Conventional evaluation emphasizes the measurement of quantitative data and the use of qualitative data to provide a narrative in places where the hard numbers are unable to measure. Traditional Native evaluation emphasizes qualitative approaches, telling the unique stories of the people and using quantitative data to support the narratives. In order to provide the best evaluation for Native communities, project stakeholders and community members need to participate in the evaluation design and process, thereby making the evaluation part of the project instead of appearing as an audit by an outside entity.

CAIRNS believes that the evaluation of projects that provide services to Native communities should include four dimensions—spatial, social, spiritual and experiential—that conceptually define traditional Native communities. Because these four dimensions are grounded in the traditions of a community, they resonate from long ago through today and into the future.

. . . that acknowledge and incorporate tribal perspectives . . .

The spatial dimension recognizes that peoples and lands are intimately interconnected, making tribal lands immediate and personal instead of distant and objective. In discussing the connection between tribal peoples and their lands, Vine Deloria, Jr. states that “every location within [each tribe’s] original homelands has a multitude of stories that recount the migrations, revelations, and particular historical incidents that cumulatively produced the tribe in its current condition.” American Indians, continued Deloria, “hold their lands—places—as having the highest possible meaning, and all their statements are made with this reference point in mind.” This suggests that evaluations should account for the interconnectedness between a community’s self-identity and its homelands, and keep in mind that a community’s traditional homelands extend far beyond its current reservation landholdings.

The two quotes are from Vine Deloria, Jr. (1994), God is Red: A Native View of Religion, pp. 122 & 62. Golden, CO: Fulcrum.

The social dimension relates land and identity to what Vine Deloria calls “peoplehood,” a unique community identity differentiated from other tribes and from individual Indian  persons. A focus on “the people,” as opposed to individuals, all Indians, or abstract themes, recognizes that the evaluation of tribal projects is community-based and tribally-specific. Therefore, evaluations from a traditional tribal perspective take into account the historical experiences that are meaningful to each community as a whole and the important places in a community’s past. Furthermore, the communication of these experiences rests firmly on the foundation of oral tradition in general, and specific tribal languages in particular.

Deloria’s concept of peoplehood is described in Vine Deloria, Jr. and Clifford Lytle (1984). The Nations Within: The Past and Future of American Indian Sovereignty. New York: Pantheon.

The spiritual dimension guides the relationships between Native peoples and their lands. Native communities are guided by spiritual instructions that embody the moral and ethical standards by which tribal members conduct their interactions not only with the land but also with each other and with outsiders. Within these communities, selected individuals have access to special powers and esoteric knowledge. The passing down of tribal knowledge is done by respected tribal members at particular places, or during certain times, or to properly prepared persons. Therefore, thorough evaluations will require sufficient time—and permission—to incorporate this traditional information.

The experiential dimension recognizes that tribal communities perpetuate ongoing relationships with their lands, families and higher spiritual powers. It also recognizes that tribal communities not only have a right to participate in the evaluation of community projects, but more importantly, they have a responsibility to do so. Outside evaluators should therefore collaborate with tribal communities in developing evaluation plans that articulate legitimate decision-making authority for both partners.