News & Events


August 31, 2018

Innovative Native American health study grounded in community participation

Innovative Native American health study grounded in community participation

Reprinted with permission from the UW School of Social Work News – First published on February 26, 2018

For decades, research on health issues in Native American communities has typically taken the form of medical surveillance. But Native people “are tired of being pathologized,” says Bonnie Duran, who directs the Center for Indigenous Health Research at the School of Social Work’s Indigenous Wellness Research Institute (IWRI). Duran is a leading practitioner of a more culturally empowering approach called community-based participatory research.

CBPR is grounded in the notion of community strengths and how to build on them. It is exemplified by a major new study conducted by Duran and her colleagues into why tribal colleges and universities have lower rates of alcohol use than tribal populations as a whole and whether simple interventions—including low-cost screenings and behavioral communications—can reduce alcohol use among students and improve academic outcomes.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Tribal Colleges and Universities Behavior Wellness Study is surveying a random sampling of students at 22 tribal colleges and universities, “the biggest health study ever done in Indian country,” according to Duran.

The study tests a culturally adapted version of an intervention called BASICS—Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students—that has yielded positive results in mainstream colleges. BASICS represents a shift away from zero-tolerance policies toward alcohol use and integrates behavioral health resources.

The participatory aspects of the study include involving tribal members in planning and implementing the study, interpreting the data, and disseminating the results. All of the data will belong to the tribes, and the researchers—all of whom are indigenous people—will create opportunities for the tribes to use the data for advocacy and grant-seeking efforts.

The new study asks students how they perceive underage drinking and other problem drinking and drug use as well as risk factors and protective factors such as age, gender and spirituality.

As Duran and Nina Wallerstein of the University of New Mexico write in the 2018 edition of Community-Based Participatory Research for Health(which they co-edited with two colleagues): “Community and scientific leaders and workers and patients from many disenfranchised groups have begun to demand that research show greater sensitivity to communities’ perceptions, needs, and unique circumstances, bringing new attention to the meaning of relationships, codes of conduct, trust, and mutually beneficial partnerships.”

CBPR challenges standard research protocols and includes research “subjects” as part of the research team. Duran and Wallerstein argue that this not only strengthens research processes but also contributes to “more nuanced, complex, and authentic research outcomes.”

For more information, contact Duran at​ or 206-685-8223.


Editor’s note: The Tribal Colleges and Universities Study Team at IWRI also includes Myra Parker, Maya Magarati, and Leo Egashira.