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Tribal Partnerships

Working with Tribal and Indigenous Communities in the United States

Federally recognized American Indian Tribes are distinct in that they have a unique trust-responsibility relationship with the federal government as well as legal sovereign recognition with state, and local governments. As detailed by the Office of Tribal Relations, there are 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States and 22 of those tribes are in the state of Arizona.  The Arizona Board of Regents sets clear expectations regarding how tribal relationships are established and maintained (ABOR policy 1-118). Key among these is recognizing the sovereignty of these nations, and respect for the culture, traditions, beliefs, governance processes, tribal laws, codes, regulations, and protocols of sovereign tribes.  ASU has issued a Statement of Commitment to the Tribes, and has a Special Advisor to the President on American Indian Affairs. The Special Advisor effectively fosters and develops relationships with Tribal nations and their members on behalf of the University.  It is important to work within this structure whenever a researcher is considering embarking on research that affects, or is intended to engage in any way with a tribal community.  The training, at left, is the best place to get started. Complete your human-subjects training, if needed. If you are a student, work with your advisor/supervisor to submit your IRB protocol. Then, you will need to alert, and potentially work with, the Office of American Indian Initiatives to initiate any communication with potential tribal partners.

Additionally helpful information: 

  • A Top 10 list of things to consider when working with tribal partners, from Cultural Heritage Partners
  • Webinars based upon White House Office of Science and Policy guidance on how Federal agencies can ethically acknowledge and incorporate Indigenous Knowledges (IK) into science, management, and decision making. 
  • ASU’s Office of American Indian Affairs, serving our American Indian students.


Some frequently asked questions:

  • If a funding agency suggests partnering with communities, to include tribal communities, how do I reach out? Can I just email a tribal organization? Partnering with a tribal community, or any community, should be an authentic process designed around the community's needs. Communities should not be used as tools to leverage for landing a grant or other funding opportunity. If you do not have an existing relationship with the tribal community you seek to work with, you should indicate your desire to work with a tribe, and the reasons why, by contacting From there, if appropriate, one can build an authentic relationship with a tribe that is interested. Building this relationship will take time, and it will not take into account funding due dates. The reasons for working with a tribe ought to extend beyond any particular funding opportunity, and be rooted in the tribe's interests.
  • I have a friend or colleague who is part of a tribe. Can’t I just ask them to broker an introduction? We discourage this sort of 'back-channeling' into a partnership with a tribe. Official partnerships would require the approval of the tribal leadership, and this sort of ask likely places your friend or colleague in a difficult situation. 
  • Why does ASU care if I work with a tribe? A tribe is a system of government; and most tribes are federally-recognized as such. Tribes represent autonomous groups with whom we want to have lasting relationships, built upon meaningful collaboration that is of service to their people. Just as if you were to partner with another country, we would expect coordination at the highest levels of ASU in setting up and maintaining these partnerships.
  • Does this only apply to funded projects? No, the requirements apply to funded as well as unfunded projects. There may be additional reviews required depending on the scope of work such as Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for work with human participants.  Note that some tribal governments also have the equivalent of their own IRB, and your work will need to be approved by them, as well, if applicable.
  • What is meant by partnering with a tribe?  Partnering means that the work is done collaboratively with the tribe, and tribal members are, ideally, co-investigators or co-authors during the process and on the resultant products.