity prevention and control for American Indian adults. BMC Public Health, 17, 105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Jernigan, V., Salvatore, A., Styne, D. M., & Winkleby, M. (2012). Addressing food insecurity in a Native American reservation using community-based participatory research. Health Education Research, 27, 645–655. Scholar
  14. Jernigan, V. B. B., Burkhart, M., Magdalena, C., Sibley, C., & Yepa, K. (2014). The implementation of a participatory manuscript development process with Native American tribal awardees as part of the CDC Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative: Challenges and opportunities. Preventive Medicine, 67, s51–s57. Scholar
  15. Jernigan, V. B. B., Jacob, T., & Styne, D. (2015a). The adaptation and implementation of a community-based participatory research curriculum to build tribal research capacity. American Journal of Public Health, 105, s424–s432. Scholar
  16. Jernigan, V. B. B., Peercy, M., Branam, D., Saunkeah, B., Wharton, D., Winkleby, M., et al. (2015b). Beyond health equity: Achieving wellness within American Indian and Alaska Native communities. American Journal of Public Health, 105, S376–S379. Scholar
  17. Jernigan, V. B., Wetherill, M., Hearod, J., Jacob, T., Salvatore, A. L., Cannady, T., et al. (2017). Food insecurity and chronic diseases among rural American Indians: The THRIVE study. American Journal of Public Health, 107, 441–446. Scholar
  18. Kelley, A., Belcourt-Dittloff, A., Belcourt, C., & Belcourt, G. (2013). Research ethics and indigenous communities. American Journal of Public Health, 103, 2146–2152. Scholar
  19. Lane-Fall, M. B., Miano, T. A., Aysola, J., & Augoustides, J. G. T. (2017). Diversity in emerging critical care workforce: Analysis of demographic trends in critical care fellows from 2004-2014. Critical Care Medicine, 45, 822–827. Scholar
  20. Lee, E. T., Welty, T. K., Fabsitz, R., Cowan, L. D., Le, N. A., Oopik, A. J., et al. (1990). The Strong Heart Study A study of cardiovascular disease in American Indians: design and methods. American Journal of Epidemiology, 132, 1141–1155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Manson, S. M., Goins, R. T., & Buchwald, D. S. (2006). The Native investigator development program: Increasing the presence of American Indian and Alaska Native scientists in aging-related research. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 25, s105–s130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Morton, D. J., Proudfit, J., Calac, D., Portillo, M., Lofton-Fitzsimmons, G., Molina, T., et al. (2013). Creating research capacity through a tribally based institutional review board. American Journal of Public Health, 103, 2160–2164. Scholar
  23. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of General Medical Sciences. (2016). Native Am Research Centers for Health.
  24. Satter, D. E., Randall, L. L., & Solomon, T. G. A. (2014). The complexity of American Indian and Alaska Native health and health research: Historical, social, and political implications for research. In T. Lucas (Ed.), Conducting Health Research with Native American Communities (pp. 1–22). Washington DC: American Public Health Association.Google Scholar
  25. Simonds, V. A., & Christopher, S. (2013). Adapting Western research methods to indigenous ways of knowing. American Journal of Public Health, 103, 2185–2192. Scholar
  26. Teshia G. Arambula Solomon, and Leslie L. Randall (2014). Conducting Health Research with Native American Communities, published online: December 12, 2014 by the American Public Health Association.Google Scholar
  27. Thomas, L. R., Rosa, C., Forcehimes, A., & Donovan, D. M. (2011). Research partnerships between academic institutions and American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and organizations: Effective strategies and lessons learned in a multisite CTN study. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 37, 333–338. Scholar

Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel Gittelsohn
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Annie Belcourt
    • 3
  • Maya Magarati
    • 4
  • Cathryn Booth-LaForce
    • 5
  • Bonnie Duran
    • 4
  • Shiraz I. Mishra
    • 6
  • Lorenda Belone
    • 7
  • Valarie Blue Bird Jernigan
    • 8
  1. 1.Department of International HealthJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Department of International Health, Center for Human NutritionJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Department of Pharmacy PracticeUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA
  4. 4.School of Social Work, Indigenous Wellness Research InstituteUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  5. 5.Family & Child Nursing DepartmentUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  6. 6.Department of PediatricsUniversity of New Mexico Health Sciences CenterAlbuquerqueUSA
  7. 7.College of EducationThe University of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  8. 8.College of Public HealthUniversity of Oklahoma Health Sciences CenterTulsaUSA

Personalised recommendations