$5 Million for Indigenous-led research

Photo courtesy University of Saskatchewan USask researchers Dr. Caroline Tait and Simon Lambert with NEIHR partners Métis Nation-Saskatchewan Health Minister Marg Friesen, Whitecap Dakota First Nation Chief Darcy Bear, and MN-S President Glen McCallum.

Research into Indigenous health and culture is getting more support after the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) donated $5 Million to University of Saskatchewan researchers. USask, in association with University of Regina and First Nations University of Canada, have partnered with Gabriel Dumont, SIIT, and Saskatchewan Polytechnic, and aims to create a new research center based at USask.

“Our goal is to advance research that is meaningful and important for First Nations and Métis in the province,” said Dr. Caroline Tait, Usask medical anthropologist and member of the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan (MN-S).  “What we hope to do is increase the amount of research, Indigenous-related health research funding in the province over the next five years by at least 50 percent. So, what that means is going after large scale funding at a national level and bringing those resources to Saskatchewan.”

The national co-ordinating base center at USask will work with Network Environments for Indigenous Health Research (NEIHR) centers in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes, and Canada’s circumpolar region to further advance national and international research partnerships, establish an annual international Indigenous health research conference, and help evaluate the effectiveness of the new research networks.

“The reason that we need research is that we need to better understand, from the point of view of First Nations and Métis people,” Dr. Tait says.

“We need to better understand how we can improve health care delivery, how we can address health disparities. We need to look at the role of culture, the role of land-based approaches, and looking at how the health system can be improved and also how the health system intersects with the rest of human service sector, which is justice, child welfare, education, and really look at the ways in which these intersect and the ways in which we can improve health and wellness outcomes for people, particularly people who are vulnerable.”

Dr. Tait will lead the national centre that will co-ordinate health research and training with the leads of the eight other regional Indigenous health research networks, as well as with in-kind support from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and MN-S. Tait will lead the Saskatoon NEIHR to promote  health research within Indigenous communities, working in partnership with the FSIN, MN-S, the Whitecap Dakota First Nation, and a team of more than 60 researchers and community partners. 

“The pandemic that we’re experiencing now really highlights the need for First Nations and Métis people in the province to have more control over health care decision making.” Dr. Tait says.

“That they have more control and more resources, so that they can better prepare when things like this happen. And so, our research is in a position to support those goals. So, we’re there as a resource and a support for our Indigenous health care leaders… what we want to do with our partnership with them is to improve health outcomes.

“With the Métis Nation, for instance, we’re looking at more Métis-specific health data. There’s very little Métis specific health data because it’s quite difficult to collect that data. What we want to do working with minister (Marg) Friesen and President (Glen) McCallum is to look at how do we collect that data. Whether that’s survey data, population health, epidemiological data, that’s Métis specific. And that’s very valuable when you start to look at developing policies and developing interventions that are Métis specific.”

Over five years, FSIN and MN-S will hire 12 people, award over $300,000 in community project grants, and support more than 50 Indigenous students.

Research assistants hired from Indigenous communities will collect data in communities across the province, community research facilitators will connect communities to relevant research opportunities, and Elders and Knowledge Holders will provide cultural guidance on relationship building, protocol, research, and community and land-based learning. The networks will also educate researchers in best practices.

“We focus very much on community-based research,” said Dr. Tait.

“With this initiative, we will be working with community partners through to our Indigenous leadership in terms of Métis Nation and FSIN, and what we’re looking at is ways in which we can advance clinical studies. Clinical research with Indigenous peoples, community-based research with Indigenous peoples, population health research. And we’ll also be looking at supporting Indigenous students, so there’s a strong training component, which is important.

“We can reach out to high school students that are in our communities and have those students consider a career in research, consider coming to the university and working in the health sciences as researchers, so that’s a huge part of what we’re doing as well is training and promoting research careers for Indigenous students.”

There will be research facilitators that will go into communities and identify what the research priorities are of those communities and then match them with researchers who have the skill set to undertake the particular research.

 There’s hope that with the postsecondary institutions involved a training initiative will be set up to train future community researchers and they can be trained in areas of data collection and analysis and the communities can have Indigenous people who are trained as researchers who speak native languages and understand the protocols of the communities and are in a better position to collect data and support research team sin the collection of data.

These are just some of the goals that this initiative plans to achieve, they have much more planned over the course of the five-year period that will benefit Indigenous and Métis communities all over Saskatchewan.

“Saskatchewan Indigenous people are amazing.” Dr. Tait said in a closing statement.

“They are just so innovative and creative and know what needs to be done and it’s always been this challenge because there’s always these barriers that have been put up in front of us, so we have to kind of break those barriers down and that’s where we’re at now in terms of research is the idea of self-determination, data sovereignty, data governance that is controlled and owned by Indigenous people.”