Indigenous research should build respectful relationships, and requires a level of engagement with communities not expected of other types of research, Dr. Josée Lavoie said Sept. 20, 2017. She is director of research for the University of Manitoba’s Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing, also known as Ongomiizwin, an Anishinaabe word meaning “clearing a path for generations to come.” It’s the largest institute of its kind in Canada.

Lavoie identifies herself as an ally who wants to help people engage in Indigenous research at the community level. Having grown up as a Catholic, she constantly tries to change the way she thinks and “check her culture at the door” when working with Indigenous communities. “There needs to be respect. We need to honour Indigenous culture and language as we can learn from each other.”

Western research is usually driven by the researcher’s own curiosity but Indigenous research is more effective when it is driven by community priorities. Sometimes the university can take care of the logistics and support local researchers to collect their own data.

Lavoie says we need to challenge western metaphors such as that the body is a machine or that we are at war with disease and develop new ways of thinking. Accessing Indigenous science could lead to breakthroughs in the medical field.

Lavoie asked the audience to think about how much Canadian government research funding goes to western versus Indigenous science, which has been “under assault” for hundreds of years.

H2O program co-ordinator Wendy Ross, who is Cree, discussed her experiences working with First Nation communities, and highlighted the importance of building positive relationships. She once asked a community member to “circle what features you think are important on a map” and they circled the whole map. Her next step was to walk around the land with a group of community members, who pointed out a spruce tree that was significant to them, as the gum from the tree can be used to treat various infections.

Presentation slides


How do researchers create meaningful relationships with First Nation communities?

Each community is unique, and has different priorities for research. Community research is more time-consuming so researchers need to build that into their timelines. It is helpful to give a meaningful gift to community members who help with the research.

What are some of the best practices for researchers?

Use a translator and make sure there is reciprocity with the community involved. The community needs to be getting something positive out of the research.

Audio podcasts are also available of seminars in this series.