Honoring Health Newsletter

From the NIH Tribal Health Research Office | Summer 2024

Posted on June 25, 2024

Director's Message

I want to thank everyone for reaching out with your thoughts and ideas and welcoming messages. It’s amazing to think I have now been at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Tribal Health Research Office—or THRO—for just over a year. It has been a very busy year as we work to increase our staff; create a Boarding School Healing Research Summit (inspired by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Indian Boarding School Healing Initiative); and collaborate across NIH to develop initiatives that are inclusive of American Indian (AI), Alaska Native (AN) and Native Hawaiian (NH) communities, as well as an Indigenous Data Sovereignty (IDS) Policy that secures consistent data practices across NIH that not only honor Tribal sovereignty but ensure a healthful research process for all.

What has emerged from this year is a clear storyline—our story at THRO is about harnessing our collective power to heal through science. We are a synergistic hub for all AI/AN/NH activities and initiatives at NIH. We strategically consult, coordinate, and collaborate with NIH institutes and centers, as well as with Tribal and Native-serving organizational partners, to generate Native science and a research workforce that builds healthy lives and communities. Our ultimate goal is to grow Indigenous health and health equity through culturally credible and meaningful Indigenist-driven science—it is, as our theme for THRO this year suggests, about Indigenous Knowledges Powering Science.

To power such science, THRO’s everyday work practices embody Indigenist aspirations. THRO has developed core values, which guide our daily interactions with NIH and AI/AN/NH partners to grow meaningful Indigenist-driven science and build an Indigenous research workforce. Our values are embodied in the acronym CEDAR:

Creativity—Moving beyond conventional approaches to science, we center innovative, Indigenist Knowledges and methods to ensure science drives sustainable population health change.

Ethics and Integrity—We maintain the highest standards of professional and ethical behavior; are culturally responsive, reflexive, and aware; and demonstrate transparency and honesty in every transaction.

Determination—While recognizing and respecting the diversity of our Tribal communities, we honor Tribal sovereignty and AI/AN rights to self-determination.

Accountability—We hold ourselves accountable for the quality, timeliness, and lasting impacts of our work—and for the commitments we make to Indigenous communities and research partners. Accountability engenders trust, builds solidarity, and strengthens partnerships.

Respect and relational responsibilities—We respect and value the unique and diverse talents and experiences of Indigenous communities and research partners. We fulfill our responsibilities with compassion, humility, dignity, and equanimity. Through our efforts, we honor past, present, and future generations; are attentive to ancestral, cultural, and traditional obligations; and strive to be a healthful and good ancestor in all that we do.

I look forward to our work in creating respectful and collaborative efforts between our Tribal communities and NIH to advance the health and well-being of Indigenous people and build sustainable capacity for indigenist science.

With appreciation,

Karina Walters, Ph.D., M.S.W.
Director, THRO, NIH

Image of Dr. Karina L. Walters, Director, THRO, NIH

News and Events

For regular Tribal health news updates, visit the NIH Tribal Health News webpage.

Boarding School Harms and Intergenerational Healing Initiative

Building on the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Boarding School Healing Initiative, THRO will conduct a 2-day summit with AI/AN boarding school survivors, Tribal leaders, practitioners, and subject-matter research experts in intergenerational trauma. The summit will assess current gaps in knowledge and identify ways to create culturally grounded research interventions and prevention efforts to not only mitigate the deleterious impact of boarding school trauma on AI/AN families and communities, but also promote healthful behaviors and wellness. A particular focus will be on building back what was lost or disrupted (e.g., language) through the boarding school process, as these are essential factors involved in healing, healthful behaviors, and wellness.

Indigenous Data Sovereignty Policy

THRO has launched the development of an IDS Policy with an NIH working group, co-chaired by Dr. Kayla Davis (Osage) and Mr. Michael Hahn. THRO and the IDS workgroup will establish a robust IDS Policy at NIH through a series of Tribal and NIH listening sessions, at least two formal Tribal Consultations, and a 1-day summit with AI/AN IDS subject-matter experts. This policy will identify key principles and practices in honoring the right of Tribal Nations to exercise their sovereign authority over their data, particularly when such data have the potential to impact the social, cultural, economic, and general welfare of their Tribal Nations. This authority includes governing the collection, ownership, stewardship, sharing, transfer, use and reuse, and disposal and disposition of data collected from and about their Tribal populations. This policy will provide clearer guidelines for NIH intramural and extramural expectations for data stewardship and sharing that will be Tribally and NIH informed, allowing for consistent and streamlined data practices across NIH that align with Tribal research codes, laws, and ordinances.

Tribal Consultations

National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities Initiative for Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Cancer Outcomes

The NIH National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities requested input on an Initiative for Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Cancer Outcomes. The initiative will support such efforts as research, education, outreach, and clinical access to improve the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of cancers in culturally respectful and practical ways among AI/AN populations, particularly those living in rural communities.

The goal of this Tribal Consultation was to gather input on this initiative and understand the research priorities and cultural approaches important to Tribal communities to be captured in the initiative. NIH values the opportunity to learn how the initiative for improving cancer outcomes might help advance the goals and strategic priorities of Tribal Nations.

The NIH Tribal Consultation on the Initiative for Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Cancer Outcomes event was held May 22, 2024. The Notice of Funding Opportunity Announcement for this initiative can be found at RFA-MD-24-009.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Types of Dementia Real-World Data Platform

The NIH National Institute on Aging requested input on the development of the Alzheimer’s Disease and other types of dementia Real-World Data Platform. The Platform aims to serve as a central hub of secure access for many types of data collected from a variety of real-world sources to promote more inclusive clinical research and improve health outcomes for older adults and people living with dementia.

The goal of this Tribal Consultation and Urban Confer was to gather input on the development of the Platform in a way that recognizes Tribal sovereignty and Tribal data ownership; respects and protects the privacy of individuals and communities who are represented in the Platform; and helps ensure that knowledge and potential dementia treatments made possible because of the Platform are culturally appropriate and applicable to AI/AN populations.

The NIH Tribal Consultation on the Alzheimer’s Disease and other types of dementia Real-World Data Platform was held January 5, 2024.

Funding Opportunities

Native American Research Centers for Health Funding Award Opportunities

The NIH National Institute of General Medical Sciences Division for Research Capacity Building supports Native American and Tribal research efforts through the Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH) program. The program funds federally recognized AI/AN Tribes and organizations for health research, research career enhancement, and research infrastructure enhancement activities.

NARCH offers two award programs: The S06 Award Program (PAR-23-166) and the R34 Planning Grants Award Program (PAR-24-041). The S06 awards support health-related research, research career enhancement, and research infrastructure enhancement activities at federally recognized AI/AN Tribes, Tribal colleges or universities, Tribal health programs, or Tribal organizations (collectively referred to as eligible AI/AN Tribal entities). The R34 Planning Grants awards provide support to plan and conduct preparatory work for developing competitive future NARCH applications at eligible AI/AN Tribal entities. Applications are due July 8th.

Learn more about the NARCH program and access additional resources 

Learn More About NIH Funding Opportunities

Visit the NIH Grants and Funding webpage to view a variety of funding opportunities aimed at speeding innovative research and driving better health outcomes.

Student Training and Internships

NIH recognizes that investing in future scientists influences the health and well-being of generations to come. The world’s largest biomedical research agency has opportunities for students (in high school and beyond).

Research Highlights

Introducing the Tribal Health Research Office Researcher Spotlight Series

THRO is pleased to announce the launch of the Researcher Spotlight Series! This informational series will highlight Indigenous researchers and their projects or training programs, reminding us of the power of Indigenous Knowledges Powering Science, THRO’s theme for the year. New interviews are forthcoming.

THRO Researcher Spotlight: Angela Fernandez, Ph.D., M.P.H., LCSW

Earlier this year, Dr. Angela Fernandez (Menominee) shared insights about her academic path, finding mentors, her professional path and current research, and her plans for the future.

Image of Dr. Angela Fernandez
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