Indigenous-centred projects explore cultural connections

U of W researchers secure federal support for work


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Two Indigenous researchers at the University of Winnipeg have secured federal funding for unique projects in Indigenous health fields.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/12/2020 (730 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Two Indigenous researchers at the University of Winnipeg have secured federal funding for unique projects in Indigenous health fields.

Jaime Cidro, an anthropology professor and Canada Research Chair in health and culture, was inspired to pursue her research into birth support for Winnipeg’s Indigenous mothers by her own experiences.

Working with a team of community partners, Cidro has begun piloting a doula program, with the goal of creating a usable model for Indigenous moms to access Indigenous birth supports.

“Everybody on our research team… we know what it’s like to be an Indigenous mother giving birth either at home, in a birth centre or in a hospital,” Cidro said in an interview Friday.

“We know the impact of having a cultural connection to that really sacred time. We either experienced it or we wish we could have experienced that, because we know the cultural connections are essential in ensuring that parents, families and the child that’s brought into the world has this sacred connection.”

Cidro and the team — which includes members from various doula collectives, Klinic Community Health, Mount Carmel Clinic, Winnipeg Boldness Project, and Women’s Health Clinic — will work to develop an administrative model, research tools and an evaluation system to pilot a doula program housed out of the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre of Winnipeg (181 Higgins Ave.).

While such work was spearheaded in northern Manitoba communities, the team is hoping to expand to urban centres.

“We want to provide some information they can consider,” Cidro explained. “We’re always thinking about scaling up. This is in Winnipeg, but if it can be scaled up to Edmonton, to Montreal, to Halifax, we want to be able to provide that information.”

Cidro said, ultimately, she hopes the project is able to bring about “policy transformations and investment transformations in terms of how Indigenous women are supported through this really important time in their life.”

The project has secured a $1-million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and additional funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

While Cidro found her inspiration from experiences of birth, U of W historian Erin Millions is working with records of death.

Millions is using thousands of photos from the early-to-late 1900s depicting Indigenous patients and staff at Manitoba sanatoriums (medical facilities where tuberculosis patients were treated) to develop resources to help families find lost burial places.

Working with Canada Research Chair and U of W history Prof. Mary Jane Logan McCallum, the team launched a project to digitize and share records of such patients and staff with Indigenous communities and survivors.

What started as a social media initiative has blossomed into a full-scale research project — complete with a $520,000 grant from the CIHR and support from an ethical advisory board.

Before the onset of COVID-19, McCallum and Millions travelled to a number of Indigenous communities to share the photos and work to name some of the individuals depicted in the images.

“They would sit and look at the photos, and tell us stories which were sometimes wonderful, mostly heartbreaking and difficult,” Millions said.

McCallum said the photos have been illuminating to many community members, who were not aware of the history of segregation in Manitoba hospitals or the racial divides in the understandings of tuberculosis, and to those families previously unable to access past records in the medical system.

“Learning about one’s past, especially in a community context, can be healing,” she said of the project’s value to First Nations communities.

Tuberculosis histories, as they are presented now, are lacking the Indigenous experience, said McCallum, a First Nations woman.

McCallum said she hopes the project, which will be developed over three years, will challenge Manitobans to think critically about the lasting impacts of racism in health care.

Twitter: @jsrutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers is a climate reporter with a focus on environmental issues in Manitoba. Her position is part of a three-year partnership between the Winnipeg Free Press and The Narwhal, funded by the Winnipeg Foundation.

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