Working Research Statement
My research agenda broadly aims to understand and eliminate health disparities in Indigenous communities. My current area of research is heavily informed by a post-colonial framework with a focus on de-colonizing and indigenizing epistemologies of space and place as they relate to health, mental health, and substance abuse in indigenous communities. A post-colonial lens with its attention to legacies of power differentials and oppression in communities of color helps ground the notion that Western constructs alone do not fully explain the effects of colonialism, racism and associated structural inequalities in the lives of marginalized peoples. This lends itself to the need for incorporating alternative epistemologies and methodologies that consider complexity of culture into research seeking to understand and intervene in persistent health and mental health disparities.
I am investigating the question of how space and place become embodied and lived physically and spiritually among and within Indigenous peoples. Over the last several decades space and place have emerged as important concepts and how they are theorized is beginning to shape many policies and practices that impact our daily lives. These theoretical concepts are contributing to broader conceptualizations of social determinants of health. That is, the way that space and place are theorized is shaping the notion that where people “live, work, learn, play, and pray” powerfully impacts the conditions of their existence. An indigenous perspective adds an important cultural lens which acknowledges the role of deep cultural and environmental ecology in conceptualizing space and place. Specifically, this perspective considers the role of historical and environmental trauma as well as resistance and resiliency in influencing overall health and wellness and political agency in indigenous and broader communities. With recent changes in racial category tracking in the United States Census, Indigenous communities are emerging as more diverse than previously thought. Indigenous ancestry in Latino populations is coming to light and with remarkably similar legacies of colonialism and ongoing discrimination to U.S. and global indigenous groups, the implications for social work research and practice are notable.
Recent developments in social science research are showing the power of narrative in interrupting the transmission of intergenerational trauma in Native populations. That is, the process of sharing story has been shown as a powerful intervention in trauma transmission in families and communities. I connect theories of historical trauma, place, and embodiment to build a framework that illuminates the simultaneous impacts of colonization and historical trauma on the land and consequently the health and bodies of indigenous people. Appreciating the power of story as a culturally relevant norm as well as a potential cultural buffer from the effects of intergenerational trauma in indigenous communities, an innovative qualitative methodological approach is employed including use of GPS and photographic technologies, digital storytelling, and narrative analysis. These methods are particularly relevant and accessible to indigenous cultural communities and are emerging as powerful modes of research and intervention.
Building off of the Indigenist Stress-Coping Model developed by Walters and Simoni (2002), my specific body of research is depicted with the working model pictured below.