When her grandmother was diagnosed with cancer years ago, Amanda Boyd recalls her family going with her grandmother to medical appointments, and they visited the medicine man on the way home.
“Communication about health was difficult. We couldn’t talk about sickness because it … ,” Boyd pauses, choosing her words carefully. “It made it more real.”
Boyd, an associate professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University and a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, says that her experience with her grandmother demonstrated how critical it is to have trusted information sources to communicate about health and well-being in a way that resonates with Indigenous people.
“My Granny was my inspiration to better understand, design, and evaluate culturally appropriate health communication strategies,” says Boyd, who is a recipient of a National Institute on Aging K01 Career Development Award.
Courtesy Amanda Boyd
Boyd is working with collaborators in the Murrow College and the Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH) at WSU on the five-year grant to examine how Native Americans seek, process, and react to online health information. She says her desire to understand how people can better communicate to Elders inspired the project.
“Elders are respected and valued as knowledge keepers, teachers, and language carriers, and they are the intergenerational transmitters of cultural knowledge,” Boyd says. “It’s important to understand how to communicate about Alzheimer’s disease in an effective and culturally appropriate manner.”
Demographic change among Indigenous communities have made Alzheimer’s disease more visible, and Boyd says there is a pressing need to raise awareness of the disease and address its impacts on underserved populations.
Those populations are the focus of much of Boyd’s research, which includes working with the Inuit in the Arctic to understand perceptions of contaminants, while also promoting the consumption of healthy, traditional food sources. She also studies the factors that influence a community’s support for or opposition to local energy development.
“Sense of place, or place attachment, factors into the way people make decisions and how they think about risks,” Boyd says. “It plays a role in where people live, how they value their surroundings, and develop community.”
Boyd grew up in the Peace Region of northern Canada with her parents, who are both Métis and Dane-zaa. Her father’s family started farming there more than 100 years ago. Boyd’s mother’s family has lived in the region for much longer.
Place attachment is at the core of Boyd’s research. It’s her respect for place that pushes Boyd to better understand how to communicate about health and environmental risks, and work toward improving health outcomes. She wants her research with underserved populations to be informed by their needs and conducted in a way that includes experiences, knowledge, and perspectives.
“Her research is to give voice to people who don’t have it,” says Rachel Ellenwood (’21 MA Comm.), who worked with Boyd as a graduate student.
Alyssa Mayeda (’15, ’17 MA Comm.), communications manager at the Seattle Indian Health Board who has worked with Boyd for the past seven years, says Boyd is thoughtful and intentional in how she puts a project together, and in how she presents an idea. She says Boyd is sensitive to making sure research is done well, and ethically.
“She taught me about cultural humility,” Mayeda says. “It is learning about how diplomacy works, telling stories in a respectful way.”
Mayeda says she has learned from Boyd to bring the research back to the communities, to make sure they are involved in the process.
Boyd and her colleagues collaborate with people in the community to make sure the research they do is important to, and ultimately benefits, the people living in the region.
The five-year K01 award will allow Boyd to focus on her research, but that doesn’t mean her schedule is free. She has a 3-year-old son with her partner, Travis Paveglio, who is an associate professor at the University of Idaho. She serves on the executive council of the Society for Risk Analysis and coleads efforts to communicate with research stakeholders and get information to the people who can use it for two National Institutes of Health-funded centers. One focuses on controlling blood pressure and reducing the risk of adverse outcomes in Native populations (Native-CHART), and the other focuses on reducing alcohol-related health disparities among Native populations (NCARE).
Ellenwood says Boyd is a gifted teacher, meeting students where they are and supporting them as they grow into the scholars they are capable of becoming.
“That one person who is this pillar for you, supports and inspires you at the same time, that would be Amanda,” Ellenwood says.
Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health
(IREACH at Washington State University)