The NT NEIHR developed from the work of the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research (ICHR), a research institute in Yellowknife which has carried out Indigenous-engaged research for many years. ICHR staff and team members recognized that there is a need to further build research capacity in the Northwest Territories. In 2019, the ICHR was awarded a NEIHR grant that allowed us to bring together a diverse group of researchers, practitioners, Indigenous scholars, and community Elders with the shared goal of advancing the health of Indigenous northerners.
A new way of working
As we took our first steps, working in a virtual circle with prayer and open hearts we talked about the pandemic, Mother Earth and the healing that was necessary for individuals and communities. We talked about how to begin to reconcile what was occurring globally including university institutions, government agencies and global systems that are not supporting Indigenous culture, language, and way of life. We talked and established how we wanted to work together and what was needed to begin the healing journey through research.
We met in ceremony several times on the land with deep intention to undertake discussions about mutual decision making. This led to establishing some terms of reference for our Elders Council that represents the way in which we will be together, talk about issues and make decisions that are inclusive and considerate of the needs of our communities and our partners.
Thinking as one
We prioritized elements of the original grant proposal and brainstormed work that could be undertaken to help us create a supportive environment and a curated network to support Indigenous students working in the area of health research.
Planning with vision
Lastly, we created an engagement plan that reflected the principles of how we want to create value through communicating and sharing. We talked a lot about how the information that we create and share is only valuable once it is owned, utilized, and reshaped by future generations. This will be a principle of knowledge creation, knowledge translation and knowledge keeping for us and for future generations of researchers in our network.
Coming together, virtually
The global COVID-19 pandemic was declared just a few days after our grant was awarded. The focus of Elders and community members immediately pivoted toward the safety of their communities. In relationship and with ceremony, we started to think about ways to come together in a virtual sense. Our first real steps into mentorship began when students set up and taught the Elders how to use virtual platforms and electronic tools to connect. It was a tentative period and we weren’t convinced that this would work but the Elders were ready to start talking about how to support students and researchers in the midst of this life-changing global event.
Our Guiding Principles
Through our relationships with each other and our partners we will take stock on how we are doing and hold ourselves accountable to these five ways of being.
- If we are going to do work on-the-land and work with Mother Earth, plants, and medicines, we should have the principles from the Creator that we do not own the land and that the land was created by the one who provides for all.
- We recognize and respect the natural laws, spiritual laws, environmental laws, governance laws, and laws of our natural economy, which is regulated by the cycles of the seasons and the natural laws with the rhythm of the Earth.
- As the people of the land, we have the collective right to use the land and its resources to ensure our survival as a people. We also have a collective responsibility to protect the land for our children and grandchildren.
- We take only what we need from the land and what we use from the land, and we honour and give offering to the spirit of the land, and we try not to waste anything that comes from the land, and we share this knowledge with everyone who is in contact with the land.