The University of Manitoba’s Centre for Human Rights Research and Research Quality Management Office hosted a day-long workshop celebrating First Nations and Metis research partnerships on Mar. 13, 2012.

Anishinaabe Elder Carl Stone spoke about the importance of truth and equality in partnerships. He welcomed opportunities for collaboration, but noted that research should be about more than simply gathering knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

“We must not be researched to death.”

Dr. Laura-Lee Balkwill, a policy analyst for the Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research, highlighted key changes to the new Tri-Council guidelines on research involving First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples. Balkwill said the guidelines address emerging research ethics issues and are meant to help researchers understand the role and importance of community engagement. (There’s now an online webinar on this topic.)

“We don’t want to throw so many obstacles in the way of research that it can’t be done, but I don’t think that any of the guidance should be viewed as an obstacle. It’s really an opportunity to get to know the community that you want to do research in.”

Lyna Hart, Southeast Resource Development Council, and Shirley Cranford, Pinaymootang First Nation, shared information on the Manitoba First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey (RHS). It is the only survey in the world that is designed, developed and delivered by Indigenous Peoples for Indigenous Peoples. The RHS demonstrates the principles of ownership, control, access and possession (OCAP). The research is self-governed, with community members gathering the data, which is stored on the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs research server.

University of Manitoba’s Corinne Isaak and Mike Campeau, Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, discussed the Swampy Cree Suicide Prevention Project, which involves an equal partnership between First Nations and university-based researchers. Isaak noted that a key strength of the project was the diversity of perspectives contributing to a common goal of community well-being. She learned, among other things, that a sharing circle must involve researchers sharing too – they can’t just treat the circle like a focus group. Isaak noted that the team’s research papers can be found on their website.

Campeau revisited his experience as project facilitator and reminded everyone of the importance of listening. “The answers are always there, if you know what to listen for, because that community knows how to help themselves, they might just need a little nudge. Or they might just need someone strong enough to walk with them for that first step, or two. Don’t be afraid to hold the hand that you guys are studying. That is where the true learning comes from.”

Cree researcher says keep it simple (Listen to the podcast)

Campeau stressed the importance of keeping the research process simple – be fair, be honest and speak like a regular person, not like an academic. Community feasts are a good way to attract potential interview participants and get to know them before the research begins. He noted that Cree people like to tease – when they stop teasing, that’s when researchers should worry that something may have gone wrong in the relationship.

Dr. Julianne Sanguins talked about using “Knowledge Networks” to influence health programs and services for Metis Peoples in Manitoba. Knowledge Networks, established in each of the Manitoba Metis Federation’s seven regions, have been designed to raise awareness about existing health services and then modify each region’s programs to better meet the cultural needs of Metis citizens. The MMF brings to the table data on Metis populations and the experience of Metis people using the health system, while the health authorities contribute information about their policies and finances. Metis stewardship ensures that research is done in the best interest of Metis people.

Shannon Cormier, Roberta Stout, Sylvia Boudreau and Sheryl Peters presented on the Intergenerational Effects of Residential School. Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Moon Voices: Aboriginal Women Reclaiming Our Power program and Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence teamed up to bring together Aboriginal women who are residential school survivors or adult children of survivors to create video stories about their experiences. This was the first time some of these women realized they had been affected by residential schools. The process of engagement and relationship-building helped them feel they were not alone.

“It’s this web of interconnection and relationships. And that’s going to last forever. This research is not just going to end. Because each time these stories are shared, more relationships are going to be formed, and more interest is going to be brought up into this project and this process. And so the point of relationships is just so critically important,” Stout said.

Peters talked about the importance of flexibility – changing the project to fit the participants, ideally with the support of a flexible funder. The schedule and pace of the research were adjusted to fit the needs of the group or individuals, and food, childcare and transportation were provided.

Edwin Jebb from Opaskwayak Cree Nation and Dr. Kathi Avery Kinew from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs discussed a research project on Language and Well Being. This study promoted First Nations language by appointing fluent Ojibway, Cree and Dakota speakers to engage learners in three communities. The researchers believe the everyday use and understanding of traditional languages is essential to well-being. Elders found that children were eager to learn their language, while the generation between was resistant because they had been shamed and punished for speaking it. Jebb said the project taught him how to really work with Elders, rather than just asking them to open and close meetings.

A discussion period following the presentations allowed workshop participants to extend the conversations.

“If what you’re doing doesn’t benefit the community, but benefits yourself as a researcher or your organization, please back away from the research. You could do more harm to a community than you intend to, just to benefit yourself and your educational aims. Where’s your heart in this? Where is it leading you? Is it to benefit ego? Or is it to benefit people? We want to partner, but we want to meet on an equal level,” said one First Nations researcher.

– Summary compiled by Dr. Brenda Elias, Greg Boese and Katelin Neufeld

See other recommended readings on Indigenous research ethics and methods.