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Supporting Aboriginal communities

A look at Aboriginal research at Dal

- October 2, 2013

Lucia Fanning (left) leads Fish-WIKS, a research project that looks at bringing together western and indigenous knowledge systems to better manage fishery resources. (Provided photo)
Lucia Fanning (left) leads Fish-WIKS, a research project that looks at bringing together western and indigenous knowledge systems to better manage fishery resources. (Provided photo)

Given Dalhousie’s location in the heart of Mi’kmaq territory, it’s perhaps not surprising to find a number of research projects taking place with Aboriginal and Indigenous communities.

What might be surprising, though, are their variety — and the degree to which they span various communities.

Research with Aboriginal and Indigenous communities takes place in nine of Dal’s 12 faculties, with the largest number of projects in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Health Professions. In total, more than 50 researchers along with graduate students and staff are engaged in direct and significant research partnership with Aboriginal and Indigenous communities.

Embracing “wholeness”


A number of these projects involve Dal’s Heather Castleden with the School for Research and Environmental Studies. She’s the co-principal investigator in the Atlantic Aboriginal Health Research Program, and recently received a New Investigator Salary Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The award, presented to promising new researchers, allows her to focus more of her time on research.

Dr. Castleden says research involving Aboriginal communities needs to be, “respectful, relevant and responsible.” And the best way to achieve this, she says, is to work across various disciplines and directly with Aboriginal and Indigenous communities.

“In my experience, research involving Indigenous peoples on issues that are important to them requires interdisciplinary approaches,” she explains. “Unlike western — by this I mean white/scientific — ways of thinking, most Indigenous worldviews that I have come into contact with do not silo research problems into one category or another. Instead, they embrace the wholeness of problems, taking into consideration history, present conditions, and the future — from the individual to the universe.”

Master's degree student Ella Bennet held her master's thesis defence in the Pictou Landing First Nation, where she conducted her research in partnership with the Pictou Landing Native Women’s Association.  

“I choose Dalhousie for my graduate work as I wanted to undertake Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) with an Aboriginal community on an environmental issue that was important to them,” she explains. The defence, “allowed for community members to hear what their Elders shared and enabled me to show my appreciation to the participants.

“By creating these links between researchers an communities, we create respectful and relevant research relationships.”

Broad perspectives


Dalhousie’s Research website is currently featuring profiles of Dal faculty involved in Aboriginal research projects. They include:

  • The development of a First Nations Community Planning Model
  • Fish-WIKS, a research project that looks at bringing together western and indigenous knowledge systems to better manage fishery resources.
  • A partnership with the Government of Nunavut to improve lagoon and wetland wastewater treatment.
  • Kungatsiajuk,” a research team focused on the oral health of children living in southeastern Labrador.
  • Ongoing studies on treaties and contemporary social, political, economic and legal relations with Indigenous peoples.

To learn more about these and other projects, visit Dal’s Research website.


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