James Green (jwgreen@U.WASHINGTON.EDU)
Fri, 1 Apr 1994 12:26:44 -0800

The attached materials are of interest in the evolving debate on who will
conduct Native American research and under what terms. All responses are

Anthropology and Native Americans: SAA, AAA and Tribal Research

A recent communication from Roger Echohawk suggests that
archaeological reconstruction of the past may be improved by the research
of tribal historians. While this may be true in certain cases, the most
fundamental issue raised in these exchanges concern who will authorize,
design, fund, and otherwise control anthropological research in the United
States. It is quite possible that the tribes and not the universities and
state and federal agencies will control anthropological research with the
latter being in supportive and distinctly secondary technical and
administrative roles. It is not only anthropologists who can go to
Washington, DC to obtain laws that protect their interests. NAGPRA is
clear evidence of this. Perhaps the most interesting question is when
Native Americans will make their next move to strengthen their grip on
anthropological research in the United States.



American Indian Culture and Research Journal 17:3 (1993)

Devon A. Mihesuah

Devon Mihesuah is an assistant professor of American Indian history at
Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and is a member of the Choctaw
Nation of Oklahoma. This article is a version of a paper given at a
conference on "Contemporary Issues in Human Subjects Research: Challenges
for Today's Institutional Review Boards (I.R.B.s)," 12 February 1993, in
Tempe, Arizona.

Since contact, non-Indians have been fascinated with American
Indians, and they continue to explore almost every aspect of Indians'
cultures and physiologies. Library shelves contain vast collections of
books with American Indian themes. The majority of books and articles, in
addition to movies, television shows, and documentaries, have been written
and produced by non-Indians (some of whom attempt to pass themselves off as
Indians) who have been educated and trained to conduct research by other
non-Indians. Although most non-Indian scholars respect the peoples and
cultures they study, many do not. Intrusive research of American Indians
and publication of information that tribes do no wish disseminated to the
general public constitute a major source on interracial conflict.
Dissension between those who desire to keep their culture sheltered from
curious interlopers and those who cry academic freedom undermines the
credibility of all scholarly studies.

University tenure and promotion processes exacerbate in problem.
Most university faculty members are encouraged to pursue a wide range of
research and scholarly creative interests, many of which focus on American
Indian topics. Some researchers are intrusive in their quest for
information, others are not. Some writers are genuinely concerned about
their subjects' well-being, and they research for the Indian's welfare.
Indeed, many Indians are grateful that scholars have documented certain
aspects of their culture, and some tribes hire outsiders to conduct
research for them. Most researchers, however, use the informations for
their own gain, that is, for tenure, promotion, grants, marketability, and
prestige. Others operate under the assumption that they are the caretakers
of tribal histories and cultural knowledge. These paternalistic
encroachers claim that Indians are to witless to chronicle their own
histories or to manage their own affairs, and they assume that it is in the
Indians' best interest to publish sensitive details of tribal life. This
posturing appalls tribal historians and religious leaders who maintain that
certain aspects of tribal information should not be shared with outsiders.
The problem is that some people believe they should be exempt from any

Two examples illustrate these boorish attitudes. First, a few
years ago, a professor at an Arizona university attempted to publish
religious information about a tribe that is known to be extremely
protective of its religion. (Many tribal members believe that the
informants in the study were unaware that the informations would be
published.) Distraught, the tribal leaders hired a team of lawyers in an
attempt to block publications of the book. To date, the manuscript has not
been published, but, despite the tribe's objections, the author continues
to seek a publishing house that will accept it. Second, just last year, a
full professor of my acquaintance, upon hearing that he might be subject to
research restrictions, proclaimed that he could "study anyone and any thing
I damn well please." In the eyes of many American Indians and scholars,
these empirical perspectives not only compromise the integrity of academic
research, they also serve to alienate tribal communities from researchers
who study Indians.

Until the time comes when Indians collect data about their own
tribes and choose what information will be disseminated to the public,
researchers from outside the tribe of study should at least adhere to the
general research guidelines of their particular academic and professional
affiliations, of the Institutional Review Board (IRB), and of the federal,
state, and local governments. Investigators also should strictly adhere to
the guidelines established by tribes and to the regulations of their
funding agencies. Unfortunately, these are not always sufficient to
protect American Indians from overzealous investigators.

In April 1991, Northern Arizona University president Eugene Hughes,
upon recognizing the need for guidelines directed toward administrators,
staff, faculty, and students who conduct research on
American Indians, formed a five-member committee composed of
representatives from history, anthropology, modern language, and religious
studies. Our group was named the Native American Research Guidelines
Advisory Committee (NARGAC).1 The guidelines we established are intended
to supplement the university's regulations (such as those of the IRB) by
addressing religious, social, political, and other cultural aspects.
However, they have not been formally approved and they may never be.

Some of the ideas I mention here may infuriate those researchers
who are ardent subscribers to the imperialistic tenets of academic freedom.
But considering the long history of exploitation of Indians at the hands
of some non-Indians, it is only appropriate that research on American
Indians be monitored by universities and tribes. What follows is a
combinations of NAU's guidelines and my additional suggestions for
establishing a research guide.2

1. Only the tribes' elected political and religious leadership should
review and approve the research proposal. It is not uncommon for a
researcher to obtain permission to study a tribe from one or two
individuals, or from one tribal factions, and then claim that he or she has
"tribal consent." The problem with this strategy (besides being unethical)
is that the tribe may be divided along political, social, religious,
geographic, or class lines. Progressive and traditional elements exist in
almost every tribe. Not all members of the one tribal subscribe to the
same values, support the same tribal politicians, or live in the same area.
Many Indians know nothing about their cultures.

Because of the socioeconomic differences between member of the one tribe, a
variety of situations may arise to complicate the researcher's study. For
example, some tribal members may not be initiated in certain religious
societies and do not know enough to tell researchers factual information.
On the other hand, maverick tribal members may be inclined to reveal secret
tribal religious knowledge for monetary gain, and some individuals may
reveal private information under the assumption that the researchers will
not make the information public. It is important that researchers deal
with the tribe's leadership and not take advantage of intratribal

2. Researchers should remain sensitive to the economic, social, physical,
psychological, religious, and general welfare of the individuals and
cultures being studied. When individuals of different cultures interact,
misunderstanding often result. What may be ethical and respectful to one
group may be seen as unethical and disrespectful to another. Behaviors can
be interpreted differently. The well-published, grant-winning, aggressive
researcher seeking knowledge may be admired among academics, but among
other peoples, he or she may appear nosy, pushy, and therefore offensive.
The researcher may not understand the tribe's cultural mores, and, indeed,
he or she may believe that the Indians' culture is inferior to his or her
own. (Conversely, potential subjects may feel the same way about the
researcher's culture.) This attitude, however, should not deter the
investigator from acting with the greatest sensitivity.

Peoples of non-Euro-American traditions may not share prevailing academic
views on the gathering, distribution, or publication of cultural
information. They may not understand the need a person from one culture
has to collect data from a person of another culture of curiosity sake.
For example, many non-Indians are fixated on Indian religions, and they
intrude on ceremonies and dances with tape recorder and camera in hand,
with the belief that Indian's religions are open to scrutiny by anyone.
Some intruders want to participate in ceremonies or try to imitate them.
Witness the number of bogus medicine men and women in our country today.
Many are frauds who conduct seminars with the intention of duping the
ignorant public. Numerous books on Indian religions have been criticized
by tribes because of the unscrupulous ways information was obtained.

It also must be kept in mind that many tribes will not object to
strenuously to a topic, because their objections might reveal facts. A
potential publisher of the aforementioned religious books was confused when
tribal members argued that many parts of the book were inaccurate but would
not tell the editors why, because the religious leaders did not want the
correct information revealed.

3. Researchers who are preparing grant applications that deal with Indians
should be prepared to spend months, if not a year, to allow the subjects to
thoroughly understand every aspect of the study. The Hopi, for example,
take at least a year to consider research projects and then may not approve
them. It is not wise to write a grant application under the assumption
that the tribe will cooperate.

4. Researchers should use caution when using cameras and tape recorders.
The informants should understand clearly what the researcher plans to do
with the pictures or tapes. Many people do not take kindly to having their
pictures published without permission, and they may not want their
recorded voices deposited in an archive. Tribes can confiscate recording
devises if they are used improperly.

5. Informants should be given fair and appropriate return. This can be in
the form of money, a copy of the book, or an acknowledgement, depending on
the agreement between the investigator and the informant. Some researchers
balk at this, but considering that the writer/researcher is the one who
usually benefits from the study, fair return is just that-fair. Otherwise,
the researcher has used the informant for this or her own gain. Informants
have a right to remain anonymous, but proper credit must be given to those
who do wish to be acknowledge.

6. The anticipated consequences of the research should be communicated to
individuals and groups that will be affected.
what is likely to happen? Potential informants may not want to be involved
after hearing about the entire process, and the researcher will end up with
half a study. The researchers should inform the tribe of publishing houses
or journals that may print the results of the study.

7. Every attempt should be made to cooperate with the current host
society. An unfortunate scenario for some scholars may be that one
political party will be in power when the research proposal is approved,
but another political entity unsupportive of the project may come to power
before the project is completed. Bob Trotter, chair of the Department of
Anthropology at Northern Arizona University (NAU) and a member of NARGAC,
tells a story of a student who was almost finished with her dissertation on
a tribe in South America when a new political party-different from the one
that had given her permission to study the tribe-took command and made her
leave She had to surrender ten years worth of notes and leave what she had
written of her dissertation behind.

Obviously, not all problems can be anticipated. Written agreements may not
have the some meaning and legal exigency for all peoples. Some may agree
to the project and then turn around later and become uncooperative.
Researchers of NAU are discouraged from taking on projects with groups that
are politically unstable, because the researcher may have to abandon the

8. Physical anthropologists, archaeologists, and other researchers wishing
to desecrate Indian burials in order to study remains and funerary objects
should obtain permission to do so from tribes. The issue of desecrations
of Indian burials and sacred objects, the study of the remains and objects,
and the repatriation of these items to tribes are quite volatile and
multifaceted. Researchers should realize that the study of the past does
impact on the present, and they need to understand that activities that
some scholars see as academic study are viewed by Indians as grave robbing.

Those who study Indian remains should respect the dignity of living Indians
by not plundering graves without permission from the descendants of the
deceased. Researchers should be aware of the Native American Graves
Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which restricts the desecration
of Indian graves, and they should check state laws that bring criminal
prosecution against those who traffic in human remains.

9. Results of the study should be reviewed by the tribes' elected
representatives and religious leaders. Many researchers object to having
nonscholars critique their writing. But this step is vital. It ensures
that sensitive information remains secret and that the researcher presents
acceptable information correctly. A Ph.D. should not be viewed as a
license to obtain everything about tribal histories and culture, nor should
a researcher with a terminal degree consider himself or herself and
"expert" on Indian matters. In actuality, many Indians do know more about
the topic than the researcher, although the former may not have completed
high school. Not enough researchers ask for Indians' input; their studies
could be improved if they did.

10. Researchers must follow the guidelines for each new project. some
tribes as a whole have no problems or objections to academic research and
publication of date about their cultural heritage-but many do. Just
because a researcher had a fruitful experience with one tribe does not mean
the next tribe will welcome him or here with open arms. All tribes are
different. Where some welcome research, others view it as violating their
privacy and the sanctity of their traditions. Many tribes have indeed been
exploited. Failure to respect Indians' wishers concerning research could
hamper the plans of future researchers.

Establishing guidelines for academic research is not easy. The
five members of NARGAC spent more than a year gathering the conduct
standards and ethics statements of various disciplines. We met once a week
to share ideas and argue, to present worst-case scenarios, and to meet with
local tribal representative. Every time one person offered a comment,
someone else was ready to play devil's advocate. It is indeed inevitable
that a committee give the mandate to construct rules and regulations for
scholars who deal with Indians will encounter differences of opinion.
(Imagine the discourse between a physical anthropologist who specialized in
human paleobiology and an American Indian professor who champions the
repatriation of Indian remains.) In order to keep discussion manageable, a
guidelines committee should be small -- no more than seven people,
including Indians and non-Indians who are knowledgeable about Indian
societies and the disciplines involved. it is strongly recommended that
the committee seek advice from their institution's attorney and from local

One of the most difficult aspects of this process is establishing
grievance procedures to address those researchers not adhering to
guidelines. Most universities have developed policies to deal with
misconduct in research, such as plagiarism and fabrication of data, but
opportunistic researchers will find loopholes to slip through, and some
will take advantage of ambiguous language. Unless a wayward researcher sis
faced with an explicit set of misconduct rules and regulations, he or she
will attempt to publish sensitive and protected data without fear of

It is vital that the institution be willing to adopt the guidelines
as policy; otherwise, it is a useless endeavor to create them. The
guidelines need to be approved at every level of the institution, and every
researcher must be required to adhere to them. In that way, there will be
no exceptions to the rules. When the administration finances research
efforts for the publication of data a tribe does not want disseminated, it
is a sure thing that others will attempt to gain the same favor. After the
guidelines are approved, copies should be distributed to all faculty and
students wishing to conduct filed research on American Indians, and they
should sign a consent form stating that they have read and will adhere to
the guidelines.

Researcher should not look upon Indians as curiosities. Those who
conduct research on Indians need to ask themselves seriously why they are
doing such research. Who is benefiting? All of us in academia need tenure
and promotion, grant money, and a good professional reputation. But are
the people we study also benefiting? Professors and graduate students who
have "always been interested in Indians" must understand that Indians do
not exist just so they can acquire merit or graduate.

We need to minimalize useless research. Does the world really
need another book on the Cherokee removal process? Or another book on
Navajo religion? Maybe so if the tribes say we do, but time could be
better spent by discerning what Indians need to know and then working with
them to find that knowledge. We should encourage Indians to conduct their
own research, and that is why it is important that universities be
committed to their education.

No single set of guidelines will work in all situations. Often,
agreements must be made on a case-by-case basis. The entire focus of
establishing and following guidelines should be based on respect, dialogue,
and compromise-not on who has the right to study Indians because members of
their professions have always done so.

1 Members of the Northern Arizona University Native American Research
Guidelines Advisory Committee are Devon A. Mihesuah, chair (Department of
History); Nicholas J. Meyerhofer (Department of Modern Languages); Shirley
Powell (Department of Anthropology); Robert T. Trotter II (Department of
Anthropology); and Peter L. van der Loo (Department of Humanities and
Religious Studies).
2 Northern Arizona University's guidelines and my ideals for guidelines are
slightly different. The exact wording of the Northern Arizona University
Native American Research Guidelines Advisory Committee Document's
"Statement of Principles" (part 3, pp.2-3) is as follows:
1. Where research involves acquiring material and information that is
transferred on the assumption of trust between persons, it is axiomatic
that the rights, interests, sensitivities, and well-being of those
individuals involved in the study be safeguarded.
2. The aims of the investigations should be communicated as clearly and
with as much lead time as possible to all parties involved in the study.
3. Informants have a right to remain anonymous or to be specifically named
and acknowledge, if they so choose. The right should be respected where
it has been promised explicitly . These strictures apply to the collation
of data by means of cameras, tape recorders, and other date-gathering
devised, as well as to data collected in face-to-face interviews or in
participant observations. Those being recorded should understand the
capacities of such devices, and they should be free to reject them if they
wish; and if they accept them, the results obtained should be consonant
with the informant's right to well-being, dignity, and privacy.
4. Fair and appropriate return should be given to informants.
5. The anticipated consequences of research should be assessed and
communicated as fully as possible to the individuals and groups likely to
be affected. In the case of historic or archaeological research on
deceased populations, descendants are considered affected groups.
6. Every effort should be exerted to cooperate with members of host
society in the planning and executive of research projects. However,
because the hose society itself can be divided into opposing or competing
factions along geographical, class, political, religious, and other lines,
the investigator must apply judgement based on the general principles stted
above. Should a particular research project result in significantly
increased tribal tension and factionalism, for example, it is advisable
that said project at least temporarily be abrogated.
7. Any report, publication, film, exhibition, and other work should be
deposited with the Native elected representatives, elders, and /or
traditional leaders of the community. Every effort should be made to
ensure that representative bodies have an opportunity to review materials
that result from work undertaken in the community.
8. All the above should be acted upon in full recognition of the social
and cultural pluralism of societies. This diversity complicates
choice-making in research, but ignoring it leads to irresponsible

3 Guidelines dealing with misconduct in research include Health Research
Extension Act of 1985 (PL 99-158); the National Institutes of Health's
Interim Policies and Procedures for Dealing with Possible Misconduct in
Science (NIH Guide Special Issue 15:11, 18 July 1986); National Science
Foundation regulations (52 CFR 24466, effective 1 July 1987); and the
National Health Serv ice's Responsibilities of Awardee and Applicant
Instructions for Dealing with and reporting Possible Misconduct in Science
(54 CFR 32446, effective 8 November 1989).