Community-based research as a mechanism to reduce environmental health disparities in american Indian and alaska native communities.
Racial and ethnic minority communities, including American Indian and Alaska Natives, have been disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution and contamination. This includes siting and location of point sources of pollution, legacies of contamination of drinking and recreational water, and mining, military and agricultural impacts. As a result, both quantity and quality of culturally important subsistence resources are diminished, contributing to poor nutrition and obesity, and overall reductions in quality of life and life expectancy. Climate change is adding to these impacts on Native American communities, variably causing drought, increased flooding and forced relocation affecting tribal water resources, traditional foods, forests and forest resources, and tribal health. This article will highlight several extramural research projects supported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Science to Achieve Results (STAR) tribal environmental research grants as a mechanism to address the environmental health inequities and disparities faced by tribal communities. The tribal research portfolio has focused on addressing tribal environmental health risks through community based participatory research. Specifically, the STAR research program was developed under the premise that tribal populations may be at an increased risk for environmentally-induced diseases as a result of unique subsistence and traditional practices of the tribes and Alaska Native villages, community activities, occupations and customs, and/or environmental releases that significantly and disproportionately impact tribal lands. Through a series of case studies, this article will demonstrate how grantees—tribal community leaders and members and academic collaborators—have been addressing these complex environmental concerns by developing capacity, expertise and tools through community-engaged research.