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Creating Connections

September 6, 2019
Native American man in traditional clothing under a tree

As director of the High Plains American Indian Research Institute, James Trosper facilitates research and relationships.

By Micaela Myers

Fresh out of high school, James Trosper received a pre-med scholarship. But he soon decided a hospital setting wasn’t for him, and he wanted to find other ways to help people. That led him to the University of Wyoming for his degree in social work.

Trosper is Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone and grew up on the Wind River Indian Reservation. On his mother’s side, Trosper is a direct descendant of the great Eastern Shoshone Chief Washakie, and on his father’s side he’s a descendant of Chief Friday, who was the leader of a band of Arapaho in the northern Colorado area.

During his undergraduate work, Trosper worked at UW’s Indian Education Office and also served as director of STAND, the university’s alcohol and drug prevention program at the time. Soon after he graduated, he was called home to take over as sun dance chief for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and director of Indian Child Welfare for the Northern Arapaho Tribe. Trosper comes from a long line of sun dance chiefs. The sun dance is an important ceremony to the Eastern Shoshone and other Plains cultures.

Trosper worked for Indian Child Welfare for 15 years before taking over as director of the Northern Arapaho Department Family Services for nine years. He stayed connected to UW, serving on the Board of Trustees from 2002–13.

In 2018, Trosper became director of UW’s High Plains American Indian Research Institute (HPAIRI). The institute aims to promote positive and productive relationships between UW and regional Native American communities. It facilitates tribal access to university resources and helps UW researchers connect with tribal communities in a coordinated fashion. 

“There’s so much benefit the reservation is going to see directly through HPAIRI’s work,” Trosper says. “We really want to be a service to the university and the tribes.”

HPAIRI coordinates all UW research taking place on the Wind River reservation to ensure research isn’t duplicated, to avoid bombarding the tribes with requests and to make sure researchers have the right connections and follow the correct protocol. 

Trosper is working with the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes on their institutional review board processes. “On the Arapaho side, they want to create their own,” he says. “On the Shoshone side, they want to use what’s in place already with the Rocky Mountain Tribal Institutional Review Board process.”

Having processes in place will make it easier for tribes to decide what research projects they want to participate in and will streamline the process for researchers as well.

The institute also encourages researchers to reach out to the tribes to find out their needs and tailor their proposals accordingly.

HPAIRI is currently leading and partnering on a number of efforts, including microbiome micro-grants and economic development with Wyoming EPSCoR and a partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD).

“HPAIRI is providing training on tribal governance and indigenous populations to the DoD,” Trosper says. “The training we provide has been important to them and indigenous relations. One team went to Afghanistan, and the feedback we got from them was that our training was really helpful.”

For example, in Afghanistan as with the Wind River tribes, it’s not just elected leaders who have great influence—ceremonial leaders are also vital to the life of the community. The DoD trainings address that. In exchange for the training, the DoD personnel complete a service project that the tribes identify.

In addition to his role with HPAIRI, Trosper served as the initial director of the Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center and serves as chair and executive director of the Chief Washakie Foundation.

He notes that Chief Washakie is quoted as saying, “I fought to keep our land, our water and our hunting grounds—today, education is the weapon my people need to protect them.”

“This is an exciting time to reflect on Chief Washakie’s words, which serve as a reminder of the power education can bring to a people,” Trosper says. “Tribal lands can be protected and understood through education. HPAIRI is doing its part to ensure words become action.”

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