FAQs on Framing Environmental Health: Indigenous Perspectives

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Recently, in response to a presentation of the first stage of our descriptive research on Environmental Health, three questions were sent from experts in the field to our research associates, Nat Kendall-Taylor and Eric Lindland. All three are critically important questions that we have encountered in other areas of research, and our responses pertain both specifically to our work on Environmental Health and to our research more broadly. Over the next two weeks, we will post our answers to these three important questions.

This week our featured question is in regards to indigenous perspectives:

Does FrameWorks research on environmental health help us to understand how Native American/First Nation populations think about these issues and do our recommendations hold for these populations?

Nat and Eric respond:

“The short answer to this question is we don’t know.

We are often asked about Native populations, whether and how our research accounts for the cultural models held by these groups and if our recommended reframes are effective in communicating with members of these groups. These questions have become particularly frequent in our work on addiction in the Canadian province of Alberta, which has a sizable Aboriginal population. Our answer thus far in Alberta has been uniformly, “we don’t know, so don’t assume that it does.”  At this point, we have to give the same response here in the U.S., as our research has not yet sampled a sufficient number of Native Americans to make any generalizations about the range and strength of cultural models in circulation among members of that heterogenous community. This response is premised in the assumption that Native American cultures are in some important ways different from the national culture of American society writ-large.  This is not to say that the two cultural systems do not overlap, as they most certainly do, but only that Native beliefs and understandings are grounded in cultural heritages and lineages that can and should be distinguished from those that have come to dominate in the larger American cultural arena.

In the case of both our research on Environmental Health in the U.S. and our Addiction research in Alberta, we sampled a diversity of citizens from a broad range of ethnic heritages in order to identify those underlying and shared assumptions that structure people’s understanding amidst and across that diversity.  It is notable that such shared assumptions – what we call “cultural models” – can in fact be identified, suggesting that membership and participation in the U.S. national and Albertan provincial cultures does result in broadly shared patterns of understanding, patterns that exist alongside the substantial variation of belief and understanding that is also evident. Considering the historical distinctiveness of Native American experiences in both the Albertan and U.S. contexts, however, we would predict that a somewhat different constellation of cultural models are operative in shaping how members of these communities understand the issues at hand. But we simply do not know! While a small number of Native American informants have been included in our research sample in both locations, there have been far too few from which to draw any conclusions about a distinctiveness of perspective in Native populations.

What we do know is that cultural differences matter a great deal in creating effective communications, and our interactions with scientists, advocates and practitioners, both in Alberta as well as here in the U.S., suggest the need to better account for the distinctiveness of Native American perspectives. FrameWorks researchers would welcome the opportunity to focus our methodology on this need.”



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