Rebuilding Trust with Native American Communities and Research Projects

The Hopi Reservation is made-up of 13 formal villages in Northeastern Arizona, spanning over 1.5 million acres. The Hopi Environmental Health Project (HEHP) assesses participant health and their surrounding environment. At the beginning of the project participants were concerned they would not receive results after the completion of the project. Many Native American communities, including the Hopi Tribe, are hesitant to participate in research projects due to past conflicts. In serving as a researcher on this project, I hoped to help rebuild trust between the Hopi community and scientists.

Throughout the HEHP, I collected samples on the reservation, processed those samples in the lab, developed templates, and returned individual participant results.  While delivering individual participant results, I made note of reactions and expressions. I ensured each participant understood the real-time results before moving on to the next piece of information. Each participant expressed interest, concern, and appreciation in both the health and environmental assessment results. Interacting with household participants was an amazing experience, as I could see the project was making a difference in the Hopi Community. After completing each evaluation, I was usually offered lunch or a cup of coffee then participants would ask me about my career goals.

I and other Hopi Technicians spent about two hours at each home returning results. Following each home visit, I and the participant independently completed an evaluation. Participants were specifically asked about the information they valued most, the clarity of presentation (71% indicated everything was clear), whether they would like additional information (50%), what to change (85% reported “nothing”) and whether they would be willing to participate in another study (100%).  15% of participants recommended one single change, which has been implemented.  Throughout this process, I was able to gain the trust and engagement from each participant.  I was not only able to understand the researcher’s perspective, but also the participant’s perspective, as my grandparents reside on the Hopi Reservation.  Rebuilding trust with Native Communities and research involves communicating, returning results, respecting cultural values/beliefs, and understanding government policies.