The HONOR Project launches first community-based study of urban Two-Spirit Native Americans

The HONOR Project launches first community-based study of urban Two-Spirit Native Americans

Exploring how Native culture and spirituality impact coping and health among urban Two-Spirit Natives

SEATTLE, WA – Karina Walters (Oklahoma Choctaw and Professor of Social Work at the University of Washington) in conjunction with Native community members, national consultants, and an all-Native staff, has begun the first community-based study of Two-Spirit Native Americans. This research study is called the HONOR Project, the name for which does not reference an acronym.

Rather, the project is looking at the relationships among trauma, coping, and health of urban Native Americans and, in particular, those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or two-spirit (LGBTT-S). Through conducting surveys in Seattle and five partner sites across the United States, the project aims to build culturally relevant and timely interventions that address the urgent needs of Two-Spirits and other Native populations, nationally and internationally.

This project is a direct response, and attempt to counter, the very little research addressing the health and mental health concerns, as well as HIV risks and prevention needs, of urban LGBTT-S Native Americans. Although great variety exists among the over 550 federally recognized tribes in the U.S., the Native population as a whole is one at potentially high and disproportionate risk for HIV. As of 2000, Native Americans were close to twice as likely to have HIV than White people.

“But, Native Americans’ risk for HIV is actually misunderstood and misrepresented,” as Walters reports. “This is primarily due to misclassification of Native peoples, high rates of sexually transmitted infections, and a host of adverse social conditions that exist for Native Americans, including historical oppression, low economic resources, and high rates of alcohol use and trauma.” As a result, these conditions contribute to substantial disparities in Native health, mental health, and overall wellbeing.

When looking at LGBTT-S Native Americans specifically, even more stressors exist that impinge on their overall health, as well as risk for HIV. LGBTT-S Native Americans endure increased rates of physical violence, trauma, discrimination, and sexual assault.

For these reasons, Walters and collaborators are particularly interested in exploring how Native culture, spirituality, and traditions decrease alcohol use, HIV risk behaviors, and mental health problems of Two-Spirit people. This is being accomplished through a six-site national survey, which was the result of over two years’ work assessing the needs of these communities through interviews and working groups of Native leaders. The results of this study have the potential to make profound impacts on the welfare of Native populations across this country, and beyond.

The main office of the Project is located at the School of Social Work, University of Washington, Seattle, under the direction of the Native Wellness Center, led by Professors Karina Walters and Tessa Evans-Campbell. The five collaborating sites, and where the largest urban Native populations live, are: Los Angeles, San Francisco/Oakland, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, and Oklahoma City/Tulsa. Through these collaborations, each site is enhancing its community’s capacities to intervene with marginalized Native communities and develop relevant evaluations of these interventions.

Along with the outreach efforts conducted in each site, the Project has developed a central website [Editor’s Note: the website mentioned here is no longer online; there is now a report of highlights from the study at The Honors Project], containing the most current information about the study as well as links to researchers’ work, collaborating sites, and related resources. Potential participants, community agencies, interested collaborators, and other allied organizations and individuals can contact the Project for more information via the general e-mail or the toll-free phone number 866-685-0164. The office is staffed Mondays through Saturdays, 9AM to 6PM (PDT).

About the HONOR Project
The HONOR Project began in 2003 with a series of focus groups and interviews with Native leaders and allied community members from across the nation. This initial work helped to identify themes regarding stressors and coping strategies specific to Two-Spirit Native Americans, and was employed in the design of the second phase of the study.

Phase two, which is currently under way, in six U.S. cities, uses interviews to survey urban LGBTT-S Native Americans about issues of trauma, health and mental health, cultural and spiritual coping, risk behaviors related to HIV, and alcohol and other drugs. The project is funded through the National Institute of Mental Health. With continued success and funding, the project hopes to expand to other pertinent needs in Native communities and provide timely responses to these issues.

In collaboration with Native and non-Native co-Investigators, staff, and research consultants, Karina Walters (Oklahoma Choctaw and Professor of Social Work at the University of Washington) is the Principal Investigator and runs the Project, and Antony Stately (Oneida, Ojibwe) is the Director. The project also incorporates Native community members directly into the development of the research process via focus groups, interviewer input, and local and national Leadership Councils. These councils consist of Two-Spirit and ally Native community members. All these collaborators provide direction, feedback, and input into project development and implementation.

About our national Native collaborators

The HONOR Project study is being conducted at the following six sites: School of Social Work, Seattle; National Native American AIDS Prevention Center, San Francisco/Oakland; United American Indian Involvement, Los Angeles; Indigenous Peoples Task Force, Minneapolis/St. Paul; American Indian Community House, New York City; and Gay American Indians, Oklahoma City/Tulsa.   Â

These agency sites are community partners, and they all offer a variety of social services and cultural events including HIV/AIDS outreach services and/or Two-Spirit programs, health care services, alcohol and substance abuse services, mental health counseling, and youth/adult cultural programming. Through their participation and collaboration in the project, they are additionally receiving supports to grow their research, evaluation, and intervention capacities.

About the Native Wellness Center
The Native Wellness Center is a research consortium, dedicated to policy and practice, focusing on the needs and wellness of Native and indigenous populations. In 2002, University of Washington professors Karina Walters and Tessa Evans-Campell co-founded the center, and are currently the only two Native professors at the School of Social Work. They work in collaboration with local and national Native and non-Native researchers and other consultants.

Current projects under the center are the American Indian Vietnam Veterans Project, the Turtle Island Native Wellness Project, and the HONOR Project. The center is housed in the School of Social Work (, at the University of Washington (, in Seattle, Washington, United States.

For further information, contact:
Antony Stately, Director, HONOR Project, 866.685.0164,