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UMinn policy would require researchers to get permission from indigenous tribes

Scholar: Policy ‘will ruin anthropological research’ on Native American culture

A proposed University of Minnesota policy would require scholars to obtain permission from Native American groups when doing research involving their cultures.

However, an anthropologist has concerns about the proposal.

The policy proposed by Karen Diver, senior advisor to the president for the Office of Native American Affairs, also would require researchers to complete a training module before conducting research related to indigenous lands, tribes, or cultures.

The Faculty Senate is expected to consider the policy at its meeting Thursday, according to a Minnesota Daily report.

Diver did not respond to two requests for comment from The College Fix regarding how the proposed policy would differ from the school’s current policies and how it may affect scholars whose research is not considered acceptable to a tribe or indigenous people.

However, Elizabeth Weiss, a professor of anthropology at San Jose State University, outlined a number of concerns with the proposal in a recent email to The Fix.

“This policy will ruin anthropological research on Native American human remains and artifacts, but it also spills into geology and geography since it also covers research that is done on what are considered indigenous lands,” Weiss said.

Proposed policy requires researchers to do training tied to funding

The proposed policy would apply to faculty, researchers, and students “who are pursuing work with Tribal partners, Tribal communities, Tribal natural resources, and other Tribally-controlled or Tribal-serving institutions, Indigenous Peoples, places, and objects of cultural significance to Indigenous Peoples, wherever those Indigenous peoples, places, and objects may be,” according to the draft.

It includes a list of requirements for cooperating with tribes when doing research, including the completion of a training module on tribal-university relations that is tied to project funding.

Other requirements include acquiring tribal consent, following tribal, state, and federal laws, building relationships with the indigenous peoples, establishing tribal “data sovereignty,” and obtaining approval from the Office of Native American Affairs.

Currently, university policies do not specifically address research involving Native Americans.

The Fix reached out to the university media relations office with questions regarding how the proposed policy change would affect research.

“This policy was created to inform U of M research practices that respect the rights of Tribes as sovereign nations,” the university responded in a recent email.

The Fix also contacted Kieran McNulty, chair of the UM Department of Anthropology, with questions about how the proposal would differ from the school’s current policies and how it may affect scholars whose research is not acceptable to a tribe or indigenous people.

McNulty declined to comment in an email earlier this month, saying the policy is still being drafted. He directed The Fix to the university media relations office. The Fix forwarded the questions to media relations specialist Chuck Tombarge, but did not receive a response.

Anthropologist: Tribal control of research data is big concern

Weiss, the anthropologist, said the tribal control of data is just one area of concern.

“The proposed policy will prevent researchers from being able to publish results that contradict tribal myths. The proposed policy explicitly states that: ‘The most important thing to remember is that Tribes have a sovereign right to collect, store, manage, and share their data,’” Weiss said.

“This is different from what typically happens in academic research. Any sharing and/or publication of data and findings should be agreed upon with your indigenous research partners,” she said.

Basically, the policy would give tribes control over researchers’ ability to ask questions, share data, and conduct and publish research, Weiss said.

“In other words, at any time along the way to completion, the tribes can kibosh your research, censor your writings, and derail your career if you don’t obey their commands,” she told The Fix.

Weiss said the proposed policy would be detrimental to the research process by limiting what data researchers can share.

“As they point out, ‘this is different’ from other academic research and it is different in a bad way. Many journals have moved towards open access to data. Scientific research is at its best when data can be shared to ensure hypotheses are re-tested, conclusions are challenged, and replication can be achieved,” she said.

“Sharing data and allowing for challenges are key parts of scientific integrity and essential to finding the best explanations for our thorniest issues today,” Weiss said.

MORE: UMinn accused of ‘genocide,’ should pay Native American reparations: report

IMAGE: Abbie Warnock-Matthews/Shutterstock

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Kate Roberson is a student at Empire State College where she is studying history. Her work has appeared in The Federalist and on her blog, The Inkstain.