Thoughts on how to submit a socio-cultural project to the Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board.
Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board Purpose
As explained in a 2006 Science and Engineering Ethics Journal article, “Protecting the Navajo people through tribal regulation of research” by Doug Brugge and Mariam Missaghian, through a review board, follows a process and procedure specifically created for biomedical research conducted with Navajo people. Here is where it gets a little tricky for people like me - qualitative, ethnographic oriented - because the NNHRRB is primarily concerned with clinical and biomedical projects. But fear not - I am here to share what I know on submissions of socio-cultural projects for NNHRRB review.
Word of caution - the following is based off my experience; my Navajo collaborators are all 18 years or older and are not identified as "high risk." For direct instructions that are specific to your research and your participants, contact the NNHRRB. You can't blame me for tabled or denied projects; but I'll accept some credit if your project is approved and you complete some awesome, ethical research 😎.
Who Needs to Submit to the NNHRRB
First, figure out if your project needs NNHRRB approval. You would think that this is an easy question ... If you are working with Navajo People - you go through the NNHRRB ... but people/institutions/programs/organizations and even the NNHRRB itself make it tricky.
At the core, if you are coming to the Navajo Nation to conduct research (qualitative, quantitative, clinical, biomedical of any kind) with Navajo people who live on the Navajo Nation, ✅ you definitely need approval. Even if your own institution or agency expedites your project through their IRB, ✅ you still need NNHRRB approval - this includes multi sited projects (i.e., comparison of the Navajo people to another tribe).
Now, if your project is working with "Native Americans" who are in locales off the Navajo Nation and there happens to be Navajo people in your random sampling, 🚧 often it is left up to the Principal Investigator (PI) and the sponsoring institution to decide if NNHRRB approval is needed. In scenarios such as this, for socio-cultural projects, more often than not, PIs will indicate that their project include qualitative research with a "sensitive" population, list "Native Americans," address how they will mitigate risk factors at their institution's level and forgo the NNHRRB process. Now - I am not saying this is correct or incorrect, I am only reporting on how I have seen projects completed by colleagues and other scholars .
But if you are researching on the Navajo Nation and you are working with Navajo people - this means even if you an enrolled Navajo individual and working with your own family - ✅ YOU WILL NEED TO RECEIVE APPROVAL FROM THE NNHRRB and, if you aren't doing any funny business, you should honestly want to. FYI: There is an exception for enrolled Diné College and Navajo Technical University students enrolled in research classes at those institutions - but I will address that later in this blog so pay attention for that.
Okay... now that that's settled....
What is Your Project's Classification
Depending on your project classification, you will have a different set of requirements to submit. Here are the three project classifications that the NNHRRB has outlined on their NNHRRB New Application Checklist Document.
Submission Requirements for Community Projects
In terms of actually submitting NNHRRB proposals, I am only familiar with the Community Checklist. So that is what I have outlined below - Once again - As a word of caution .... I am pulling together the various resources (from scattered NNHRRB pages) and utilizing my experience submitting to the NNHRRB. It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to contact the NNHRRB office for any official guidance that you may need.
1. Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board Cover Sheet
Here are some additional components that I include in the Attachments but are not on the NNHRRB checklist. If you don't include these and your project gets tabled.... don't say I didn't tell you 🥲:
If you mailed in your project, I would request a tracking number and then call Mr. Winney to confirm the application's arrival to the NNHRRB office. Once the application is received, Mr. Winney will put your project on the meeting schedule.
Typically, the NNHRRB meets every 3rd Tuesday, starting at 9am. The meeting can last all day - so prepare yourself. As of late, all NNHRRB have been held virtually - which I appreciate.
At the meeting you will be given a brief amount of time to present, followed by time to answer any and all questions posed by the NNHRRB Committee Members. So questions are for clarifications, others are about missing information. After the question/answer portion, the Committee will vote according to Robert's Rules of Order - so be prepared to be Tabled as well.
Other Thoughts about the NNHRRB Application Process
Tabled Projects: As of late, I have seen projects tabled because their application is missing either one big component or a lot of small components (missing timelines, missing resolutions, missing support letters, missing measures, etc). Best way to be prepared is for you to be as organized as possible. If your project isn't prepared by the submission deadline, don't rush - just wait to submit at the following meeting. Your first impression should be one of preparation and organization. So my suggestion is to start your preparation way in advance - I suggest at least 3 months prior to the submission date (4 months prior to formal presentation to the NNHRRB). I know this is difficult because some of you are graduate students (and others are just impatient lol) but, as I tell my students - the more solid your IRB project packet presentation the better prepared you are for actually implementing the project. It will make your presentation much smoother. The presentation itself then becomes a training ground for you to talk about your project. The more you talk about it with audiences such at the NNHRRB, the more real your project becomes.
Academic Discipline Notes: The NNHRRB committee is composed primarily of experts from biomedical and clinical professional/academic backgrounds. This makes the presentation of socio-cultural projects a bit challenging at times. The first time I presented the committee wanted to push my project into an Animal Science realm, when I work in the area of Animal Studies (they are very distinct). Don't get upset, wait for them to finish their commentary and respond with clarification. As with all presentations to general audiences (grants, fellowships, IRBs), avoid discipline specific jargon.
Emic Cultural Notes: If you are well attuned to a specific cultural area, (1) do not assume you know all - be open to hearing what some of these individuals share (even if they are taking you down a worm hole) and also (2) do not hold back on your own areas of cultural knowledge - just like you don't know everything, the same goes with the committee members (everyone is here to learn). I have been fortunate to learn from a few of the committee members and they have hopefully also learned from me. I have also been on the other end of that spectrum as well. With that said...
Discrimatory Notes: If you feel that you are being discriminated for whatever reason - make that declaration, document, and submit a complaint. I have, in previous years, experienced and seen race and gender of the PI be questioned, and as a result, the entire project put under scrutiny. Now - there are times when gender or culture does play a role in research, access to cultural content, or data analysis. But when projects are tabled or denied merely based on the race of the PI and the biases of individual committee members, there is an ethics violation that require immediate legal review.
Honest Notes: Although I have some disagreements with the process and procedure, especially during COVID (you can check out the ICT article for more info on that), I must confess, this past time around was much smoother than my previous experience. I feel like the committee is better prepared for socio-cultural projects now than they were 10 years ago when I first presented to the NNHRRB. I also speak the Navajo language better and I am firmly grounded in my community and profession. Additionally, I am now on the Diné College IRB so I am starting to fully understand the intricacies of IRBs. Because of all these factors - and the change of atmosphere/leadership of the NNHRRRB - my project was reviewed for ethics, which is the purpose of the NNHRRB, and the committee members were professional, curtious, and helpful. Finally, like butchering - the more you do it, the familiar the knife becomes in your hand.
Last Note: CONTACT THE NNHRRB COORDINATOR FOR ASSISTANCE. This blog is not an official 'how to' document approved by the NNHRRB . This are just my thoughts and my experiences.
If you have any more guidance, be sure to put them in the comments! Your experience can help others navigate what is often considered a tedious and often stressful part of the research process. It doesn't have to be :)
Thoughts on selecting a book press.
Checking Press Tails:
"OOOO - This tail is nice!" When deciding on which sheep to butcher, we check tails. The area around the tail should be thick - if it is bony...we will pass until we can adjust the tail quality. So, when I checked press tails, I looked at the content they generally publish: what books have they published, were there topics similar to mine, were there books that I was already familiar with from within my discipline. If a press didn't have enough fat in these areas- (aka little to no attention on NA/IS topics), I passed.
I also made note of over saturation within the press - for example - if a press had a lot of topics similar to mine (aka heavy Navajocentric publishings). It wasn't that I was going to not pick them because they have a lot of Navajo content - I mean, have you ever decided to not butcher a sheep simply because it was too fat? 🤣
Most of the time we butcher weathers (castrated male sheep). Now gender in terms of characteristics and attributes pertaining to femininity and masculinity wasn't really a consideration as I continued reviewing the wide array of presses that I could submit to. But, characteristics associated with series within the presses were. This was new information for me to think about. I know this sounds silly- but I never really paid a tremendous amount of attention to series within presses before. How the times have changed - I was all over this now. So I identified series that focused on Native American and Indigenous Studies and made that a criteria for my list.
Age of Presses and Series:
You can taste age in the sheep - and its not like fine wine gets better with time. As sheep get older, their bones and their meat get tougher. Some people like that taste and others prefer tender lamb meat. I needed to figure out what kind of taste I wanted in a publisher. Diving into the age of the presses also meant exploring the reviews and classifications of presses like making note of tier one presses. What's tier one press? Great question... check this ranking out: Ranking List of Academic Publishers (I didn't rank these by the way... google found it for me). Selecting (and being selected by) a tier one press may be helpful for tenure or for pursuing employment at a R1 Institute. (I know what you are thinking - okay now on top of picking a publisher who will want me, I need to think about how this selection will impact my future politically in the tenure process...in short - yes, no, and maybe - depending on what you want in life. I know mind blown - 🤯 . Well don't worry about that now -- FOCUS -- what do you want your meat to taste like!).
In the case of series - I noticed that some were quite new and others were long standing. The longer standing series offered more publishing examples and, with that, an idea of what their final tastes are. Often there is an actual feel to a series (voice of the text, content, image, etc.) The younger series, however, seemed to offer a lot of support to newer authors. And let's face it, we could all use a little bit of help and support: check out my first blog for an example of that!
Examining the Behavior of Presses:
There are times that there is a sheep just asking to be butchered: like that +100lb whether that broke my orbital bone trying to escape being sheered in 2020 (that was fun); or that time when the twin brother of a goat we were trying to catch to butcher jumped out of the corral (we took it as a 'take me, not my brother' call). Sometimes, a press or a series just calls to you. It could be a geographic area highlighted, or the reputation of the editors, or the support of the press for new authors, or the long standing relationship factor with returning authors.
My suggestion isn't to just go off your gut... sometimes you take more on your plate than you can chew - so if your gut wants to go with a certain press, don't settle for "it just feels right"- figure out why it feels right. When we get ready to butcher... checking tails is just the first step in making our selection. So when you are checking press tails - just because they want you, doesn't always mean its a good fit for you. And if they deny you, take it as a learning experience, use the feedback as constructively as possible and keep searching for your next sheep to butcher.
Corral of Presses
Every sheep you butcher is distinct and so is each publishing press. And not to throw another hurdle in your planning and prep, you may find out along the way that maybe sheep meat isn't your thing - maybe you are looking for goat meat. We haven't discussed presses other than "academic" presses. You may decide to go with a press that is intended for another audience. Once again, as you are checking tails, you want to think about what is best for you.
What I can you.. is that in doing this review of presses and series, I learned so much about publishing trends in terms of themes and I even picked up some books I needed to read for the purpose of my book manuscript and the classes that I am developing. So yes, this took some time but it wasn't all procrastinator's paradise. I now have a working list. Next step - time for my to place these guys in a hierarchy... what are my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choices. Judging is a hard, but someone has to do it. Oh wait... in this case, it's me... I'm the judge. 😫
The following is a listing of presses that I have narrowed down that seem to be a fit for me. There is no Da Vinci's Code here to be deciphered (or maybe there is and I haven't even realized it yet 🤯). The blue links bring you to helpful information about the press and to the purple links bring you to series. (If I missed any good ones... let me know - I'll review and update this list).
Yale University Press:
Series - The Henry Roe Cloud Series on American Indians and Modernity
"Drawing upon multiple disciplinary perspectives and organizing them around the place of Native Americans within the development of American and European modernity, this series emphasizes the shared, relational ties between indigenous and Euro-American societies. It seeks to broaden current historic, literary, and cultural approaches to American Studies by foregrounding the fraught but generative sites of inquiry provided by the study of indigenous communities."
University of North Carolina Press:
Series - Critical Indigeneities
"Critical Indigeneities publishes pathbreaking scholarly books that center Indigeneity as a category of critical analysis, understand Indigenous sovereignty as ongoing and historically grounded, and attend to diverse forms of Indigenous cultural and political agency and expression. The series builds on the conceptual rigor, methodological innovation, and deep relevance that characterize the best work in the field of critical Indigenous studies."
University of Nebraska Press:
Series- Many West
"The UNP-APS series offers opportunities for UNP to build on its already strong reputation in the field of Native American and Indigenous Studies by attracting the best new scholarship in the field and partnering with American Philosophical Society, the largest archive of Native American and Indigenous materials in North America and one of the Top 3 learned societies in the world."
Series - New Visions in Native American and Indigenous Studies
"The partners envision the series as open to any high-quality scholarship in the field, but manuscripts will be solicited in broad thematic areas related to editors’ research interests and expertise: Domesticity, Intimacy, and the Family; Decolonization, Reparation, Redress, and other legal issues; and Comparative and Transnational Indigenous Studies. These areas represent some of the most important new directions in the field of American Indian and Indigenous Studies in the last decade."
University of New Mexico Press:
Series- Studies in Indigenous Community Building
"This series focuses on how Native and Indigenous peoples are building their communities to resolve twenty-first century challenges. Using Native Studies knowledges, means, and approaches, the books showcase distinctive, inspiring, and insightful works that emphasize how to sustain Native and Indigenous traditional ways of life. Titles in the series draw from a variety of disciplines including education, health, governance, history, culture, and other nation-centered studies."
University of Washington Press:
Series- Indigenous Confluences
"Indigenous Confluences publishes innovative works that use decolonizing perspectives and transnational approaches to explore the experiences of Indigenous peoples across North America, with a special emphasis on the Pacific Coast."
University of Minnesota Press:
Series - First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies
"First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies publishes books that exemplify contemporary research in indigenous studies. This initiative is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as a joint collaboration of four university presses: the University of Arizona Press, the University of Minnesota Press, the University of North Carolina Press, and Oregon State University Press. These studies are supported with unprecedented attention to the growing dialogue among Native and non-Native scholars, communities, and publishers."
University of Arizona Press:
Series - Critical Issues in Indigenous Studies
"The series editors seek monographs, edited collections, and synthetic works by new and established authors whose work prioritizes Indigenous peoples’ voices and knowledge and critically engages their lives, stories, and experiences. The series encourages a critical assessment of the “locations of engagement,” where the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples intersect with scholarly and Indigenous intellectual production. The series editors are especially interested in works that analyze colonization, land dispossession, and oppression while foregrounding Indigenous peoples’ resistance to these processes."
Still Need Help Picking a Sheep
This was me! Reach out to former advisors. I did and boy, did they help. My dissertation advisor helped me to focus, reinvigorated my project, put me in contact with editors, and got me to set a date to get my book proposal out. Our chat took us back 10 years to when I was in the trenches of grad school... but in a good way (with a few more grey hairs, a few more kids, and tons of new experiences).
And if you didn't have a kick ass relationship (professionally or personally) with your grad school advisors, talk with friends who have published, read blogs, call editors from the presses you are interested in, and SEND OUT YOUR MANUSCRIPT PROPOSALS. The only way you are going to start a relationship with a press is to actually put things into motion. You can check tails all you want, but if you never pick up the knife, you are never going to start butchering.
Just a Tách'inii thinking out loud about butchering, researching, manuscript writing, and life on the Navajo reservation.