The day we have all been waiting for has finally come! The 2018 Population Health Research Summit kicked off a little later than expected. Our first speaker was the poignant Abigail Echo-Hawk. Abigail is the director of the Urban Indian Health Institute and my new best friend (I hope she likes the best friend necklace I got her). Her talk was a beautiful story filled with rich narratives of how she got to where she is today. She began with an introduction and background of her family, sprinkling pictures of herself and her family throughout the presentation. She spoke warmly of the land she was on and has been on. Abigail grew up in Alaska and attended college at the University of Washington, and I related very much with her story about finally getting health insurance and no longer needing to depend on I.H.S. because I had a major culture shock when I moved away from my home and could no longer utilize I.H.S. but had to use the clinic in my college town. I felt lost and had no idea you had to pay for medicine!
When Abigail began her research journey, she conducted focus groups with elders. In doing these focus groups, she followed all the procedures of the focus group but found it was hard to bridge the gap between what the elders knew and showing it in numbers and I think many Native researchers struggle with this when they conduct research. Next, she gave some insight on scientific rigor and cultural rigor. Cultural rigor may be new to some of you; I know I had never heard much about it until recently. In short, cultural rigor is our way of incorporating local cultural protocol into our work. Scientific and cultural rigor do not have to contradict each other, though, even though it may seem that way.
Sometimes when things are easy (i.e. research), it may cause damage to the things surrounding it. This occasionally happens when research is done in Indian Country; researchers will take the easy way around their projects, putting their subjects at risk. As soon, as I typed that last sentence, Abigail said that actually calls research participants "storytellers of health" rather than human subjects. I like that. People who take part in our research are storytellers of health and everything they share with researchers, tells a beautiful story about themselves, their communities, and their land.
She left us with some questions that I think we all need to consider. What if we all did research because we loved our people? That is something many Native researchers struggle with; traditional, Western science tells us to not look at our research participants as people but as data and, as Natives, it's hard to do that. I love my people and that's why I do research. I think that everything Abigail says speaks to my heart. She talked to us a little about generosity. When we do research, what are we giving back? Researchers should think about this concept; if you are a researcher, are you doing it to get something or are you actively working to give back to the community that you are working with?
By: Michaela Seiber, MPH