Balancing Research And Respect: Researching Indigenous Populations

Gambling among ethnic and racial minorities, especially indigenous groups, is an important and largely untapped area for research, which has historically fallen short of its potential because of tensions between researchers and aboriginal peoples. For example, in the U.S., many Native Americans believe that research conducted on their tribes, especially projects on addictive behaviors, has been characterized by unethical practices (as discussed in ourJan. 2010Issues & Insights). Reminding us that these issues have worldwide import, a recent study published in theAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Public Healthexplores the relationships between researchers and Indigenous Australians, and proposes several practical solutions to these problems in the context of a community survey of gambling behaviors of aboriginal Australians (Hing, Breen, & Gordon, 2010).

The authors describe their preparation to conduct a survey on what they perceived to be “a highly sensitive issue – gambling and gambling problems” (Hing, Breen, & Gordon, 2010, p. 547). Using the 2006 report by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2006), they discuss the ethical values that guided their study as well as the steps they took to complete their research project with the full support of the community. The researchers emphasized respect and reciprocity in their research design and included several benefits for the community being surveyed directly in their grant proposal (such as jobs for 26 research assistants, an art contest in the local schools, a formal presentation of results to the elders of the community, and a $10,000 community donation).

The researchers also discuss the tension between culturally respectful research and ideal research methods. For example, the research assistants hired from the community surveyed their friends and family to build confidence before going out into the community. Surveying friends and family has the potential to introduce bias into the study but was a necessary step for the inexperienced research assistants. This bias would not have been introduced had the researchers brought in professional research assistants from outside community, but the researchers decided that the small amount of bias introduced was far outweighed by winning the trust of the community.

More information on the article in theAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Public Healthis available on the journal’swebsite. What are your thoughts about culturally respectful research practices? Tell us in the Comments section below.


Hing, N., Breen, H., & Gordon, A. (2010). Respecting cultural values: conducting a gambling survey in an Australian Indigenous community.Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health,34(6), 547-553. doi:10.1111/j.1753-6405.2010.00624.x

National Health and Medical Research Council. (2006).Keeping research on track: a guide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples about health research ethics. Canberra. Retrieved from

NCRG staffResearch Updategambling among minoritiesgambling in Australiaindigenous Australians