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U of MNUniversity of Minnesota
Center for Transportation Studies

Collaborating with American Indian Communities to Re-Interpret and Strategize About Transportation Safety Risks in Tribal Lands

Principal Investigator:

Kathryn Quick, Assistant Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs


Project Summary:

The premise of this study is to better characterize and improve strategies to address the unusually high rates of fatalities and severe injuries from transportation-related crashes among American Indians in the US. The rate of death and significant injury from motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) is much higher for American Indians than for any other racial or ethnic identity group in the United States. Tribal transportation and safety professionals; tribal, state, and federal agencies; and a range of policies and programs identify this situation as an area of elevated concern and priority. Existing explanations of this tragic phenomenon are primarily epidemiological, looking at sources of risk at the level of the entire American Indian population of the United States without adequate attention to heterogeneity within this group and the influence of dynamics and features of specific contexts.

The design of this research is as described in the project title. The focus is transportation safety risks specifically in tribal lands, not the population of American Indians as a whole. It is not restricted to only those who identify as American Indian, but rather to all persons facing transportation-related risks in tribal lands. The research is being conducted in collaboration with American Indian tribal governments and transportation leaders in Minnesota. Through qualitative research, the project gathers data from these stakeholders to enhance interpretation of the nature and sources of transportation safety risks in their particular contexts. Collection of these data has now been largely completed, following a period of relationship building and case selection in coordination with the tribe, a review of the literature, and preliminary analysis of data and refinement of the research questions and design. Coding and analysis of data collected through interviews, surveys, and field notes is now underway.

The research team is collaborating with Minnesota's Advocacy Council for Tribal Transportation (ACTT), partnering with four tribal governments in Minnesota on case studies, and interviewing key regional and national stakeholders. Through these relationships, we are collecting and analyzing rich qualitative data about stakeholders' knowledge of the nature of and key sources of tribal transportation risks in the upper Midwest. We are also gathering success stories and concerns about current policies and management, analyzing crash data, and using our expertise in public policy and management to interpret all of these data and recommend strategic areas for intervention and investment. To date, this research has unearthed several previously undocumented explanations that merit closer study, both to better understand what is going on and to support effective responses.

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