About the Research Fair

The Need

The Need

Research in Native communities often goes into a black hole somewhere, with no benefit to tribes. The Research Fair is focused on changing this so that tribes decide what topics are researched and have equal partnership with professional researchers. Our goal is to make the resources of universities accessible and available to communities. This event will be a place to talk about natural resource issues and partnership with universities, agencies, and non-profit groups.

Traditional approaches to research often extract knowledge from Native communities and leave them worse off than they were before. Part of the problem is that there is a mismatch of priorities between a university system that supports research which is often of little value to communities and the strong desire for relevant research among communities. To help address this mismatch, representatives from Community Forestry and Environmental Research Partnerships (CFERP) Program (based at UC Berkeley), Mechoopda Indians of Chico Rancheria, CSU Chico, Cooperative Extension Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, UC Davis, and the California Indian Forest and Fire Management Council are collaborating on planning and implementing a research fair to be held in November of 2008.

The research fair will bring together California Native American community members, graduate students, faculty, agency officials, and non-profit organizations. It will help bridge the gap between the academy and communities by creating a forum in which both groups can work together on identifying participatory research topics of mutual interest. It will consist of workshops on participatory research, creating common ground among participants, and understanding the needs and interests of communities.

The fair emphasizes participatory research because it is an alternative approach that helps alleviate the problem of research being irrelevant and even detrimental to communities. By involving the people directly affected by the topic being studied in the research process, participatory research helps them bring about a situation that they find more satisfying. It produces scientifically rigorous knowledge and builds the capacity of communities to achieve their environmental stewardship and livelihood objectives. The benefits of participatory research are particularly pertinent to Native American communities which have suffered the effects of extractive research for a hundred years or more.

Although participatory research has been practiced in natural resource management, health, education, and other fields for a decade or more, current educational and research practices actually discourage the kind of dialogue between communities and university- and agency-based researchers needed to initiate sound participatory research projects. Even when faculty and graduate students are keen to adopt a participatory approach to their research, it is difficult to match communities with researchers because of the limited opportunities they have for interacting with one another and because of the short timelines and other demands of academic research. Nevertheless, communities are clamoring for research. Many Native American organizations are interested in studies that evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of centuries-old traditional land management practices under modern conditions, or other topics of specific interest to their members or communities. The California Indian Fair for Partnerships in Research will directly address this gap between professional research organizations and Native communities.

Goals : Fostering trust and building relationships.
In addition to the immediate goal of stimulating initiation of joint research projects, the goals of the fair are to help foster relationships of trust between communities and universities and other research-oriented organizations (public lands agencies and non-profit organizations), and to nurture long-term, mutually beneficial relationships between them. Such relationships are critical for producing knowledge and information relevant to local needs and realities and applying them to the development of sustainable land management systems.

The research fair will consist of four components: an opening session, a common language workshop, a session on participatory research, and the research fair itself.

The common language workshop will foster an atmosphere in the research fair in which people communicate clearly, openly, and respectfully. Often people from tribal communities, farmers, and practitioners who work for conservation organizations feel as though academics, agency officials and other people in positions of authority talk to them in a condescending way. Since professionals are often perceived in this way, regardless of their intent, building relationships of trust and fostering open communication between people from such different backgrounds can be undermined from the very beginning. For example, the use of jargon and undefined acronyms can have chilling effects on relationships between communities and professionals. There is thus a need to encourage people to talk on the same level, using the same language.

A plenary session on participatory research is necessary to assure that all fair participants are familiar with the basic principles of participatory research. The session will include opening remarks by a Native American basket weaver who has collaborated in participatory research projects, and presentations on engaging community members as equal partners in the research and on how native peoples can share their traditional knowledge without being exploited.

The research fair itself is the principle means through which the fairís goals will be accomplished; it will be the mechanism for generating ideas for possible research projects as well as for teaming tribal communities together with academics, agency officials, or non-profit organization staff for developing and ultimately carrying out research projects.

The fair will consist of two parts: an exhibit hall and break out sessions on key themes in sustainability of interest to tribal communities. Tribal communities will set up displays in the exhibit hall about their communities, the issues they are facing and their research needs. The academics, agencies and non-profit organizations may also set up displays about their programs and activities. Time will be scheduled into the agenda for people to visit the displays, talk with and ask questions of one another, and initiate partnerships for research.

The break out sessions will be opportunities for tribal communities to discuss specific themes of interest to them and what they feel their research needs are with respect to the themes. Some possible themes to address include environmental, health and economic issues in non-timber forest products harvesting and use, fire and other types of traditional land management, health and environmental issues in the use of pesticides and herbicides, access to gathering areas, renewable energy development, collaboration with government agencies, the health implications of loss of traditional knowledge and practices, and many others. Trained facilitators will facilitate discussions following the presentations on the themes. These discussions are intended to stimulate ideas for research projects and to connect people who are interested in collaborating in research.