Certificate Program in Ethics in STEAM Research with Indigenous Communities and Lands

Karletta Chief (Diné), The University of Arizona, Dominique David-Chavez, Colorado State University & Native Nations Institute, Ángel A. Garcia Jr., James Madison University, Darryl Reano, Florida International University, Steven Semken, Arizona State University at the Tempe Campus

Description of the Program

This is a certification program introducing ethical frameworks for collaborative STEAM research with Indigenous communities and/or on Indigenous lands. This certificate is designed for academic researchers, student researchers, funding program managers, and similar professionals (referred to here collectively as researchers). The certificate is based on Indigenous governance and rights-based metrics for integrity.

Implementation of the Program

The program will be administered by Native Nations Institute (or a similar Indigenous governance-based institute/organization) with oversight from an international advisory council. The format of this online certification program is module-based (asynchronous) with learning activities that include: conducting a literature review to identify discipline-specific ethics, reviewing examples of research projects that worked with Indigenous communities, and a case study focused on a specific Indigenous community.

All researchers who successfully complete the program requirements will be added to a certification list that is available to Tribal Leaders, community members and funding institutions with certification requiring renewal every two years. Participants can enroll independently or as a cohort.

Goals of the Program

This certification program will provide a nationally-recognized researcher training resource that is collaborative, community-driven, Indigenous-centered, transparent, and based on trust. It is designed to significantly raise the standards and practices of researchers who work with Indigenous communities and/or on Indigenous lands. The certification program will build a network of practitioners who have demonstrated an understanding for the need of cultural and scientific integrity in research projects involving Indigenous communities and who have made a long-term commitment to serving the needs of Indigenous Peoples. The certification will provide accountability of researchers to learn ethics that is transparent to Indigenous leaders and community members. The vision of this program is to flip the current academic research culture of helicopter research of research that only benefits western science and academia.

The goal of this certification program is to integrate foundational, meta, and humanistic knowledges as follows: (1) Foundational Knowledge: Indigenous knowledges are inherently cross-disciplinary, and transdisciplinary, inform core-content of western science through Native science, and require protection of Indigenous data in digital platforms; (2) Meta Knowledge: Indigenous knowledges are inherently dynamic, adaptive, and innovative where critical thinking is foundational to Indigenous-based problem solving approaches that require co-innovation and deep engagement that goes beyond simple consultation; (3) Humanistic Knowledge: Cultural competence and ethics are key to working with Indigenous communities where one acknowledges their positionality and ethics learned are applicable to working with communities in general and also are important to contributing to tribal capacity.

Three tables showing correspondences between Foundational, Meta, and Humanistic Knowledge and the Indigenous Knowledges Framework of our Certificate Program (Acrobat (PDF) 80kB Oct23 20)

Glossary of Terms (Acrobat (PDF) 32kB Oct23 20)

Program Learning Outcomes and Summative Assessments

Learning Outcome 1: Reflect on the researcher's individual, family, and community cultural context and place (i.e., positionality) in relationship to the proposed research.

Learning Outcome 2: Interpret Indigenous community narratives and experiences with historical trauma, past harms, and distrust of research in the context of the proposed research.

Learning Outcome 3:  Distinguish different rights and governance structures within and across Indigenous communities.

Learning Outcome 4:  Critically assess how Indigenous scientific ways of knowing, values, and frameworks (e.g., relational accountability, spirituality, reciprocity, responsibility, relevance) inform the proposed research.

Learning Outcome 5:  Listen to community concerns and develop a plan or proposal for long term engagement with existing Indigenous governance structures and/or community advisory bodies.

Learning Outcome 6:  Co-design a research protocol with appropriate advisory and consulting bodies (e.g., tribal IRB, CAB) and a process for ongoing review.

Indigenous Research Justice Worksheet

This Indigenous Research Justice Worksheet (modeled after Free Radicals) provides a reflective exercise for researchers to broadly, yet critically evaluate their research engagement and approach with Indigenous communities and lands.

Being in the Community

  1. Have you physically spent time in the community who you aim to work with?
  2. Were you invited to come into the community?
  3. Have you conducted outreach and service in the community?
  4. Do you know the cultural protocols?
  5. Are you able to listen to the community and not feel the need to say something or interject when an Indigenous community member is speaking?

Community Driving the Research

  1. Are the research questions community-driven? Are the research questions developed by the community?
  2. Did you involve the community before you started writing the grant?
  3. Do you have culturally-competent collaborators?
  4. Do you have a community mentor/advisor?
  5. Did the community invite and give free, prior, and informed consent for this research?
  6. Is there someone from the tribe/community who is already interested in doing this work (vs. a non-tribal person) rather than bringing in outside expertise?
  7. Does your research involve Indigenous capacity sharing or capacity building? Does your budget have a sub-award or collaborative award to an Indigenous entity? Do you employ local community members/students (compensate them for their efforts)? Are you providing tools for the community and training them how to use the tools?
  8. Does your project have funding to support tribal college faculty and tribal members to collaborate on the project (co-designing/provide feedback/review/oversight)?
  9. Do you know what the approval process is for obtaining research approval from the Indigenous community (even if there are no human subjects involved)?

Equitable Community Involvement in Data collection & Analysis

  1. Do you have Indigenous students, staff, faculty, and community members written into your grant and given substantive roles?
  2. Are community members involved in the data collection, analysis, and dissemination?
  3. Are you mentoring Indigenous students in your research and are you mentoring them effectively by using Indigenous mentoring frameworks?

Data Dissemination & Data Sovereignty

  1. Are Indigenous members co-authors on publications?
  2. Did you get Indigenous approval to disseminate results and to publish manuscripts?
  3. Did the Indigenous community hear the results before you presented results to academia (conferences, posters, etc)?
  4. Do you have a data management plan that acknowledges that the data belongs to the Indigenous community and will be returned to the community?


  1. Does this research benefit the Indigenous community in the long term?
  2. How do you plan to sustain the efforts long term?

Aspects of Helicopter Research and What Not to Do

  1. Grant is written before any community engagement is done and a letter of support is received through a connection and not without tribal consultation.
  2. Assuming no one from the community holds enough expertise.
  3. Community is not involved in the data collection.
  4. Community members are tokenized (e.g., listed on grant or in acknowledgements etc.) but there is no Intellectual involvement from the community in research steps of research design, data collection, analysis and dissemination.
  5. Only planning/engaging over the lifecycle of grant without long term accountability.
  6. Data is not returned.
  7. There is little or no communication. Researchers do not inform the community of grant status and helicopter-in to collect data.Only planning/engaging over the lifecycle of grant without long term accountability


Program Outline

There are 6 2-hour modules that build upon each other in content and are offered synchronously or asynchronously. Additional selected key readings provide content students can access independently beyond the core course content. These Modules could be offered and taken in various ways. Some researchers may wish to earn the full Certificate in order to work with Indigenous communities at the time or in the future. Others might take only a few Modules for informational purposes. Different collaborating Indigenous communities might have different expectations for the content of the Modules or the overall program.








Demonstrative Program Activity

This certificate program has an associated Case-Study Critical Analysis Activity, which is designed to be done mid-program Read more about this activity »


Selected Key Readings





  • Cajete, G. (1994). Look to the mountain: An ecology of Indigenous education. Skyland, North Carolina, Kivakí Press.
  • Cajete, G. (2000). Native Science: Natural laws of interdependence. Santa Fé, New Mexico, Clear Light Publishers.
  • Chief, K. (2018). Emerging voices of Tribal perspectives in water resources. Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education, 163, 1-5, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1936-704X.2018.03266.x.
  • Chief, K., Chischilly, A. M., Cochran, P., Durglo, M., Hardison, P., Hostler, J., Lynn, K., Morishima, G., Motanic, D., St. Arnold, J., Viles, C., Voggesser, G., Powys Whyte, K., Wildcat, D., & Wotkyns, S. (2014). Guidelines for considering Traditional Knowledges in climate change initiatives (Version 1.0)., Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup (CKTW). (https://climatetkw.wordpress.com).
  • Garcia, A. A., Semken, S., and Brandt, E. (2020). The construction of cultural consensus models to characterize ethnogeological knowledge. Geoheritage, 12(3), 59. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12371-020-00480-5.
  • Kimmerer, R. W. (2002). Weaving Traditional Ecological Knowledge into biological education: A call to action. BioScience, 52(5), 432-438,  2.0.CO;2 'https://doi.org/10.1641/0006-3568(2002)052[0432:WTEKIB]2.0.CO;2'].
  • Kawagley, A. O., Norris-Tull, D., and Norris-Tull, R. A. (1998). The Indigenous worldview of Yupiaq culture: its scientific nature and relevance to the practice and teaching of science,  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35, 133-144, https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1098-2736(199802)35:2<133::AID-TEA4>3.0.CO;2-T.
  • Kovach, M. E. (2010). Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations, and contexts. University of Toronto Press.
  • Londoño, S. C., Makuritofe, V., Brandt, E., Semken, S., and Garzón, C. (2016). Ethnogeology in Amazonia: Surface-water systems in the Colombian Amazon, from perspectives of Uitoto traditional knowledge and mainstream hydrology. In G. R. Wessel & J. K. Greenberg (Eds.), Geoscience for the public good and global development: Toward a sustainable future: Geological Society of America Special Paper 520 (pp. 221-232). Boulder, CO: Geological Society of America, https://doi.org/10.1130/2016.2520(20)
  • Mihesuah, D. A., and Wilson, A. C. (Eds.). (2004). Indigenizing the academy: Transforming scholarship and empowering communities. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Reano, D., and Ridgway, K. D. (2015).  Connecting geology and Native American culture on the reservation of Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, GSA Today, 25(8), 26-28. GSA Today - Groundwork - Connecting geology and Native American culture on the reservation of Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, USA
  • Semken, S. C., and Morgan, F. (1997). Navajo pedagogy and Earth systems. Journal of Geoscience Education, 45(2), 109-112. https://doi.org/10.5408/1089-9995-45.2.109.
  • Wilkinson, C., Hikuroa, D. C. H., Macfarlane, A. H., and Hughes, M. W. (2020).  Mātauranga Māori in geomorphology: existing frameworks, case studies, and recommendations for incorporating Indigenous knowledge in Earth science.Earth Surface Dynamics, 8 , 595-618. https://doi.org/10.5194/esurf-8-595-2020.



  • Reano, D. (forthcoming).  Using Indigenous research frameworks in the multiple contexts of research, teaching mentoring, and leading.
  • Windchief, S., Arouca, R., and Brown, B. (2018), Developing an Indigenous mentoring program for faculty mentoring American Indian and Alaska Native graduate students in STEM: A qualitative study. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 26(5), 503-523, https://doi.org/10.1080/13611267.2018.1561001.