Western University has become the hub of a provincial network of Indigenous health training that is both culturally relevant and scientifically rigorous.
The Indigenous Mentorship Network Program of Ontario launches today, with 13 research institutions and a team of 70 researchers, trainees and community collaborators — more than half of whom are Indigenous.
The new network will support research by Indigenous people for Indigenous people, with emphasis on the health and social issues that matter to Indigenous people.
“For the first time, we are connecting the networks of the community with the networks of academia,” said program leader Chantelle Richmond, Associate Professor of Geography at Western and College Member of the Royal Society of Canada. “We are putting communities in the driver’s seat on health research that matters to them.”
Richmond, an Anishinabe scholar from Pic River First Nation, said the network re-orients health research to connect traditional knowledge with research rigor and measurable results. Ontario-based, the network aligns with the other seven provincial nodes of the Indigenous Mentorship Network Program, which is funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research.
“Despite an increase in research on Indigenous topics in Canada, inequities are growing and outcomes are not improving,” she said. “The only way to change that landscape is to work with the community, through diverse, interdisciplinary teams of trainees who know intimately the landscape of the communities.”
For someone in the Far North, it might mean a focus on the inter-relationship of mental health and addictions, for example; for another community, priorities might be the inter-connectedness of water quality and sustainable hunting lands.
The network will build and support the next generation of Indigenous health scholars by providing well-supported training opportunities and environments for community-based learning and research. It will offer scholarships, seed grants, webinars, research innovation and publishing opportunities to trainees, postdoctoral fellows and new investigators.
It will operate from Western University on funding of $1 million from the Canadian Institute for Health Research and $1.2 million from other partners during the next five years.
“We are fostering training environments that pair world-class researchers with local knowledge, local experience, local needs and priorities,” said Chelsea Gabel, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Wellbeing, Community Engagement and Innovation at McMaster University. “Ultimately these relationships and these Indigenous methodologies for improved health outcomes will last longer than the research projects themselves.”
The driving force behind the network can be exemplified by the Anishnabek phrase: “Mno Nimkodaddig Geegi: We are all connected.”
That includes, Richmond said, the inter-relationship between youth and elders; health and environment; cultural practices; institutional policies, and many more.
“Geography, to me, is about much more than a spot on a map. It’s about a sense of place and identity, and what that meaning holds for people, and that’s really key for Indigenous people,” said Richmond.
The governance structure includes Northern researchers at Lakehead, Laurentian, Nipissing universities as well as the Health Sciences North Initiative and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. In Central Ontario, participants include Western, McMaster, Guelph and Toronto universities plus St. Michael’s Hospital. In Eastern Ontario, participants are Queens, Trent and Ottawa universities. A Community Advisory and Elders’ Council will play a key role in ensuring the network continues to serve the needs of scholars, trainees and communities.
This research is an example of the commitment Western is making to Indigenous Studies and research — and the broader issues of accessibility, scholarship and cultural impact — as outlined in the university’s Indigenous Strategic Plan.
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