At IWRI, our partnerships not only form the cornerstone of our research approach, they provide personally meaningful grounding in the work that we do. Many of us are able to maintain links to our own indigenous identities by stepping outside of the university to collaborate with our tribal partners. The partnerships and friendships we have with individuals of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation have roots that go back many years before IWRI was founded in 2007. Drs. Allison Boyd-Ball (Colville) and Tom Ball (Modoc) first met IWRI’s Director, Karina Walters, in the 1990s when former President Clinton issued an executive order for federal agencies to engage in Tribal Consultation; Tom and Karina were both called to serve on a National Institutes of Health tribal research taskforce. IWRI faculty member Bonnie Duran met Allison and Tom not long after that through a Native-focused research conference. The work and friendships among Allison, Tom, Karina, and Bonnie have continuously intersected throughout the years through their roles as preeminent scholars in Native health research and through deep involvement in their cultural communities.
IWRI has also been home to several employees and students who are Colville tribal members or of Colville descent. A few years ago, a more formal partnership also took root with the tribe when Drs. Maya Magarati (indigenous Magar Nepali) and Myra Parker (Mandan/Hidatsa) were approached by Frank Andrews to consult with the Colville Community Health Action Committee to conduct a needs assessment. After positive experiences on both sides, Myra and Maya continued to work with the tribe on grant writing and evaluation projects. Maya shared that one of the most powerful aspects of the partnership has been the fact that it was initiated and continues to be led by the tribe. The tribe provides the parameters in which the work is done, and she and Myra have great respect and honor for that process. It was around the time that Maya and Myra were starting to help Frank with grant writing and evaluation that Allison and Tom moved from the University of Oregon back to Allison’s homeland on the Colville Reservation to pursue tribally-driven research and behavioral health leadership. With this came an opportunity for IWRI to strengthen existing partnerships not only with Tom and Allison, but also with the Colville Tribe itself.
IWRI has really great students, and does a really great job preparing them and helping them all through their schooling. We’re interested in the things they do, and replicating or building on that for working with our students as our NARCH develops. –Tom Ball
Having known Allison through Karina and Bonnie, Myra approached her about further opportunities to work together, and it was decided that they would jointly apply for a Native American Research Centers for Health grant. As a result of what can only be described as an enriching and exciting grant writing process—Frank drove all over the huge Colville Reservation to gather Tribal Council signatures only to then drive to Seattle to deliver the fully signed Letter of Support (and squeeze in a Mariner’s baseball game)—a truly unique and mutually respectful partnership emerged. When I interviewed Tom, Myra, and Maya for this article, I was struck by two things: First, the similarities between what everyone described as the highlights of the partnership, and second, the high regard they all hold for one another. When asked what the most meaningful outcomes of the partnership have been, Myra said, “The big thing has been watching the relationship evolve over time. Different, new players have come into the picture, but it’s always been such a positive experience for me and for IWRI to continue to have such a great working relationship with one of the largest tribes in Washington State and with a tribe that’s really committed to improving health outcomes for people in their community at all levels. For me personally, I’ve met some really amazing, brilliant people who really care about their community, and it helps me stay grounded as an indigenous researcher within the high-pressure environment of academia. When I go out and work with folks there, I remember what we’re really doing and why we’re doing it. It’s an important partnership for me and I’m grateful we’ve gotten to see it grow.” Tom, in turn, told me that he and everyone else working in Colville planning and research are looking forward to a long-term relationship with Myra and Maya as well as continuing to interact with IWRI students, faculty, and staff.
By Teresa (Tess) Abrahamson-Richards (Spokane/Colville/Coeur d’Alene), MPH