Research summaries

“Research is all about unanswered questions, but it also reveals our unquestioned answers.”

Shawn Wilson (2008). “Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods.” Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing, p. 6.

Nelson, S.E. & Rosenberg, M.W. (2021). Age-Friendly Cities and Older Indigenous People: An Exploratory Study in Prince George, Canada. The Canadian Journal on Aging, 41(2).

Cities around the world are responding to aging populations and equity concerns for older
people by developing age-friendly communities plans, following the World Health Organization’s guidelines. Such plans, however, often fail to account for the wide diversity of older people in cities, with the result that some older people, including Indigenous older people, do not see their needs reflected in age-friendly planning and policies. This article reports on a study involving 10 older First Nations and Métis women in the city of Prince George, Canada, comparing the expressed needs of these women with two age-friendly action plans: that of the city of Prince George, and that of the Northern Health Authority. Four main categories were raised in a group discussion and interview with these women at the Prince George Native Friendship Centre: availability of health care services, accessibility and affordability of programs and services, special roles of Indigenous Elders, and experiences of racism and discrimination. There are many areas of synergy between the needs expressed by the women and the two action plans; however, certain key areas are missing from the action plans; in particular, specific strategies for attending to the needs of Indigenous and other older populations who often feel marginalized in health care and in age-friendly planning.

Commanda, C., McDermott, L., & Nelson, S. (2021). Ginawaydaganac: Algonquin teachings of the birch bark canoe: The canoe in Indigenous community revitalization and reconciliation. In B. Erickson and S. Krotz (eds.), The Politics of the Canoe: Activism and Resistance. Winnipeg, MB: University of Manitoba Press.

Omàmìwininì or Mamiwinnini people, also known as Algonquin, have lived in the watershed of the Ottawa River (the Kiji Sìbì, or Kichisippi) for thousands of years. There is archaeological evidence of Indigenous peoples living local to the territory from at least 10,000 years ago. It is likely that people moved to this area as soon as the glaciers retreated from the area between Lake Champlain (south of Montreal, in what is now Vermont) and Lake Huron. Algonquin histories show that Algonquin territory covered much of what is now eastern Ontario and western Québec, long before the territory was divided by colonial governments into these two provinces. This chapter is focused on examining the roles of the birch bark canoe in Algonquin family life, survival, and governance, as well as in reconciliation. The chapter highlights some of the most important lessons of the Algonquin birch bark canoe, in particular ginawaydaganuc, a principle of Algonquin and natural law that teaches how all things on Mother Earth are connected. The teachings described here are those we have learned from our Elders and from the canoe itself, as we have come to understand them through our own experiences. The ways in which we understand them are constantly adapting and changing, depending on the situation of our lives and the people and environments we are connected with. Thus, this chapter is a snapshot of our understanding at the current moment, from the places we are grounded in.

Hartt, M.D., Biglieri, S., Rosenberg, M.W. & Nelson, S.E. (Eds.) (2021). Aging People, Aging Places. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

How well do the places where we live support the wellbeing of older adults? The Canadian population is growing older and is reshaping the nation’s economic, social and cultural future. However, the built and social environments of many communities, neighbourhoods and cities have not been designed to help Canadians age well. Bringing together academic research, practitioner reflections and personal narratives from older adults across Canada, this cutting-edge text provides a rare spotlight on the local implications of aging in Canadian cities and communities. It explores employment, housing, transportation, cultural safety, health, planning and more, to provide a wide-ranging and comprehensive discussion of how to build supportive communities for Canadians of all ages.

Nelson, S. & Wilson, K. (2021). Rights and Health versus Rights to Health: Bringing Indigenous Peoples’ Legal Rights into the Spaces of Health Care Services. Political Geography, 85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2020.102311

The political-legal discourse of Indigenous rights continues to be separated from discussions of health care services in geographic scholarship, due to the ways in which political-legal, settler-colonial definitions of rights fail to take Indigenous understandings into account, as well as a distrust on the part of scholars of the limited and contingent notion of “rights.” While Indigenous rights, inherently tied in Canada to recognition by the settler-colonial state, have limited application in achieving social justice or decolonization for Indigenous peoples, we argue that Indigenous rights can be used as a complementary discourse to Indigenous resurgence, within broader discourses of Indigenous justice, to lend legal and political weight to arguments for cultural safety and human rights in health care. We draw on a study conducted with 50 Indigenous community members and 15 health services professionals in the northern city of Prince George, Canada, to elucidate how Indigenous peoples’ experiences in health care settings may be improved by giving attention to rights discourse and removing the geographic and identity-based limitations of Indigenous rights to health care in Canada.

Nelson, S. & Wilson, K. (2021). Indigenous health organizations, Indigenous community resurgence, and the reclamation of place in urban areas. Special issue on Indigenous Peoples & Environment, The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe Canadien.

Research around the world has been nearly unanimous about the positive impacts of Indigenous‐led health organizations on Indigenous peoples’ qualitative experiences in health care, in the face of often negative experiences in non‐Indigenous‐led health care settings. Urban environments, including health care environments, are areas of increasing attention with regard to Indigenous peoples’ health in Canada. In this study, which took place in the northern city of Prince George, British Columbia, 65 Indigenous community members and health services workers participated in interviews and focus groups, describing their experiences with urban Indigenous‐led health organizations—defined in this study as non‐governmental organizations that prioritize the values and practices of local Indigenous communities. Employing perspectives on place and relationships drawn from Indigenous critical theory and Indigenous community resurgence to analyze the findings of this qualitative study leads to a focus on how relationships impact and can even constitute places, enabling new understandings of the roles of Indigenous‐led health organizations in urban Indigenous community resurgence.

Nelson, S. & Bostock, M., on behalf of Lanark County Neighbours for Truth and Reconciliation (2019). Colonial Expansion Into Lanark and Frontenac Counties: The Petitions of Chief Pierre Shawinipinessi.

This research focuses on the story of an Omàmìwinnìnì (or Algonquin) community who petitioned for, and were granted, a tract of land by the federal government of Canada in the 1840s. In 1861, the superintendent of Indigenous Affairs denied that such an agreement had ever existed. This research was based on original documents held at the National Library and Archives of Canada and tells only a portion of the story – more complete histories are held within Algonquin communities who still live in this area.

See the report here: https://www.lanarkcountyneighbours.ca/the-petitions-of-chief- shawinipinessi.html.

Nelson, S. & Wilson, K. (2018). Understanding barriers to health care access through cultural safety and ethical space: Indigenous people’s experiences in Prince George, Canada. Social Science & Medicine, 218, pp. 21-27.

Almost 1.7 million people in the settler colonial nation of Canada identify as Indigenous. Approximately 52 per cent of Indigenous peoples in Canada live in urban areas. In spite of high rates of urbanization, urban Indigenous peoples are overlooked in health care policy and services. Because of this, although health care services are more plentiful in cities as compared to rural areas, Indigenous people still report significant barriers to health care access in urban settings. This qualitative study, undertaken in Prince George, Canada, examines perceived barriers to health care access for urban Indigenous people in light of how colonialism impacts Indigenous peoples in their everyday lives. The three most frequently reported barriers to health care access on the part of the 65 participating health care providers and Indigenous clients of health care services are: substandard quality of care; long wait times; and experiences of racism and discrimination. These barriers, some of which are common complaints among the general population in Canada, are interpreted by Indigenous clients in unique ways rooted in experiences of discrimination and exclusion that stem from the settler colonial context of the nation. Through the lenses of cultural safety and ethical space – frameworks developed by international Indigenous scholars in efforts to better understand and operationalize relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals and societies in the context of settler colonialism – this study offers an understanding of these barriers in light of the specific ways that colonialism intrudes into Indigenous clients’ access to care on an everyday basis.

Nelson, S. & Wilson, K. (2017). The Mental Health of Indigenous Peoples in Canada: A Critical Review of Research. Social Science & Medicine, 176, pp. 93-112.

Many scholars assert that Indigenous peoples across the globe suffer a disproportionate burden of mental illness. Research indicates that colonialism and its associated processes are important determinants of Indigenous peoples’ health internationally. In Canada, despite an abundance of health research documenting inequalities in morbidity and mortality rates for Indigenous peoples, relatively little research has focused on mental health. This paper provides a critical scoping review of the literature related to Indigenous mental health in Canada. We searched eleven databases and two Indigenous health-focused journals for research related to mental health, Indigenous peoples, and Canada, for the years 2006-2016. Over two hundred papers are included in the review and coded according to research theme, population group, and geography. Results demonstrate that the literature is overwhelmingly concerned with issues related to colonialism in mental health services and the prevalence and causes of mental illness among Indigenous peoples in Canada, but with several significant gaps. Mental health research related to Indigenous peoples in Canada overemphasizes suicide and problematic substance use; a more critical use of the concepts of colonialism and historical trauma is advised; and several population groups are underrepresented in research, including Métis peoples and urban or off-reserve Indigenous peoples. The findings are useful in an international context by providing a starting point for discussions, dialogue, and further study regarding mental health research for Indigenous peoples around the world.

Nelson, S.E., Browne, A.J., & Lavoie, J.G. (2016). Representations of Indigenous Peoples and Use of Pain Medication in Canadian News Media. International Indigenous Policy Journal, 7(1).

Using media coverage of the withdrawal of OxyContin in Canada in 2011 and 2012 as an example, this article describes a systematic analysis of how news media depict First Nations peoples in Canada. Stark differences can be seen in how First Nations and non-First Nations individuals and communities are represented. In First Nations communities, problematic substance use is discussed in the absence of a context of pain management, broad generalizations are made, and language of hopelessness and victimization is employed. An analysis of the differences in language, tone, sources of information, and what is left unsaid makes visible the ways in which assumptions about First Nations peoples and communities are at times created and at times reified in media discourses.