Myra Parker, JD, PhD

Myra Parker, JD, PhD

Creating Healthier, More Equitable Communities by Indigenizing Health

Everyone wants to be more inclusive. But what does that actually mean?

For Myra Parker, it’s about more than making sure the same information gets into everybody’s hands. It’s even more than translating information. It’s about making sure that information is meaningful to the person receiving it. Often, that means tailoring content to a community’s unique needs — otherwise known as cultural adaptation. Through it, Myra is creating healthier, more equitable tribal communities.

Though Native American communities have access to many health resources, these materials often require a thoughtful process of cultural adaptation for them to be truly impactful, Myra argues. Or in her words, “we must take off our clinical lens and put on a community lens.”

In just one example, Myra honored community input to rename a tribal research study from “The Diabetes Study” to something from their indigenous language — “N-has-ten,” which means “living in a good way.” The name reduces potential stigma, as well as acknowledging and supporting tribal concepts of wellness.

“The term is more all-encompassing than the English word for ‘health’; it’s a more holistic perspective about well-being,” Myra explains. “Tribes’ holistic approach to health aligns much better with the goals and desired outcomes of our health research, ensuring improved study fit, community acceptability, and most important, a sense of community health promotion.”

Similarly, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health challenges conventional notions of health. In a Culture of Health, people thrive not just physically, but also mentally and socially throughout their lives.

Research allows Myra to combine her multidisciplinary background of human biology, public health, ethics, policy, and law with her interest in community health and indigenous human rights.

“A light bulb went on the first time I realized that I could do research in tribal communities,” Myra recalls. “I love how understanding federal Indian law can empower tribes through strategic exercise of sovereignty.”

For her 2011 New Connections grant, Myra created a survey and conducted focus groups with tribal and local law enforcement agencies to determine whether or not there was a corresponding reduction in alcohol-related injury and death in tribal governments that have cross-jurisdiction agreements with state or local governments. The findings were complex, with perceptions varying across tribes and local communities.

Since her New Connections grant, Myra also has worked on cultural adaptation grants addressing:

  • Alcohol and drug use, mental health services access, and violence in tribal college communities;
  • Implementation of an evidence-based intervention for alcohol harm reduction at the individual behavior level within tribal college and university communities;
  • Diabetes prevention programs in American Indian communities;
  • Evaluation of a Tribal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visitation program culturally-adapted for an urban Indian community; and
  • A human subjects training program for American Indians who want to do research in their communities and who could benefit from a grounding in tribal ethics principles for research.

Ultimately, Myra hopes to see her work help not only American Indians, but indigenous communities everywhere.

Recent Publications

  • Jernigan, V., Peercy, M., Branam, D., Saunkeah, B., Wharton, D., Winkleby, M., Lowe, J., Salvatore, A., Dickerson, D., Belcourt, A., D’Amico, E., Patten, C., Parker, M., Duran, B., Harris, R., & Buchwald, D. (2015). Beyond health equity: Achieving wellness within American Indian and Alaska Native Communities. American Journal of Public Health, 105(S3), S376–S379.
  • Pearson, C., Parker, M., Fisher, C., & Moreno, C. (2014). Capacity building from the inside out: A randomized control trial on an adapted CITI ethics certification training for American Indian and Alaska Native Community Researchers. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, 9(1), 46–57. PMID: 24572083.
  • James, R., Tsosie, R., Sahota, P., Parker, M., et al. (in press). Exploring pathways to trust: A tribal perspective on data sharing. Genetics in Medicine. PMID: 24830328.
  • Rivers, P. A., Fottler, M. D., & Parker, M. (2005). Environmental assessment of the Indian Health Service. Health Care Management Review, 30(4), 293–303. PMID:16292006.


Fostering Cross-Sector Collaboration to Improve Well-Being

Making Health a Shared Value

Creating Healthier, More Equitable Communities

Strengthening Integration of Health Services and Systems