Prevention. Intervention. Respect.
Tipis in a field


In the context of research and evaluation, reciprocity can be thought of as the balance, equilibrium, or congruence that exists between researchers and research participants.

The practice of Western research in Native communities has been aptly characterized as a "colonizing enterprise". Native peoples and communities have long observed outside researchers exporting raw data from a community for the purpose of "processing" it into manufactured goods (e.g., journal articles, books, etc.) and assuming unlimited and unrestricted access to and ownership of that data. Not only is this practice a legal infringement on Tribal sovereignty (as described previously), but it also at odds with the concept of reciprocity. A commitment to reciprocity throughout the entire research journey is crucial when engaging with Native communities. Below, we have identified some key lessons to help researchers and Tribal communities start thinking about how to build reciprocal relationships.

Academic and research institutions have privileged the process of acquiring signed informed consent forms prior to participation in research studies as the gold standard for establishing a consensual and trusting relationship between researchers and research participants. This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it severely undermines the history of oral tradition in many Indigenous cultures, as well as ignores important issues pertaining to ancestral language. Across many Indigenous cultures, legal, ethical, and moral principles are preserved in origin/creation stories, ceremonies, songs, and other cultural maxims—all forms of oral (not written) expression. For some, the informed consent process is likely neither symbolically nor practically meaningful; therefore, we should not assume that a written signature equates to a consensual, reciprocal relationship.

Moreover, the informed consent most researchers are accustomed to using usually only establishes consent between the researcher and research participant. This process ignores the fact that Indigenous people are people of a place and their relationship to place and other people in community is important context that must be privileged as a researcher begins to engage in research efforts with people in a Tribal community.

  • Offering incentives to research participants or appropriately compensating local community and/or organizational partners that may co-lead participatory research projects are good ways of carrying out reciprocal and respectful research relationships. But reciprocity is not limited to issues of financial equity. "Giving back" can take any number of different forms.
  • Tribes may have their own internal cultural protocols, such as the Cree practice of making an offering of tobacco as a gift symbolizing respect and reciprocity.
  • Technical skills, capacity-building, and mentorship are also examples of human capital that researchers should be prepared to leave with Native communities such that when the researcher are gone, there is someone in the community that holds the knowledge of that skill.