SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 2000

Measuring Risks to Tribal Community Health and Culture


This paper provides a framework for evaluating risks in Indian Country. All cultures depend on environmental quality for their survival, but the health of tribal communities and their individual members is so intertwined with their environment as to be inseparable. The foundation of risk assessment, characterization, and management in Indian Country rests on the federal trust responsibility to protect the people, their homelands, and their natural and cultural resources. Thus, tribal risk assessments must include the probabilities of adverse health, ecological, and cultural impacts in order to be relevant to the affected tribal community and government. This paper presents several environmentally-focused methods for evaluating overall tribal community health risk and eco-cultural health impacts. Elements of this environmentally-based risk assessment include a culturally-sensitive human exposure scenario, ecological risk assessment that includes species of cultural concern, the evaluation of impacts to environmental fonctions and services, measurement of impacts to socioeconomic and sociocultural health, and a risk characterization step that combines of all these risks and impacts in a way that tells the whole story about impacts to the place or resource from the community's trusteeship perspectives. While these elements are likely to be common to most tribal risk assessments, it must also be recognized that each tribe's ecology, history, culture, and government are unique, so every tribal risk assessment will be unique. Several ways to evaluate tribal community health and eco-cultural risk are presented that include environmental fonctions and services, sociocultural and socioeconomic health impact measurement, and risk characterization. It is hoped that by presenting some initial methods for characterizing and comparing risks that are relevant to tribal cultures and communities an interdisciplinary discussion will be sparked that brings together the disciplines of social impact assessment, comparative risk (quality of life), natural resource valuation, public health, and conventional toxicity-based risk assessment.

Author Information

Harper, BL
International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management, Denver, CO
Harris, SG
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Pendleton, OR
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Developed by Committee: E47
Pages: 195–211
DOI: 10.1520/STP14423S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-5430-8
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-2861-3