Networking in a Safe Space: Improving Indigenous Health one Conversation at a Time

Networking in a Safe Space: Improving Indigenous Health one Conversation at a Time

Editors note: This blog post, written by Jocelyn Paul, a Graduate student at Dalhousie University whose research focuses on Indigenous health, touches on her experience at the Co-Learning Health Research Summit as a Mi’kmaq woman.

Affiliations: MSc Psychiatry Research Candidate, Indigenous Wellness Research Lab, Department of Psychiatry, Dalhousie University

As a Mi’kmaq woman from Membertou First Nation, and a young Indigenous Health researcher, attending the Co-Learning Summit grounded me and brought me back to my roots as I sat surrounded by my new and old Indigenous and non-Indigenous brothers and sisters. 
I fear that often times in research, the ideas around the type of health research that should be explored in a particular population might only stem from the personal ideas of a few experts in the field. And as innovative as those ideas might be, sometimes the relationship between those ideas and the needs of the very community or population in which they are trying to serve, remains unclear and uninvestigated. It is for this reason that I appreciated the Co-Learning Health Research Summit, hosted to collaboratively develop the Wabanaki-Labrador Indigenous Health Research Network (Wabanaki-Labrador Network).
The project leads of the Wabanaki-Labrador Network (WLN) (Debbie Martin, Margot Latimer, John Sylliboy, Ashlee Cunsolo, and Jane McMillan) did an exceptional job, not only proposing their ideas to date, informed by extensive community engagement, but also explaining them at a level anyone in the general population could understand. Their attitudes were all so positive, inspirational, understanding, and inviting, as they actively incorporated the voices of Indigenous and allied scholars and community members into the Network’s development. They created a safe space to be, to express, and to record our feelings about their project, and Indigenous research in general, which I really appreciated.
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I also really valued the time I spent attending the Co-Learning Summit because it reiterated how important Indigenous health research is in Canada, and that there are so many gaps still to be filled in the literature. As a young Indigenous woman, it also opened my eyes further to other First Nations peoples’ living conditions on reserve. My current research is focused on exploring the First Nations Regional Health Survey, psychological distress, the impact of social stressors (e.g. perceived racism), and the potential buffering impact that particular facets of cultural identity (e.g. an increased sense of cultural belonging) might have. This summit allowed me to connect with my Indigenous brothers and sisters about their life growing up on reserve, which helped to solidify the relevance of my own research, and identified areas in need of further exploration.
Overall, I was exceptionally impressed with how everyone and everything really came together. I believe that the Wabanaki-Labrador Indigenous Health Research Network , if funded, has the potential to enhance Indigenous health research in Atlantic Canada, and is vital to the continuation of Indigenous health and healing.