- Changing the Subject:Individual versus Collective Interests in Indian Country Research
Many contemporary Native governments and communities are starting to assert their inherent right to land and self-government by meeting the economic, political, and cultural challenges of the twenty-first century. While resources and opportunities vary considerably among the hundreds of Native communities in North America, most Native nations are striving to gain greater responsibility over their communities through strategies of economic development, renegotiating relations between tribal and federal governments, and reintroducing Native history and culture into reservation institutions, education, and government. Native communities, generally, wish to participate in the rapidly changing and globalizing world but want to approach the future through the vehicle of their own values, culture, and history.
In many ways, the challenges of the future are both exciting and dangerous. Native communities may develop many creative ways to preserve their communities and cultures, while accommodating to the intensity and globalization of the world economy, culture, and technology. On the other hand, the forces of markets, globalized culture, technology, and information may threaten to undermine the institutions and values of Native communities.
Research, science, technology, and information are all issues that Native communities will need to confront more directly than ever before to avoid becoming victims of the new and changing world order. For example, who should have access to and financial benefit from [End Page 49] Natives' traditional knowledge about the medicinal uses of plants found in their ancestral territories? Who should have access to and financial benefit from DNA information about members of Native nations, when that information might prove useful for the prevention or treatment of diseases? Who should have access to and financial benefit from research conducted on the remains of Native nations' ancestors, research that might bear on matters of health, diet, and group history? Who should have access to and financial benefit from Native stories, songs, and cere-monies that have sacred value to their communities but also artistic or academic value to outsiders? Over the past century, Native nations have witnessed such information taken without their consent and not for their benefit. Should this experience make these communities reflexively resistant to research, science, technology, and information, placing obstacles in the way of researchers wherever possible? Such a stance will surely operate to the detriment of the outside researchers and global consumers of their work. But it will jeopardize Native nations as well.
In order to survive and persist, Native communities will need to manage technology and science and use it to their advantage. For the immediate future, the globalization process will not go away, and no community, no matter how isolated, will be able to hide away and avoid influence. The pace and intensified globalization of the twenty-first century may make the threats to Native communities even greater and more subtle than the federal policies of the last centuries. In order to not become victims of technology, which can be used by forces whose values, interests, and goals conflict with those of Native communities, Native nations will need to adopt and manage technological and informational change as a means to defend their land, rights to self-government, and cultures.
Science, technology, and globalized information present Native nation builders with the need for asserting new and non-Western interpretations of science, methods, and the ethics of research. Native communities, while wanting to live in negotiated and democratic relations with nation-states, also want to use science and information for their own cultural, political, and philosophical interests. Now many Native communities are asking how research and science can benefit their communities. How can science, research, and information be used in the process of nation building and protecting Native rights and culture? Is science compatible with Native values, interests, and philosophy? Can Native communities withhold information not considered suitable for distribution under traditional understandings? These are some of the questions that confront Native nations as they embark on contemporary nation building.
Research Ethics in the Old Way
The conscious nation-building strategies emerging within Native communities belie the widespread belief among non-Indians that Natives [End Page 50] were acted upon rather than active...