EERS Week: Susan Jenkins on Evaluating American Indian and Alaskan Native Programs

Hello, my name is Susan Jenkins and I am Treasurer of EERS. I have evaluated several Federal Tribal Grants Programs and have learned to redesign assessment, analysis, strategies, and solutions to be appropriate for tribal governments and/or tribal programs. While American Indians and Alaska Natives are citizens of the United States, they also maintain separate and distinct citizenship, cultural values, traditions, beliefs, and identity which provide for modes of thought and communication that may differ from those of other groups.

Lesson Learned: You do not have to be an expert. Learning what you can about the group you will be working with and being humble goes a long way.

Lesson Learned: Allocate enough time. Tribal traditions often require that tribal leaders deliberate extensively and consider the long-term consequences of their decisions.

Lesson Learned: Tribal members may speak English as a second language and some concepts are not easily translated. Being sensitive and seeking clarification in a patient and respectful manner can bridge gaps in cross-cultural communication.

Hot Tip: Some ways to demonstrate respect include:

  • Be willing to admit limited knowledge of tribal culture, and inviting tribal members to educate you about specific cultural protocols. When in doubt about something, ask respectfully for guidance.
  • Understand that certain objects, such as feathers and beadwork may be sacred, and should not be touched or discussed.
  • Listen and observe more than you speak and be comfortable with silences or long pauses in conversation. In tribal communities, any interruption is considered highly disrespectful, and may undermine your credibility.
  • Understand that Native Americans may convey truths or difficult messages through humor or by telling stories.
  • Pointing your finger is interpreted as rude behavior in many tribes.
  • Respect personal space and do not take photographs without permission.

Rad Resource: On a recommendation from the head of my agency’s Tribal Grants Program, I took the training: Working Effectively with Tribal Governments which provided basic skills and knowledge for working more effectively with tribal governments. I increased my understanding and awareness of tribal issues and concerns, and important legal, historical and cultural factors that should inform work with Tribal programs.

Rad Resource: Medicine Wheel Evaluation Framework. This guide introduces the ‘Medicine Wheel’, outlining its history and uses, and shows how it can be used as an evaluation framework. I used this guide to develop a graphic showing proposed individual-level outcomes of the Federal Tribal Grant Program.

Rad Resource: A list of citations obtained from public sources and recommended by National Indian Education Association (NIEA) staff and partners. Over 25 citations/abstracts and, where available, links to full-text are provided.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Eastern Evaluation Research Society (EERS) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from EERS members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


3 thoughts on “EERS Week: Susan Jenkins on Evaluating American Indian and Alaskan Native Programs”

  1. Cultural awareness is bliss raised in the state of California, I’ve had access to so many cultural influences. I find that Texas has it’s limits and often have to venture outside the city limits. Most respectfully of cultures that practice traditionally is admired. The experiences of my cultural background and ethnicities paved the interests I have to explore other cultures regularly.

  2. Elisa Chamberlain

    My name is Elisa Chamberlain currently a student at Texas A&M University-Central Texas. I find this article to be easily relatable. Learning about other cultural differences can cut through cultural stigmas which would lessen tensions and unclear motives in communication. I also understand that time management spans vary from culture to culture. My culture is fast paced and arrival at least 15 minutes prior to an engagement is considered being on time. In my culture, being late is considered disrespectful and not tolerated. Tribal leaders have earned the title and I think that one should be aware of this cultural norm if they are engaging in interactions with them. I’m glad that this grant exists, it’s an eye opener that is not commonly discussed, not to mention legal issues to appropriate funds. Great article. Thank you.

  3. Tiffany Sockwell

    Good evening, Mrs. Jenkins,

    My name is Tiffany Sockwell; I am a graduate student enrolled in a graduate Program Evaluation course at my university, Texas A&M University-Central Texas. I find this post regarding your work with tribal programs very interesting. Your post illustrates the importance of impartiality during evaluations. Another important point that I gleaned from your post is that collaboration is critical to the success of an evaluation. In this case, one must remain unbiased when conducting evaluations, especially when those evaluations involve those with differing cultural values, norms, and beliefs.

    I am glad to read that the review of programs was successful due to open communication, mutual respect, and collaboration. As a military veteran, this reminds me of my multiple tours overseas in foreign lands, where these qualities (or lack thereof) were key to successful (or unsuccessful) tasks and missions. Thank you for sharing!

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