Unheard Alaska: Culturally anchored participatory action research on sobriety with Alaska Natives

Gerald V. Mohatt, Kelly L. Hazel, James Allen, Mary Stachelrodt, Chase Hensel, Robert Fath

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


Alcohol research in Alaska Native communities has a contentious history. This project has attempted to address a critical need for research to guide alcohol abuse prevention and treatment with Alaska Natives using culturally anchored participatory action research. The process of grounding the research methodology in the culture and community is described, along with its contribution to community psychology's understanding of the importance of cultural factors. Tensions between indigenous values and ways of knowing, and Western research methodologies are delineated, along with how these tensions were resolved. Important issues that arose in doing culturally anchored participatory action research are described. These included the development of a community of inquiry, key methodological decisions, the empowerment of participants as coresearchers, and flexibility in research implementation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-273
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Community Psychology
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jun 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
One of the reasons for the conference in Anchorage that began our story was to stimulate research in Alaska on alcohol abuse. We (the university researchers) were encouraged by the National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to develop a research proposal to pursue research in Native communities. As we wrote the grant proposal with technical assistance funded by NIAAA, the tension between the positivistic/quantitative paradigm and our emergent methodology was quickly confronted. The search for funding for qualitative research has historically been problematic. NIH review panels are often composed of individuals from diverse areas, including scientists with biological, epidemiological, and other training backgrounds that may be unfamiliar with qualitative and community-based participatory methodologies. Concerns are often raised with the scientific merit of qualitative methodologies, such as the lack of generalizeable and predetermined research hypotheses. In addition, concerns regarding community participation in the research process and the requisite new relations in research ownership and control of publication make it difficult for participatory approaches to be reviewed favorably. Our council had clearly voiced their desire for a qualitative life history methodology. We were faced with the dilemma of holding onto a methodology that was developed through consensus with our council, but that risked skepticism and rejection from NIH reviewers, or developing a more positivistic and quantitative design that stood a better chance of being funded.


  • Action research
  • Alaska Native
  • Alcohol
  • American Indian
  • Culture
  • Participatory research
  • Recovery
  • Sobriety


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