Provost Distinguished Lecturer Series- Beth Rink- September 17, 2018
- Monday, September 17, 2018 from 7:00pm to 8:00pm
- Museum of the Rockies, Hager - view map
BOZEMAN — After more than a decade working with indigenous communities in Montana, Greenland and Finland, Montana State University community health professor Elizabeth Rink has come to understand that when it comes to reproductive decisions in indigenous communities, the wishes of the family and the collective needs of the community can be prioritized over the wishes of the individual.
“This is a big difference from the Western world,” said Rink, from the MSU College of Education, Health and Human Development’s Department of Health and Human Development. “The Western world bases reproductive rights on individual choice, primarily a woman’s individual right to choose if she’s going to have a child or not. But in indigenous groups, particularly in Arctic communities, that’s usually not the focus. The focus is on the family and the community and what the family and the community needs or wants to have happen.”
In addition, Rink said, what often influences reproductive health in indigenous populations is not based on Western public health models but on indigenous belief systems that emphasize the importance of the collective and the emotional connection to a physical place.
“Being emotionally connected to the physical place that you live in is going to influence your desire to have children,” Rink said. “There’s a desire to keep the memories of what happened in that place alive.”
Rink will discuss these and additional observations from her research with indigenous communities when she delivers the first lecture in this year’s Provost’s Distinguished Lecturer Series, which recognizes outstanding MSU faculty. The lecture, “Understanding Indigenous Reproductive Health,” is set for 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17, in the Hager Auditorium of the Museum of the Rockies. It is free and open to the public, and a reception will follow at 8 p.m.
For 12 years, Rink’s research has focused on the individual, psychological, social, cultural and environmental determinants of sexual and reproductive health among indigenous populations in Montana and the Arctic. During that time, her research has been funded by the U.S. Office of Population Affairs, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, among other funding sources.
“Professor Rink has an outstanding record of research and is well-known throughout the indigenous communities in which she works,” said Alison Harmon, dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Development. “She has spent years thoughtfully and meticulously working to advance health among indigenous communities, and we are delighted that she will have the opportunity to share information about her work at this lecture.”
Rink emphasized that she doesn’t make a value judgment in her work about whether individual or family wishes should take precedence in reproductive decision-making, but her understanding of how these decisions are made in indigenous communities does inform her recommendations as a researcher focused on indigenous health.
“The more I work with indigenous communities, the more I realize that the focus on individual rights is incomplete unless you include family and community values and culture into that concept of the individual,” she said.
In addition, Rink’s research has led her to believe that, rather than implementing a Western model of sexual health education in indigenous communities, what young people in those communities need are opportunities to connect with trusted older adults with whom they can talk about their feelings and their relationships and learn from listening to their stories of growing up, relationships and having children.
“You absolutely have to focus on the family and the context in which the young person is being raised and what the cultural and social norms are regarding sex, relationships and having children in order to influence their reproductive health decision-making,” she said.
This spring, Rink was awarded a five-year, $3.12 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health for “We Are Here Now,” a study focused on sexual and reproductive health for American Indian youth and their families on the Fort Peck Reservation in northeastern Montana.
Rink’s research at Fort Peck has relied on community-based participatory research, or CBPR. It’s important to Rink that her work follows CBPR principles and practices because the CBPR framework ensures tribal oversight and guidance in all phases of the research study. It also ensures the study embraces the relevant cultural, linguistic, group identity and health needs as defined by the Fort Peck community members themselves, she said.
The award will let her compare sexual and reproductive health, services and systems in two Arctic communities. The Fulbright Arctic Initiative is designed to enable scholars to help policymakers address critical challenges facing the Arctic and create opportunities for Arctic populations.
For the Fulbright research, Rink is working with the Thule Institute at the University of Oulu in Finland and members of the Sami community in Utsjoki, Finland, to examine sexual and reproductive health disparities of the Finnish Sami, an indigenous group in Northern Finland. She will then compare that information with similar data she has gathered with the Inuit in Greenland since 2007.
Rink said she chose to work with the Finnish Sami because their rates of sexually transmitted infections, preterm births and miscarriages are the healthiest for an indigenous group in the Arctic. On the other hand, she said, the Inuit in Greenland have the poorest outcomes for Arctic indigenous groups. Health care systems among both groups are similar, Rink said, which leads to questions over why the outcomes are different.
In addition to her individual research project, Rink is working with some of the other 16 Fulbright Arctic Initiative Scholars on a team project related to resilient communities in the Arctic.
Rink earned a doctorate in public health from Oregon State University and has a master's degree in social work from the University of Washington. Before coming to MSU in 2006, she worked as the health promotion disease prevention program manager for a federally qualified health center in Corvallis, Oregon. Rink also has a background as a licensed clinical social worker and has worked as a wilderness therapist for drug-addicted adolescents, a psychiatric social worker for adjudicated youth and as a therapist in private practice.
The Provost’s Distinguished Lecturer Series recognizes faculty distinguished at MSU for their scholarship and creativity. Faculty members presenting during the series will reflect on the inspirations for their work in lectures suited for professionals and lay people alike. A full schedule of lectures for the 2018-2019 academic year is available at montana.edu/news/17916.
- Provost's Office