Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos


In this CVR podcast series, we talk with those doing research and serving victims and learn about the work they've done together.

Tell Us About it, Episode 28: Shaping Tribal Research Through Inclusive, Organic Conversations

A convo with Heather Valdez Freedman, Jeremy Braithwaite, and Kendall Allen-GuyerJul 08Time: 38:40

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On this episode of “Tell Us About It,” experts from the Tribal Law and Policy Institute and the Hoopa Valley Tribe share their experience in working together on a Tribal-Researcher Capacity Building Grant from the National Institute of Justice. Heather Valdez Freedman, Jeremy Braithwaite, and Kendall Allen-Guyer share insights on how research is changing in tribal communities and including community members’ voices to better understand tribal practices and traditions.


Susan [00:00:02] Welcome to “Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos,” a podcast from the Center for Victim Research with support from the Office for Victims of Crime. On each episode of “Tell Us About It,” we talk to researchers and practitioners about their work, the tools being built for use in the field, and how we can work together to build an evidence base for victim services. On this episode of “Tell Us About It,” we talk with a researcher and practitioner team working to lay the groundwork for justice research with the Hoopa Valley Tribe. Jeremy Braithwaite and Heather Valdez Friedman are researchers with the Tribal Law and Policy Institute. Kendall Allen-Guyer is the project’s tribal liaison. Welcome, everyone.

Susan [00:00:43] You are all working together on a tribal researcher capacity building grant from the National Institute of Justice. Can you tell us about the project and what you hope to do? Heather, let’s start with you.

Heather [00:00:55] Sure, and thanks for having us. I’m the deputy director at the Tribal Law and Policy Institute. I’ve been there for about 14 years, and the Tribal Law and Policy Institute is a nonprofit. We’re governed by a native board. And we work almost exclusively in Indian country on projects focusing on a lot of different issues of concern in Indian country, including violence against native women, Indian child welfare issues, wellness courts, tribal youth programing to name just a few. A lot of our work focuses on training and technical assistance programs in Indian country, but knowing the history of unethical research in Indian country, we’ve had a real interest in conducting research in a good way in tribal communities, and we’ve done a lot of research projects for, um, as part of smaller — or larger projects, smaller research projects. But over the years, we’ve developed some research philosophies when conducting research in Indian country. They really focus on acknowledging the history of unethical research, prioritizing research that focuses on the benefits to the community, research that’s more strengths-based, research that uses more of an indigenous lens, and, of course, research that includes the tribal ownership of data. So when we saw this National Institute of Justice solicitation come along about I think 2018, a couple of years ago, the Tribal Researcher Partnerships and Capacity Building solicitation, it really matched with our philosophies. It was a very unique opportunity to do research with more of an indigenous lens in Indian country. So the research project is really a partnership- and relationship-building planning grant. So the first part of this project is to work with the Hoopa Valley Tribe, to develop a relationship, to build a partnership, and it’s really to work with the tribe to identify a research topic that the tribe prioritizes that’s important to the tribe. And it’s a learning process. It’s really bi-directional learning. This first year, we’re learning from the community, the community is learning from us, hopefully with some, you know, trying to lift up some young potential tribal researchers. Some of the initial things that we’re looking at at Hoopa is we’re really looking at this first year. How does the tribe view research? What are the community research ethics? What’s the proper way to conduct research at Hoopa? What’s important to the tribe to better understand about their community? What do they want to know? And for this first year or so of the project, a full research proposal is the final product. So this is really a planning period where we’re working, getting to know each other, and right now, we’re working on a full research proposal.

Susan [00:04:15] That’s a great overview, especially from the researcher angle. Kendall, tell us a little bit about how you came to this project.

Kendall [00:04:22] So a few colleagues of mine had mentioned that Heather and Jeremy and the folks at TLPI were pitching this project idea and that they had, you know, met with council and recently received a resolution on behalf of really engaging the tribe and TLPI, and this joint effort for the project and if that was something that I’d be interested in doing. And of course, that was obviously. It’s such a unique project. So I really wanted to have a tiny bit of input in their efforts. I’m also a learner of our language. I’m an active participant within our tribal ceremonies. Think — how our people are portrayed, how our cultures are valued, how how those are portrayed, it’s very important to me personally. So when I came on board, they had already started this project for at least a few months, looking for a kind of someone who could be the in-between from this project and the tribe directly. Also reaching out to community members was a major part of the project, getting people to participate was never the issue, it was just contacting both Heather and Jeremy with people who wanted to share their story. And it’s a very different approach to how research should be conducted in Indian country, really setting out an outline and a template really for others to use.

Susan [00:06:03] Jeremy, from your perspective, why is this kind of partnership important, especially given the history of research in tribal communities?

Jeremy [00:06:13] Well, Susan, I think, as Heather mentioned, there’s definitely this very tainted history of research in Indian country in terms of how it’s carried out, in terms of how data are analyzed, the ownership of data, the way that native people are portrayed. There’s just a whole host of issues that really have resulted in a system where native people have not benefited from the majority of research that’s been focused on them. And so it’s really no surprise that researchers have betrayed native people’s trust because projects aren’t carried out in a collaborative, transparent, or respectful manner. There’s also a professional arrogance or this “we know best” attitude among many researchers that is, at a minimum, inconsiderate of cultural honoring and humility. I’ll give you an example from someone that I worked with in Alaska. A biologist had gotten in touch with him when he was, you know, working in Southeast Alaska to do a study looking at the health of toads. And one of the procedures for measuring the health of toads involves cutting off their thumbs and doing some sort of an analysis that tells us about the health of toads. And, you know, is it okay if we come and do that? And so for native people in that area, toads and frogs are highly respected animals. For one, they’re what’s known as a sentinel species. In other words, they tell you a lot about the health of the ecosystem and if something is off kilter with that. But they’re also culturally and spiritually meaningful. They’re symbols of wealth. If you help them, good things come, and if you hurt them, really bad things can come. And this particular researcher’s response to that was that they don’t feel it and they don’t miss their thumbs. So that just gives you sort of an idea of the inflexibility and rigidity that many researchers wanting to do work in Indian country are bringing with them. And, you know, as Heather was mentioning, working with tribes requires a lot of patience in terms of acknowledging and understanding your own biases and knowing when to listen. Many people assume they innately possess that trait, but really, it’s a lifelong process. And so I think that this particular planning grant has really given us an opportunity to focus on really building our listening ears and our listening capabilities and building a relationship with the community to understand, you know, what is appropriate and inappropriate and how do we behave in this community as researchers. So it’s really about setting the stage for something that’s going to be very collaborative, very participatory, and something that will ultimately be of benefit to the tribe.

Susan [00:09:17] Heather, why did you and Jeremy at TLPI decide to reach out to Hoopa, the Hoopa Valley Tribe?

Heather [00:09:24] So we extended the invitation for Hoopa to partner with us, because we thought it was a really unique opportunity to work with a tribe that has a lot of what we think of as protective elements of culture, that the tribe is really practicing culture, practicing their language as well as expressions of sovereignty. Hoopa is one of the first tribes in California to have their own tribal court. They have a very solid tribal law enforcement agency. They are a self-governance tribe for folks that know what that is. So they have all these protective elements, but they’re also facing a lot of the challenges that other tribal communities face in terms of substance abuse and crime. So we were really curious about that interaction right from the start. But there’s also something at Hoop, there’s also a community readiness component that we found really compelling. In our first trips to Hoopa, we found a community that has some really deep thinking and culturally connected folks that want to dive deeper into searching for tribally based solutions. There are folks at Hoopa who are real cultural intellectuals, they’re really ready to dive into these deep issues that have these deep conversations. And in a sense, they’re already on that path of looking for tribally based solutions, and we’re along for the ride and we’re here to assist where we can.

Susan [00:10:54] Can you give us an example of how the Hoopa Valley Tribe members are guiding your research? Jeremy, we’ll start with you on this.

Jeremy [00:11:03] Oh, there’s many examples. I mean, because that really is the essence of the entire project. But I think one example that comes to mind is Heather, Kendall, and I had a chance to meet with this, this group of Hoopa grandmothers. They were women that lived in the community their whole lives and had raised their children and their grandchildren there. And we went over to one of the ladies’ houses one afternoon and we sat down together in a circle outside, surrounded by trees and birds and nature, the whole thing, and had a really, really just inspired conversation about Hoopa culture, traditions, ceremony, issues going on in the community. But it was really from the place of, you know, it was a very relaxed kind of conversation. It was, you know, there was nothing artificial about it. You know, it wasn’t your traditional, you know, we’re sitting in an interview setting and we have our list of questions. We didn’t come with any, you know, type of script or anything like that. I mean, it was really a chance for us to just sit down in a circle together and basically have a storytelling hour. And I might add that it was really a three-hour meeting. We — we talked for hours on end, just about a number of things that these grandmothers felt was very important in the community. So, again, I just sort of come back to, you know, being thoughtful listeners and sitting and, you know, not following every single sentence up with a question, or, you know, trying to, you know, probe on each and every thing that they brought up. You know, it was more about sitting, listening, and reflecting. I think that those kinds of learning moments are really what this approach to research is all about, because, you know, we’re building relationships and that’s really helping us establish some degree of trust with people in the community, which is not an easy feat. But fortunately, with Kendall being our tribal liaison and kind of building that connection, it’s been, it’s been very successful.

Susan [00:13:21] Kendall, from your perspective, as the researchers have come out there and you’ve worked to connect them with the community members, aside from building trust with the community, what else do you see happening in these interactions from your perspective?

Kendall [00:13:42] From my perspective, I would say that I’ve also gained more insight than I had originally because I’ve known these people, most of these people my entire life. And if not know on a personal connection level, I’ve known them on a professional level. And so their insight and what they were willing to share, you know, with with Jeremy and Heather — it was their idea, their portrayal of how the information that they wanted to share, things that were culturally sensitive, personal to them. So it was a different perspective for me because it was something that I probably wouldn’t have originally been able to share with them, either.

Susan [00:14:29] And Heather, what do you think that you are gaining as you’re learning more about the culture with this group of people that you’re hoping to have a long-term relationship with? How does that set the stage for your future work?

Heather [00:14:43] I mean, we’re learning so much, it’s hard to know where to begin. So at Hoopa, they’re so tied to their land. Hoopa is very unique in that they’re one of the few tribes in California that still remains on their ancestral land. They were never removed anywhere. They are, you know, in their place of origin, almost, in the Hoopa Valley. And so that creates such a strong tie to place and to the land, and the culture comes along with that. And I’ve really been thinking a lot about how the Trinity River, which is such an important piece of Hoopa culture and Hoopa life and subsistence, is really a part of this project as well. It’s almost like the Trinity River is one of our project participants because it — it weaves in and out almost everything.

Susan [00:15:37] Now when you’re having a really in depth collaboration between researchers and the tribal community, how do you conceive of your, your research team? I mean, we know there are the three of you, but Kendall, who else is contributing to the research from the tribal community?

Kendall [00:16:01] So — so Jeremy and Heather came with several different groups of different people that they may want to speak with. So that included language bearers, people who are culturally knowledgeable, people who came from traditional dance families, students, elders, people who had an experience with domestic violence, people who had interactions with law enforcement on either side of law enforcement. So it was really not specific, but everyone kind of intermingled in all these different areas. That laid pretty heavily on the project because once we got these different individuals saying — because a lot of them fell into several other categories, too, and then they just pretty much steered the entire conversation that we had, the entire interview process that we had kind of set up. It was very open-ended, and they, you know, there was no telling where they would end up. So, like, Heather and Jeremy had mentioned before, this hour conversation we were supposed to have turned into three hours. Also in this interview process, it’s really about learning from the different areas in which — I mean, for us here, traditionally, you know, the valley, the mountains, the river, those things are teaching places. So if we’re going to share a piece of our knowledge, then those are the settings that we needed to be in.

Susan [00:17:47] Heather, what would you add when you’re thinking about who all is contributing to the research? What are you seeing from a researcher perspective?

Heather [00:17:56] You know, Kendall has been such an important part of this project and she has really almost curated this amazing group of people for us to talk to. I’ve really been in awe of, you know, every time we go, she will set up a list of folks for us to talk to, and I don’t know if she does it intentionally, but it takes us on this journey. Each trip is a different story that’s told overall. And, you know, as Kendall mentioned, I mean, we’re hearing from such a broad cross-section of the community. I mean, we’re not talking to like, let’s talk of social services and let’s talk to law enforcement, to court. We’re just — it’s really we spent so much time talking to folks about language. And also the folks that are justice-involved, we’ve had a couple of extremely powerful interviews with victim survivors in the community. It’s, like I said, it’s really thanks to Kendall that we have that sort of entree and that people feel so comfortable and trust us. So that’s been really amazing.

Susan [00:19:11] Jeremy, how has your research changed since the beginning of this project? I assume that you go into something like this with something in mind, and it sounds like the process has been so organic and growing and community-driven. So how have things changed and what’s been surprising to you as you’ve gone along?

Jeremy [00:19:34] Well, I think, first of all, you’re absolutely right. It’s definitely been an amorphous developmental process that I don’t think there’s any way we could have charted out in advance, you know, how a project like this can go, because you really do need to — when you’re trying to establish a partnership, it really is kind of, you know, going with the flow to continue with the river analogy. I think at the beginning of the project, Heather and I, we tried to sort of develop a blueprint for, you know, by, you know, months, you know, by month three, we want to have, you know, established who are tribal liaison will be. And by, you know, months five, six, seven, and eight, we want to establish what the research priority is or what the research questions are. So, you know, I think originally, and I wish I could tell you that we knew we were doing this, but I don’t think we did, we were thinking about it in a very linear terms. And just our experiences showed us that things just don’t unfold that way, that they do have to be very organic and developmental. So I think, you know, as Heather was telling you — as Heather and Kendall told you, we met with so many different pockets of the community, you know, from elders to language speakers to ceremony leaders to youth to justice involved people. And, you know, in some way, each of those people sort of contributed to this kind of patchwork quilt of the research project. So I do sort of want to echo what they said about each person really being part of the research team. It’s tempting to think of them as study participants, but they really have become more than that.

Susan [00:21:32] I would like to know a little bit more about how you all engaged the voices of victims and survivors. I know that your reach has been very broad, and I’m not sure who would like to take the first crack at that question. Maybe Kendall, I’ll ask you.

Kendall [00:21:50] My background is — has been in the legal field for over ten plus years. And when Jeremy and Heather first came on, I was serving as the Hoopa Valley tribal courts advocate for victims of crime, which is a new grant under the California Office of Emergency Services that is kind of housed under the Hoopa tribal court. So I had access to several different victims that were recent victims of crime. Not all of them are domestic violence. They’re all unique that anyone who is a victim of crime would be eligible for services. It’s not income-based, it’s not — it doesn’t really have any barriers to the program. So because I was in that position, I asked several different participants if this was something that they’d be interested in doing in their free time. Sometimes a lot — well, I’d say most of the time — on your path to healing is sharing. When when people are in that space to, you know, come to terms with the traumas that they faced that they want to really grow from that from, from the lessons learned or experiences that they’ve had. So I think I got about two or three participants out of there that were willing to share their story.

Jeremy [00:23:28] I did want to say that sort of the inspiration for really centering the survivor voice and the criminal justice population voice in general, really kind of came out of that meeting I was talking about earlier with the grandmothers and sitting in a circle and talking and, you know, having that free flowing conversation. One of them made reference to this concept called testimonial justice. And, you know, when she said that, we were very interested and we asked, what’s that all about? What is what you mean by testimonial justice? And basically, it means, you know, ensuring that all voices are brought together and no voice goes unheard. You know, from the most powerful to the completely powerless, you know, all voices sort of count, you know. And so when we heard about that, that really sort of reaffirmed our idea that, you know, we need to, you know, really make sure that all voices are kind of brought together in this project. You know, talking with cultural leaders and language speakers and elders and, you know, the very revered people in the community is great, but we also need to include the voices of those that have been disempowered in some way. And, of course, those that have been victims of crime are definitely among those people. So that’s just another example of how the community voice really sort of guided our decisions around how we empower different voices in the community.

Susan [00:25:11] Heather, although your research focuses on the Hoopa Valley Tribe, how do you think that this project will help in the broader sense? What do you think other tribal communities will be able to learn from your research?

Heather [00:25:26] You know, I feel like this project is really moving the needle in terms of research in Indian country. I feel like this is the time of researchers coming into a community with their own set of questions in their own agenda is over. I mean, that’s just inappropriate. It’s an inappropriate way to conduct yourself in Indian country. You know, there’s a new paradigm here. There’s a new way of partnering with Indian country, of having tribes have the ownership of their data and having tribes have, you know, more of a sovereign approach respecting sort of a tribally driven approach to research in Indian country. And I really, I do applaud NIJ for this solicitation, because we — I’ve never seen anything like this before. They’ve really allowed us to have,  to have this project morph and take on its own life. You know, we really are, you know, going with the flow to follow that analogy one more time. And that’s really what needs to happen with these sorts of research projects. You really need to be ready to pivot at any moment and really follow the direction of the community. And so my hope is that that’s the future of research in Indian country and that we leave the other stuff behind in the past.

Susan [00:26:57] Kendall, from the community’s perspective and the different community members who have been involved in this project, how do you think that their experience might transfer out or have a broader impact beyond the Hoopa Valley Tribe?

Kendall [00:27:14] I think, or — I think this entire approach can be applied, obviously not just through our tribe, but through across the nation, just that we’re — that really, any researcher is culturally sensitive, that that really could be applied truly anywhere, especially with the students that we were able to have in our interview process as well. We met with about, oh, I want to say I think 15 college interns and kind of pitched this idea of what this would mean to them. There was — and not just college students, but there was also another lady who worked with our tribal forestry and her real pet project focuses heavily within the mountains, that’s — that’s her entire focus. And I believe she has her master’s degree around once specific species of bird. And she was incredibly excited about this process. She’s like, this is something that we should have been doing a long time ago. And she also, you know, pretty heavily implied that not only is it something that we should have been doing this entire time, but really making this project something that could be ours and could be our own. And that it was — and it’s true, you know, that TLPI did bring the project to us, but if it was something that we could really get our hands in and make this something that is our own, if we’re going to share all of our information or, you know, even parts or bits and pieces of it, that it remain ours. You know, because it is a part of not us just personally, but us as a tribe, and I would never say that one true individual would be all-encompassing or all-knowledgeable. You know, we all work together. We all come from the same community. We’re all from different villages and we’re all similar, and then we’re all alike. So I wouldn’t say, you know, that one person would be entirely knowledgeable about our whole tribe. And I could think that I can point to, you know, fellow tribal members and they would have the same belief system that, you know, you may be more knowledgeable in one area than I would be in another, and that’s just kind of our sharing of traditions.

Heather [00:29:57] One of the things that we’ve been doing for this project is we have been sort of cataloging what are the research values at Hoopa. It’s one of the things that we talk to a lot of people about when we’re having these discussions and we’ve kind of come up with sort of a list. And one of the things that was sort of concerning to me is that Hoopa has no formal research review policy, no research review board. When we approached the tribe with this project, we went through some folks that we knew at the court and we got a tribal resolution passed in support of the project. But that was kind of an ad hoc sort of — I mean, we just sort of thought that’s the way that we need to do this so that’s what we’re going to do. In theory, you know, someone could come in and, you know, not go through the right channels. So one of the things that we did was I developed a memo for the chairman where I did a little bit of research into what are the different options at Hoopa to protect research, to have some sort of level of research review. And so we laid out what all those options looked like, what other tribes have done. Tribal IRBs, what tribes have more about in formal research review kind of committee, and really tried to flesh that out and talk a little bit about the pros and cons of each. And then we also shared with him our rough idea of what some of the research values that we were hearing about from the community are. And the hope is that, you know, that the chairman will take that and run with it. And it also helps to sort of get ahead of the game for this next phase of this project. So as we look at a bigger research project at Hoopa, our hope is that Hoopa is going to be the driver to tell NIJ, here’s what’s okay in our community. Here’s the data that we need to own. You know, if someone’s going to conduct research in our community funded by the federal government here, here’s how it needs to happen. So I think it’s very timely that something like this might happen in the community.

Susan [00:32:10] So speaking of next phase, what is the next phase for this project? Jeremy, why don’t I pitch that one to you?

Jeremy [00:32:20] Sure. So this project is currently 18 months in the making. So this has been a very long and rewarding planning process. And it’s only really been in the past six months that all the stories we’ve heard and all the testimonies that we’ve gathered from the community have really sort of coalesced in this, this idea for a full research project. And as we began this work, the Hoopa Valley Tribe had been getting this family wellness court off the ground and family wellness courts, just to give you a little bit of background, they’re similar to drug court models that are sort of tribal versions of drug courts that really try to embody tribal traditions and incorporate many elements of culture to really help families achieve durable healing. So the purpose of this particular family wellness court, it’s for families that have dependency cases in the county court. In other words, there was — child welfare became involved with families because there was a drug abuse or a substance abuse issue going on. So the Hoopa Family Wellness Court is designed to basically try to bring families back together in a culturally inspired way. So for our project, we’re proposing to do kind of a developmental evaluation to help the community tell the story of the family wellness court. You know, what sort of outcomes are families experiencing that go through this process? And what does their healing journey look like? Are they achieving recovery? If so, how? If not, where are some areas that this wellness court model can be strengthened? So, most of the time, evaluations of wellness courts, healing to wellness courts, they follow a very prescriptive “here’s the outcomes that we’re going to look at,” and they usually look at things like recidivism, housing, employment. So they look at very — it’s a very sort of accounting based way of telling the story of success. Our proposed practice is going to be something very different. It’s going to be more story driven. It’s going to be very participatory. We’re hoping to include elements, peer-to-peer learning so that, you know, when the court is experiencing some sort of struggle or some sort of challenge, we’re able to kind of take a pulse of that and provide evidence and data to the court in real time so that they can say, oh, here’s the problem we’re experiencing. This is the change we need to make and to improve and enhance our model. So essentially, we’re looking at a developmental evaluation of the family wellness court to help them tell their story of success.

Susan [00:35:34] Heather, what kind of future impact do you see this type of tribal research having, just looking forward in the field of tribal research? How do you think that what you’re doing might influence the future direction of tribal research?

[00:35:56] Well, I — I do think that this is really the next wave of tribal research. I really do think that the research in Indian country now needs to be driven by tribes, by tribal priorities. You know, I feel like the previous model doesn’t work anymore. And it didn’t work for quite a while. It was it was pretty broken. Tribes were not benefiting from research. Tribes were not owning the data. They were just research subjects. And, you know, frankly, a lot of researchers were profiting or kind of getting from successes on the backs of tribes. That’s not okay. And really, projects like this show how it can be done differently. And, you know. It’s really — it’s really the way that ethical research in Indian country needs to be conducted.

Jeremy [00:36:55] And I would just add to that, I’m really hoping that this project sort of contributes to, you know, a redefining of kind of our language around research and evaluation. For example, one term that you frequently see is culturally competent practice or culturally competent research, culturally competent evaluation. Competency should not be the bar that we’re trying to reach for making sure that our work is done well.

Susan [00:37:30] Well, I want to thank you all. This has been so exciting to see this type of deliberate and careful work to establish a foundation for long-term research. I know that victims and survivors and other community members will surely benefit from this work. Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us.

Susan [00:37:50] We hope you enjoyed this episode of “Tell Us About It.” If there are research or practice experts you’d like us to interview or research tools you’d like us to feature on this podcast, email us at

Closing [00:38:06] “Tell Us About It” is a production of the Center for Victim Research, funded by the Office for Victims of Crime’s Vision-21 Initiative through cooperative agreement number 2016-XVBX-K006. The Office for Victims of Crime is part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. However, the points of view and opinions discussed on this podcast are those of the host and expert contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.