The Imperative for Research to Promote Health Equity in Indigenous Communities

  • Linda R. StanleyEmail author
  • Randall C. Swaim
  • Joseph Keawe’aimoku Kaholokula
  • Kathleen J. Kelly
  • Annie Belcourt
  • James Allen


Health disparities exact a devastating toll upon Indigenous people in the USA. However, there has been scant research investment to develop strategies to address these inequities in Indigenous health. We present a case for increased health promotion, prevention, and treatment research with Indigenous populations, providing context to the recent NIH investment in the Intervention Research to Improve Native American Health (IRINAH) network. We discuss the disproportionate costs and consequences of disparities borne by Indigenous groups, the limited evidence base on effective intervention for this population, how population uniqueness often makes transfer of existing intervention models difficult, and additional challenges in creating interventions for Indigenous settings. Given the history of colonial disruption that has included genocide, forced removal from lands, damaging federal, state and local policies and practices, environmental contamination, and most recently, climate change, we conclude research that moves beyond minor transformations of existing majority population focused interventions, but instead truly respects Indigenous wisdom, knowledge, traditions, and aspirations is needed, and that investment in intervention science to address Indigenous health disparities represent a moral imperative.


Indigenous populations American Indian Alaska Native Native Hawaiian Intervention research Health disparities 


Funding Information

Preparation of this article was supported by funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01DA03514), Kathleen Kelly, Linda Stanley, and Randall Swaim, PIs; National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (R01ES022583), Curtis Noonan, Annie Belcourt, and Tony Ward, PIs; National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (R01ES022649), Curtis Noonan and Tony Ward, PIs; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (R01HL126577), Joseph Keawe‘aimoku Kaholokula, PI; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (R01AA023754), Stacy Rasmus and James Allen, PIs.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human Participants or Animals

No research involving human participants or animals was conducted in the preparation of this article.


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Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linda R. Stanley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Randall C. Swaim
    • 1
  • Joseph Keawe’aimoku Kaholokula
    • 2
  • Kathleen J. Kelly
    • 3
  • Annie Belcourt
    • 4
  • James Allen
    • 5
  1. 1.Tri-Ethnic Center for Prevention ResearchColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Department of Native Hawaiian Health, John A. Burns School of MedicineUniversity of Hawai’i at MānoaHonoluluUSA
  3. 3.Department of MarketingColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  4. 4.School of Public and Community Health SciencesUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA
  5. 5.Department of Biobehavioral Health and Population SciencesUniversity of Minnesota-DuluthDuluthUSA

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