Practices of Informing and Consenting in Indigenous Communities: The Case of The Marshall Islands


  • C. A. DeCoursey Nazarbayev University, Astana



Informed Consent, Belmont Report, UNDRIP, Respect for Persons, Information Comprehension, Privacy, Anonymity, Republic of the Marshall Islands.


The 1979 Belmont Report established the guiding principles of informed consent. The 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) pointed out several problems in the meaning of these principles, and in how they were operationalised in small, indigenous communities. The Belmont Report originated in a developed economy, and was taken forward by researchers in individualist societies more than collectivist societies. But in the 21st century, with cross-cultural work a routine element of academic research, these issues have greater salience. UNDRIP focuses on the local meanings of concepts such as respect, informed, consent and privacy. It privileges local cultural norms, meanings and practices in the processes of gaining consent, and foregrounds the need for selecting culturally appropriate processes of consulting, comprehending, and withdrawing. This paper uses examples from the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) to explore these issues, and make recommendations for social science researchers in navigating cross-cultural dimensions of informing, respect, privacy and consent.


Download data is not yet available.



How to Cite

DeCoursey, C. A. (2024). Practices of Informing and Consenting in Indigenous Communities: The Case of The Marshall Islands. Journal of Rural Development, 42(4), 266–276.



Research Papers


Afolabi, M. O., Bojang, K., D’Alessandro, U., Imoukhuede, E. B., Ravinetto, R., Larson, H. J ., McGrath, N. & Chandramohan, D. (2014). Multimedia Informed Consent Tool for a Low Literacy African Research Population: Development and Pilot-Testing. Journal of Clinical Research & Bioethics, 5(3), 178.

Ayers, B. L., Purvis, R. S., Bing, W. I., Rubon-Chutaro, J., Hawley, N. L., Delafield, R ., Adams, I. & McElfish, P. A. (2018). Structural and Socio-cultural Barriers to Prenatal Care in a US Marshallese Community. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 22(7), 1067-1076.

Baker, S. H. (2012). Why the IFC's Free, Prior, and Informed Consent Policy Does Not Matter (Yet) to Indigenous Communities Affected by Development Projects. Wis. Int'l LJ, 30, 668.

Barelli, M. (2012). Free, Prior and Informed Consent in the Aftermath of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Developments and Challenges Ahead. The International Journal of Human Rights, 16(1), 1-24.

Behrens, K. G. (2018). A Critique of the Principle of ‘Respect for Autonomy’, Grounded in African Thought. Developing World Bioethics, 18(2), 126-134.

Berman, E. (2014). Negotiating Age: Direct Speech and the Sociolinguistic Production of Childhood in the Marshall Islands. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 24(2), 109-132.

Berman, E. (2018). Force Signs: Ideologies of Corporal Discipline in Academia and the Marshall Islands. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 28(1), 22-42.

Besnier, N. (2011), On the Edge of Global: Modern Anxieties in a Pacific Island Nation, Stanford University Press. Besnier, N., & Alexeyeff, K. (Eds.). (2014). Gender on the Edge: Transgender, Gay, and Other Pacific Islanders. University of Hawaii Press.

Blocker, K., Hallford, H. G., McElfish, P., Danylchuk, N. R., & Dean, L. W. (2020). Eliciting Culturally and Medically Informative Family Health Histories from Marshallese Patients Living in the United States. Journal of Genetic Counseling, 29(3), 440-450.

Bucchi, M. (2012). Science and the Media: Alternative Routes to Scientific Communications. Routledge.

Conway III, L. G., Van de Vliert, E., & Chan, L. (2022). The Geography of Literacy: Understanding Poleward Increases in Literacy Rates. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 25(3), 586–591.

Curnow, J. (2022). Resituating Situated Learning within Racialized and Colonial Social Relations. Mind Culture and Activity 29(3):1-15, DOI:10.1080/10749039.2022.2066133.

Datta, R. (2018). Decolonizing Both Researcher and Research and Its Effectiveness in Indigenous Research. Research Ethics, 14(2), 1-24.

DeCoursey, C. A., & Krawczyk, E. B. (2020). The Marshallese Look: Clothing, culture and Identity in a Disappearing World. Clothing Cultures, 6(3), 293-312.

Felix, H. C., Narcisse, M. R., Long, C. R., English, E., Haggard-Duff, L., Purvis, R. S., & McElfish, P. A. (2019). The Effect of Family Diabetes Self-Management Education on Self-Care Behaviors of Marshallese Adults with Type 2 Diabetes. American Journal of Health Behavior, 43(3), 490-497.

Fontana, L. B., & Grugel, J. (2016). The Politics of Indigenous Participation through “Free Prior Informed Consent ”: Reflections from the Bolivian Case. World Development, 77, 249-261.

Ford, M. and Kench, P. (2015), Multi-Decadal Shoreline Changes in Response to Sea-Level Rise in the Marshall Islands, Anthropocene, 11, 14–24.

Frequency Check Country Reports, “Marshall Islands” 2022

Friesen, P., Kearns, L., Redman, B., & Caplan, A. L. (2017). Rethinking the Belmont Report? The American Journal of Bioethics, 17(7), 15-21.

Genz, J. (2014). Complementarity of Cognitive and Experiential Ways of Knowing the Ocean in Marshallese Navigation. Ethos, 42(3), 332-351.

Genz, J. H. (2016). Resolving Ambivalence in Marshallese Navigation: Relearning, Reinterpreting, and Reviving the “Stick Chart” Wave Models. Structure and Dynamics, 9(1), DOI:10.5070/SD991031888.

Guillaumont, P. (2011). The Concept of Structural Economic Vulnerability and Its Relevance for the Identification of the Least Developed Countries and Other Purposes (Nature, Measurement and Evolution) (No. B19). FERDI Policy Brief.

Halkoaho, A., Pietilä, A. M., Ebbesen, M., Karki, S., & Kangasniemi, M. (2016). Cultural Aspects Related to Informed Consent in Health Research: A Systematic Review. Nursing Ethics, 23(6), 698-712.

Hanna, P., & Vanclay, F. (2013). Human Rights, Indigenous Peoples and the Concept of Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 31(2), 146-157.

Hezel, F. (2001), The New Shape of Old Island Cultures: A Half Century of Social Change in Micronesia, University of Hawai’i Press.

Hickman, J. (2017). Truancy Rate Should be a National Emergency. Majuro Journal , 12, 14.

Howard, J . & Hammad, A. (2014), Cannabis Use among Young People in Pacific Island Countries and Territories, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 38 (1), 89–90.

Kadam, R. A. (2017). Informed Consent Process: A Step Further Towards Making it Meaningful. Perspectives In Clinical Research , 8(3), 107.

Kattil-deBrum, T. K. (2022) Marshallese Women and Environmental Change: Their Role and Power in Resource Management. Women in Fisheries Information Bulletin, September 2022, 4-9.

Kruger, M., Ndebele, P., & Horn, L. (Eds.). (2014). Research ethics in Africa: A resource for research ethics committees. African Sun Media.

Kuchler, S. &Were, G. (2014), The Art of Clothing: A Pacific Experience, Routledge.

Leach, M. M., Stevens, M. J., Lindsay, G., Korkut, Y., & Ferrero, A. (Eds.). (2012). The Oxford Handbook of International Psychological Ethics. Oxford University Press.

Lynch, A. J. J. (2017). Respect, Reflect, and Engage–Enhancing Biophysical Research Practices with Indigenous People, Their Land, and Culture. Australasian Journal of Environmental Management, 24 (3), 319-331.

McElfish, P. A., Moore, R., Laelan, M., & Ayers, B. L. (2018). Using CBPR to Address Health Disparities with the Marshallese Community in Arkansas. Annals of Human Biology, 45(3), 264-271.

Millum J. (2020) International Clinical Research and Justice in the Belmont Report. Perspect Biol Med. 2020;63(2):374-388. doi: 10.1353/pbm.2020.0025.

Ministry of Education (2012–2013 .) Annual Report, Majuro, RMI . l

Ministry of Education (2015–2016) Strategic Plan for 2013–2016: Invest in Children: An Agenda for Change, Majuro.

Morris, K. (2018). Navigating the Compact of Free Association: Three Decades of Supervised Self-Governance. University of Hawaii Law Review , 41, 384.

Mortensen, C. D. (Ed.). (2017). Communication theory. Routledge.

Mistry, Jayalaxshmi, and Andrea Berardi. (2016). Bridging Indigenous and Scientific Knowledge. In: Science 352, No. 6291: 1274-1275.

National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. 1979 . The Belmont report: Ethical principles and guidelines for the protection of human subjects of research.

Novak, A. (2014). Anonymity, Confidentiality, Privacy, and Identity: The Ties that bind and break in communication research. Review of Communication , 14(1), 36-48.

Okamoto, S. K., Mayeda, D. T., Ushiroda, M., Rehuher, D., Lauilefue, T ., & Ongalibang, O. (2008), Risk and Protective Factors of Micronesian Youth in Hawai’i: An Exploratory Study. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare , 35(2), 127–35.

Paterson, J., Faibairn-Dunlop, P., Cowley-Malcolm, E. T., & Schluter, P. J. (2007). Maternal Childhood Parental Abuse History and Current Intimate Partner Violence: Data from the Pacific Islands Families Study. Violence and Victims, 22(4), 474-488.

Plankey-Videla, N. (2012). Informed Consent as Process: Problematizing Informed Consent in Organizational Ethnographies. Qualitative Sociology, 35(1), 1-21.

Prentice, K. J., Appelbaum, P. S., Conley, R. R., & Carpenter, W. T. (2007). Maintaining Informed Consent Validity During Lengthy Research Protocols. IRB: Ethics & Human Research, 29(6), 1-6.

Robinson, O. C. (2014). Sampling in Interview-based Qualitative Research: A Theoretical and Practical Guide. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 11(1), 25-41.

Saunkeah, B., Beans, J. A., Peercy, M. T., Hiratsuka, V. Y., & Spicer, P. (2021). Extending Research Protections to Tribal Communities. The American Journal of Bioethics, 21(10), 5-12.

Schwartz, J. A. (2016). Matters of Empathy and Nuclear Colonialism: Marshallese Voices Marked in Story, Song, and Illustration. Music and Politics, 10(2).

Stevenson, K. (2011), Pacific Women: Challenging the Boundaries of Tradition, Women’s Studies Journal, 22 (2), 9–25.

Suzuki, K., Motohashi, Y., & Kaneko, Y. (2006). Factors Associated with the Reproductive Health Risk Behavior of High School Students in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Journal of School Health, 76 (4), 138-144.

United Nations General Assembly (2007). United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UN Washington 12. 1-18.

United States of America. (1983). Compact of Free Association. Treaties and other International Acts Series 04-501.

Whyte, K. (2017). What do Indigenous Knowledges Do for Indigenous Peoples? In Nelson, M. & Shilling, D. (Eds.) Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability, CUP, 57-81.

World Bank, World GDP Per Capita 1960-2022, WLD/world/gdp-per-capita

World Health Organisation (2022) “Covid Dashboard, Marshall Islands”

Yamada, S., & Akiyama, M. (2013). For the Good of Mankind: The Legacy of Nuclear Testing in Micronesia. Social Medicine, 8(2), 83-92.