Many HIV/AIDS and substance abuse prevention studies in American Indian and Alaska Native communities have been directed by academic researchers with little community input. We examined the challenges in conducting HIV/AIDS-related research in American Indian and Alaska Native communities and the benefits of changing the research paradigm to a community-based participatory model. The lessons we learned illustrate that the research process should be a cyclical one with continual involvement by community members. Steps in the process include (1) building and sustaining collaborative relationships, (2) planning the program together, (3) implementing and evaluating the program in culturally acceptable ways, and (4) disseminating research findings from a tribal perspective. These steps can enhance the long-term capacity of the community to conduct HIV/AIDS and substance abuse prevention research.
American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) scholars in the fields of mental health and HIV face formidable barriers to scientific success. These include justifiable mistrust of historically oppressive educational systems, educational disparities, role burdens within academe, the devaluation and marginalization of their research interests, and outright discrimination. Research partners can work to dismantle these barriers by embracing indigenous worldviews, engaging in collaborative research partnerships, building research capacity within universities and tribal communities, changing reward systems, and developing mentoring programs. At the individual level, aspiring AIAN scholars must build coalitions, reject internalized colonial messages, and utilize indigenous ethical frames. The creation of a cadre of AIAN researchers is crucial to improving the health of AIAN peoples.