Building capacity for the next generation of Indigenous health research scholars

- June 13, 2017

Faculty of Health Professions' Debbie Martin. (Nick Pearce photo)
Faculty of Health Professions' Debbie Martin. (Nick Pearce photo)

Researchers from eight Atlantic Canadian universities are hoping to transform the Indigenous health research landscape within and beyond the region.

They are recent recipients of a $999,990 Training Grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health (CIHR-IAPH) for an innovative new initiative called the Atlantic Indigenous Mentorship (AIM) Network.

Guided by spirit, ceremony and storytelling, the AIM Network will expand and augment research capacity, skills, and career trajectories of Indigenous early career researchers and trainees at all post-secondary levels. Through their programming, they hope to start a shift towards meaningful, impactful health research that resonates with communities and indigenous scholars.

“This grant offers the opportunity to build capacity for Indigenous health research within the Atlantic region,” says Debbie Martin, an associate professor in the Faculty of Health Professions, and the nominated principal investigator on the project. “If health research is to be effective, there is a demonstrated need for it to be driven by, for and with communities – and this is a unique opportunity to do just that.”

As well as Dalhousie, universities involved in the AIM Network include St. Francis Xavier University, Mount Saint Vincent University, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Cape Breton University, University of New Brunswick and University of Prince Edward Island.

Training the next generation of indigenous health researchers

Dr. Martin explains that the health outcomes of Indigenous populations are far worse than their non-Indigenous counterparts. This can be linked to many different factors, but include historical lack of access to health care, colonial policies and racism in the health-care system.  

She believes that building capacity for health research through mentorship is a key measure in addressing these systemic issues, and improving the health outcomes of indigenous peoples in the future.

“Our overall goal is to create the next generation of highly educated, well-informed Indigenous health research scholars,” says Dr. Martin. “A large focus of ours will be to provide research stipends to students undertaking Indigenous health research.”

Perhaps of equal importance to the stipends are the other activities that the AIM network also plans to do — like offering Elder, Scholar and Peer-to-Peer mentorship opportunities, as well as field schools and summer institutes that will provide students the opportunity to learn directly from those working in the area of Indigenous health research.

Bringing together diverse knowledge systems

One of the unique elements of this network is their use of a guiding principle called “Two-Eyed Seeing.” The concept originated in Atlantic Canada with Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshall and Dr. Cheryl Bartlett (both senior advisors for the AIM Network). Two-Eyed Seeing embodies both indigenous and western worldviews, while acknowledging that both perspectives are important for understanding complex health and social issues.

The AIM Network was one of eight across Canada to be funded by the CIHR-IAPH Health Training Grant. It will consist of two regional branches: one based in Labrador at the Labrador Institute of Memorial University, and the other in Wabanaki (the Maritime region) at Dalhousie University. Both of the branches will be responsible for connecting with, and offering mentorship support to, mentors and mentees from within those regions.

In addition to the funding received from the training grant, the network will also be receiving in-kind and cash support from the various universities involved in the project, as well as many additional partners, including the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network and Indigenous communities throughout the region.  

“The support we have received from our partners sends a strong signal that people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, want to see the significant health and social issues facing Indigenous peoples in this region begin to be addressed,” says Dr. Martin. “Building capacity for Indigenous health research offers a very promising way to address these issues.”

More information about the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health Training Grant can be found on its website.

Debbie Martin is also an associate research scholar with Dal’s Healthy Populations Institute.


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