Skip to main content

Ethical Engagement Resources

As with any political, social, or working relationship, there are practices and principles that will make partnerships with citizens and employees of Tribal Nations more effective and equitable. We encourage those interested in partnering with Indigenous Peoples to learn more using the resources below.


Tribal Nations, including those not recognized by the U.S. government, possess Inherent Sovereignty:

  • “...which means we have autonomous, independent government authority apart from any recognition of such authority by other entities.” (pg. 59, USET Educational Book).

  • Indigenous Data Sovereignty is critically important, especially in science and research contexts.

    • The CARE principles provide guidance for supporting and reinforcing Indigenous data sovereignty.

  • Just like the US federal government and state governments, Tribal governments have agencies with specific duties and authorities (e.g., natural resources departments).

The Rs

There are many important characteristics to ethical engagement:

  • The 4 Rs (Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, Responsibility) describe the need for higher education institutions to better serve the needs of Indigenous students.

  • The 7 Rs framework adds Rights, Reconciliation, and Relationships to understand equitable engagement with Tribal Nations and other Indigenous communities.

Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC)

FPIC is a helpful framework for cooperation with any partners, including Tribal Nations. It describes the only conditions under which consent is truly consensual.

  • Free: no coercion or manipulation, such that Tribal Nations don’t need to explain or justify their “no”;

  • Prior: before any activities or decisions take place (including project proposals and funding requests);

  • Informed: the entire project is clearly communicated in a format, language, and time frame appropriate to Tribal needs.

This includes complete transparency and honesty about the project’s context, activities, timelines, expectations, priorities, potential benefits, public promotion or visibility, weaknesses or potential costs, and more.

A thorough, thoughtful consent process is a requirement of Tribal sovereignty as well. For example, participants must know what information is being recorded, what’s on the record,  and therefore what could be subject to a FOIA request. These are potential vulnerabilities for Indigenous data sovereignty, as well as protection of important Indigenous knowledges, sites, and ways of life.

This 2019 discussion, featuring USET executive director Kitcki Carroll and several other leaders from Tribal communities, provides great insight into Tribal priorities and concerns: USET/USET Sovereignty Protection Fund Discussion on Indian Country