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Indigenous youth participate in the session "Walking with the medicine of young people: Lessons on becoming mentors and helpers through research and community organizing" at the seventh annual Indigneous Health Research Symposium

Symposium emphasizes the importance of sharing stories in Indigenous Health research

February 18, 2020 — 

Ongomiizwin – Research, part of the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences’ Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing, hosted its seventh annual Indigenous Health Research Symposium, “Past, Present, Future: Telling Our Stories” on January 23 and 24 on Bannatyne Campus.

Dr. Josée Lavoie, director of Ongomiizwin – Research and professor in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, said in her opening remarks that the symposium was about “elders, students and researchers coming together in a safe place to learn from each other, learn about new ideas and things happening in the community, and how research can support that and give that light so governments can see it.”

The theme, “Past, Present, Future: Telling Our Stories,” explored the importance of centring the Indigenous voices in health research and the critical role that language plays in disrupting colonial narratives.

Catherine Cook, vice-dean, Indigenous, spoke about the importance of taking a community engagement approach to doing research.

“I look at this agenda and for the most part we have Indigenous researchers with every presentation, questions that are being answered are questions that were raised by communities and are being answered with the support and engagement of Indigenous members of those communities,” she said.

Over the course of the two-day symposium, participants presented research findings and shared ideas about Indigenous health research.

A poster session featured university and community-based researchers, students and others engaged in research or knowledge translation projects relevant to the health of the region’s Indigenous communities. The posters explored topics such as incorporating Indigenous teachings into nursing and midwifery curriculums and an exploration of students’ views on reconciliation, trust, cultural identity and respect.

The Elders Tea, where Inuk, Métis, and First Nations elders gathered with participants to share stories, was so popular last year that the organizers brought it back again for this year’s symposium.

Several panels focused on issues affecting Indigenous youth.

One session gave the floor to a group of Indigenous youth to share their thoughts on how young people can become helpers in their communities. The panel was based on the department of community health sciences’ five-year CIHR-funded project, initiated by Dr. Andrew Hatala, which collaborated with community partners to build knowledge of effective approaches that improve resilience and health in Indigenous youth. The youth travelled from Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Halifax and Thunder Bay to attend the symposium.

“Use whatever talents that you’re given. I’m an academic and I use that in the best way that I know how to give back to my community,” said Ashley Carter, a participant from Halifax.

Others sessions explored how Indigenous students practice wellness through connecting to their culture, health care and health care access among Indigenous two-spirit, gay, bisexual and queer men in Manitoba; how to reclaim Indigenous birth knowledge; and the link between health and housing in Indigenous communities.

The symposium also hosted the premiere of the documentary “Pac-Ow-Tay: Our beating heart stories,” featuring five First Nations Wisdom Keepers who shared stories about Pac-Ow-Tay (which means ‘beating hearts’ in Cree.) The documentary highlighted teachings about the heart and traditional Indigenous practices and how traditional practices can be woven with biomedical treatment of heart disease.

“This material does not get filtered through a western lens. These are Indigenous people, unscripted, who came together and talked,” said Dr. Annette Schultz, an associate professor in the College of Nursing and story consultant on the documentary.

The symposium closed with the presentation of the Dawn Stewart Award for Research Support in Indigenous Health to Dr. Moneca Sinclaire, who served as project coordinator for the Debwewin – The Truth of Our Hearts study and story consultant for Pac-Ow-Tay.

“Through time, energy, giving back and sharing knowledge, we will again rise up; we will again be a whole people. That’s who I work for and that’s who I work with, anyone from elders to youth, that’s always been my message,” said Sinclaire.

Ongomiizwin – Research is a centre of research excellence. It is committed to building and maintaining productive and respectful partnership-based relationships with First Nations, Metis, Inuit and Indigenous communities, to recruiting Indigenous students and scholars, to providing effective support and mentorship, and to sharing and building knowledge internationally.

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