Tribes Have Say In Research About Them With Executive Policy 41

A new policy at Washington State University is breaking ground for its requirement that the university consult, and gain consent from tribal groups impacted by university research, infrastructure projects and other activities that affect them.

The policy was crafted over a period of two years with the help of WSU’s Native American Advisory Board, said  Zoe Higheagle Strong, WSU executive director of tribal relations. The policy also applies to oral histories, which have not always been subject to similar review processes.

A major focus for Executive Policy 41, which was implemented in October, is university research that includes the non-accidental participation of tribal members, and the use of biological material in which an individual’s affiliation is disclosed or conclusions about the tribe may be made.

The policy provides that affected tribes may block publication of research, or insert a rebuttal statement, if they believe the people, language, culture or other aspects of the tribe are being misrepresented.

Though tribes retain that right to block publication, the correct implementation of the policy should ensure that’s never needed, Higheagle Strong said.

“If I’m learning another culture or another field, I inquire from those experts, I build relationships. That’s how I go about learning,” she said. “Your whole doctorate program is learning from a mentor. So it should be no different with with tribal communities”

Because tribal communities have been harmed by some research in the past, Higheagle Strong says building trust in the community that’s affected is an important part of the research process.

The policy applies to any research in which WSU is the lead, said Ken Lokensgard, assistant director of the center for Native American research and collaboration.

“You may be doing some collaborative work with another university. If you’re not the lead, then you’re not required to follow this,” he said. “However, you might still think of this policy as a set of best practices. If the university you’re collaborating with has the lead, if they are not following these practices, then you might want to ask yourself whether you want to be involved or not.”

EP 41 also creates a better learning environment for the Native students who attend the university, Higheagle Strong says. Often courses on Native history are developed by non-Native people, and at times can lack a tribal perspective or even spread misinformation.

“I think it’s going to help reduce the misinformation, and it will allow our courses to better reflect our tribal people,” she said. “I think the students will feel more of a sense of belonging, they’ll feel like they have ownership in it, they can know that hopefully, they see people’s names on syllabuses, you know, thanking those who consulted so that they see that there’s, you know, stronger representation.”