Story from the Field: Community Engagement of Tribal Communities

The work I do is more than just a job I go to everyday, to me, it is personal. I am a tribal member, a mom, a sister and a daughter.
— Melissa Buffalo

 AUTHOR: Melissa Buffalo, Senior Clinical Research Specialist, Sanford Research

AUTHOR: Melissa Buffalo, Senior Clinical Research Specialist, Sanford Research


Often times I am asked about my work with tribal nations from family, friends, and colleagues and what that work entails. I lead the community engagement efforts with the Collaborative Research Center for American Indian Health (CRCAIH) to help tribes build their research infrastructure. Five tribes, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, Tribal Nations Research Group with the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Indians. Each tribal nation approaches how they build their infrastructure and capacity in various ways and have partnered with CRCAIH at different times in the last 6 years. What does that mean and why, is usually the follow up question.

I have come to realize how easy it is to answer the why when I discuss my work and what I do on a day to day basis. I explain that as tribal nations, tribes should lead their research efforts and make decisions about what research is conducted in their community. They should own the data and use that data to make informed decisions that increase the health of the community.  They should and must be active participants in planning and conducting the research, assisting with the analysis and guide how the results are disseminated back to the community.  The CRCAIH tribal partners in fact do this and honestly being part of this work is amazing and exciting.

I love being part of something bigger and something that influences so many people at different levels and I honestly think, I get to be part of this. How I approach and carry out my duties as lead varies day to day but always ties back to education and increasing awareness on the importance of building tribal research infrastructure and increasing capacity. The purpose of the work is to address health strategies with tribes and researchers, as many are aware of the health disparities that exist in tribal communities. There are times I get to travel to one of the five tribal nations and engage with local staff, leadership and community members, other times I am traveling to a conference or training in order to gain knowledge and often times networking with others and sharing ideas or experiences.

The work I do is more than just a job I go to everyday, to me, it is personal. I am a tribal member, a mom, a sister and a daughter. I understand the health disparities that often times affect tribal nations through my upbringing and overcoming some of the disparities that impacted my immediate family and most importantly, understanding the importance of healing through culture. I recognize the significance of working to increase the overall health through various strategies that are culturally appropriate. My work is to engage and educate about the importance of building research capacity and assisting each tribe in meeting their goals. I know how important it is to give tribes the tools and resources to protect their members and use research to benefit the whole community. To get more information on CRCAIH, please visit www.CRCAIH.org or check us out on Facebook.