Research with Indigenous partners

Information and resources for university researchers and research partners thinking about doing research, in any discipline, that involves or impacts Tribal nations, Indigenous communities, peoples, or lands.


The guide contains information and resources for university researchers and research partners thinking about doing research in any discipline that involves or impacts Tribal nations, Indigenous communities, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous lands, territories, policies, histories, wisdom, cultures, experiences or knowledge systems.

This research guide is a supplement to the University of Minnesota Guidelines for Indigenous Research.

Relationship building

Before you even start planning your research project it is important to begin building a relationship with the people, Tribal nations, communities, and organizations that will be involved and impacted by the project. By building these relationships first you can be sure your project will benefit or be useful to your research partners. 

Some knowledge of the history, values, cultural practices, taboos, and expectations of your potential partners will help to smooth the way. Indigenous groups differ in their governance structures, cultural practices, taboos, and histories. When considering working with a specific group be sure to do some background research on that specific group. Throughout your work refrain from making broad generalizations about all Indigenous groups.

It can be a big shift to value the relationships over the research, and one that likely does not feel well-supported by the systems in which research is done. Valuing the relationships will take time (move slowly), creativity, and support. A good guiding question to keep in mind throughout the process is, how does your research change if you view your research partners and participants as relatives?

Introductory readings

Tribal nations and Indigenous communities

Tribal governance and sovereignty

Sovereign tribal nations have a government-to-government relationship between the tribe, nation, band, pueblo, community, or Native village and the United States government. Sovereign tribal nations have the rights of self-government (sovereignty) and the right to some federal benefits, services, and protections.

There are also Indigenous groups, both within the United States and outside of the U.S. that are not federally recognized, do not have Tribal councils, and where leadership of the group is more dispersed. Even when there is no clear authority or leader it is important to establish relationships based on respect, consultation, and consent.

Use the Native Land map to view ancestral lands and the effects of treaties on tribal boundaries.

Federally-recognized tribes in Minnesota

There are currently 11 federally recognized tribes located in Minnesota. There are several Native American communities in Minnesota that have sought but have not been granted federal recognition as sovereign nations. When working with any Indigenous community or people do your research and find out what structures they have for self-governance.

See the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council - Tribal Nations in Minnesota for more information about the history and governance of the 11 federally recognized tribes in Minnesota.

View the digital exhibit Why Treaties Matter to learn about the impacts and importance of the Dakota and Ojibwe treaties with the U.S. government.

Other tribal communities, governance, and advisory bodies in Minnesota

Urban Indigenous communities

Most Indigenous people in the U.S. live in urban areas. In addition to tribal affiliations, Indigenous people living in urban areas may be affiliated with local urban Indigenous community organizations, cultural centers, and nonprofits.

Tribal communities and governing bodies in the United States

There are currently 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States. Each of the tribes has their own governing structure and is a sovereign nation.

A part of the United States Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs serves the tribes by providing support for disaster relief, Indian child welfare, tribal government, law enforcement, tribal courts, land and resource management.

Part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the Indian Health Service provides health care services to American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Indigenous communities in and from other countries and territories

You may be considering doing research with Indigenous communities or groups that are not part of the United States or are within territories of the U.S. These communities may have different governing structures and types of relationships with their national governments than what you will find in the United States. Additionally, Indigenous communities within the United States with ties to Indigenous groups in other countries or territories may have different requirements for working with researchers. 

Work being done in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to work with Indigenous peoples and communities is in many ways more fleshed out than efforts in the U.S. and can provide helpful guidance and insights into researching with Indigenous groups and within Indigenous communities.

Land acknowledgements

Land acknowledgements are often used in conference settings and can be good way to center your work. Writing one requires that you learn more about the history and present day lives of the Indigenous Peoples whose land you occupy. Whether or not you use a land acknowledgement publicly, writing one can be a good exercise for reflection and useful for centering your project.

Do not ask Indigenous Peoples to write or give a land acknowledgement for you. The Writing Land Acknowledgements guide has resources and guidance for writing land acknowledgements.

Planning a research project

There are special considerations when planning a research project with Indigenous partners. In addition to the guidelines and training provided by the University of Minnesota, the following resources may be helpful when writing grant applications and research proposals for review boards.

Example projects and protocols:

Transforming research and relationships through collaborative tribal-university partnerships on Manoomin (wild rice). Matson, L., Ng, G., Dockry, M., Nyblade, M., King, H., Bellcourt, M., . . . Waheed, A. (2021).

Memory Keepers Medical Discovery Team

Traditional knowledge

Traditional knowledge (TK) is knowledge systems, skills, and cultural practices that have been developed and passed down through generations within a community. TK is part of the cultural and spiritual identity of Indigenous Peoples. For example, Indigenous Peoples have used controlled burns to protect their forests from forest fires, which have become a standard practice in the United States in the late 1970’s. As such, Indigenous peoples have a wealth of knowledge within their communities from their connections and relationships with the land and the water that have become unequivocally tied to their social, spiritual, and cultural identity. 

TK has been underutilized in academia since it was dismissed by claims that TK is not as rigorous a knowledge system as Western science. However, more recently TK is starting to become more accepted and utilized in academia. That being said, that came with a new host of challenges. Researchers have utilized TK when it suits their research, but it is not uncommon that researchers will question or dismiss TK when it challenges scientific “truths.” To make the use of TK mutually beneficial, researchers should engage with the truth or fact of TK as they would with any truths of Western science. Additionally, TK must be cited when utilized, and it is also important that researchers take care to not frame TK in ways that dispute Indigenous traditions, such as language preference, oral stories, beliefs, and so on. 

Review boards

Tribal nations may have their own review boards to ensure research studies on tribal lands, involving tribal members, or cultural, historical, or natural resources comply with regulations, meet ethical standards, follow tribal policies, and protect research participants. Additionally, a review board will want to ensure that the research benefits the community. 

Review boards may be tribal review boards authorized by tribal governments, tribal college review boards, tribally based or focused organizations or departments, or a board designated by the Indian Health Service. Additionally, tribal governments may have no officially designated research review board and research review and oversight may depend on the type of research with oversight resting with the Tribal Council, or another designated office or individual with additional responsibilities as well.

Federal and local review boards:

Writing and citing

Indigenous data sovereignty

Deeply related to the concept of traditional knowledge is Indigenous data sovereignty. Indigenous Peoples have been collecting data since time immemorial. Observations and experiences with the natural world have been passed down through generations and take many different forms. 

Indigenous data sovereignty extends tribal sovereignty to data. Indigenous Peoples have an inherent right to determine how their data is collected, stored, analyzed, used, and reused. "Indigenous Peoples’ data comprise (1) information and knowledge about the environment, lands, skies, resources, and non-humans with which they have relations; (2) information about Indigenous persons such as administrative, census, health, social, commercial, and corporate and, (3) information and knowledge about Indigenous Peoples as collectives, including traditional and cultural information, oral histories, ancestral and clan knowledge, cultural sites, and stories, belongings." (From The CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance, Data Science Journal, 2020).

Ethical data practices (management, analysis, visualization)

Researchers must utilize tribal protocols in their data management plans, which address and follow tribal protocols for data collection, access, use, and sharing. Researchers should adhere to any and all tribal preferences when it comes to working with Indigenous data. 

Additionally, it is important that when performing data analysis and creating data visualizations, that care be taken to not misrepresent Indigenous beliefs, stereotype Indigenous people, or generalize tribal identity, such as tribal foundation stories or traditional knowledge. 

Research Methodologies

On this page you will find resources for approaching research in, what may be, new ways.

Participatory research / Community-based research

Research projects involving Tribal nations, Indigenous communities, Indigenous Peoples, lands, territories, policies, histories, wisdom, cultures, experiences or knowledge systems may often benefit from a participatory or community-based approach. Participatory research involves partnership between the researchers and the community in which the research is taking place. Community partners may set the research agenda, control the process, analyze data and information, and reflect on the outcomes. The goal is to reduce the power differentiation between researcher and participants or those that may be impacted by the research.  

Indigenous research methodologies

Indigenous research methodologies are methods and guidelines for research established and used by Indigenous Peoples. Resources are included here to give non-Indigenous researchers insight into the values and research practices of your Indigenous partners.

Resources for Indigenous Peoples, partners, and groups

This section is for Indigenous and tribal groups looking for partnership opportunities or preparing to participate in projects with University researchers. 

Finding a researcher or project of interest

If you have a research question or idea for a project that you would like to partner with University researchers on, there are several places you can contact to connect with people who can help. 

  • UMN Office for Public Engagement - The University of Minnesota Office for Public Engagement (OPE) is a national leader in advancing community-engaged research, teaching, and outreach that address the most pressing issues of our time. OPE builds and supports infrastructure throughout the University’s five-campus system that promotes deep, mutually beneficial partnerships for scholars, students, and communities throughout Minnesota and beyond. The “Get Connected” tab links to a form to connect you with a UMN partner.
  • UMN Extension - Extension brings Minnesotans together to build a better future through University science-based knowledge, expertise and training.
  • UMN Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) - A center that connects residents, community organizations, government agencies, and researchers to develop new knowledge about public policy issues to create community driven change.
  • Experts@Minnesota - Is a database containing information on many (but not all) University of Minnesota researchers and their past and present research projects. You can search by topic to find researchers doing work on topics of interest to you. 

Establishing a tribal IRB or research review protocol

The University Institutional Review Board (IRB) reviews biomedical and social behavioral research proposals involving human participants to ensure adequate protection and informed, uncoerced consent. In particular the review board examines proposals to ensure the benefits of a study outweigh the risks, informed consent protocols meet the standards for the population, and data storage and sharing protocols ensure the security and confidentiality of research data.

As a tribal partner you can initiate an additional review of the research proposal and protocols of any type of research involving or impacting Tribal nations, Indigenous communities, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous lands, territories, policies, histories, wisdom, cultures, experiences or knowledge systems whether a formal University IRB review is required or not. If the research proposal requires University IRB approval the tribal review takes place before the research proposal is submitted to the University IRB. Such a review may be completed by any committee, group, or individual designated by the tribal governing body, group, or committee which is working with the researcher. 

Data sovereignty

It is important to think about and discuss what kind of data will be collected, where that data will be stored, who will have access to it, and how it will be analyzed. Some of these data questions will be addressed in the research proposal while others can be addressed in a memorandum of understanding, or a data management plan that gets submitted to the funding agency. The researchers are collecting your data. You have the right to request information about it, place limitations on it, and request it be made available in ways that benefit your community. 

Traditional knowledge and intellectual property

The knowledge you share with researchers may be traditional knowledge (TK) that has been passed down from generation to generation. This is your knowledge. You can ask researchers not to include descriptions of cultural practices, traditional stories, or traditional knowledge in descriptions of their research. If you do choose to allow descriptions of cultural practices or knowledge there are labels that can be employed to protect and guide further transmission of that information. 

  • Local Contexts: Grounding Indigenous rights - Local Contexts Labels and Notices were created to ground intellectual and cultural property rights in cultural heritage, data, and genetic resources within digital environments. Includes information and tools for applying Traditional knowledge (TK) and Biocultural (BC) labels to information and data.
  • Mukurtu (MOOK-oo-too) - A content management system that empowers communities to control how they manage, share, and exchange their digital heritage through by applying unique cultural protocols according to their preferences. 
Last Updated: Feb 8, 2024 9:59 AM