What do two Indigenous health researchers, a physicist, a geophysicist, an Indigenous actress/singer/advocate and a settler ally have in common? They were guests at a social gathering I hosted in Edmonton this past August! We gathered in the back yard of an Airbnb house that I rented in the Bonnie Doon area to connect and share stories. Our visit resulted in an eclectic collection of stories and ideas; our commonality was our enthusiasm for our life’s work and purpose.
Digital Storytelling as an Indigenous Women’s Health Advocacy Tool: Empowering Indigenous Women to Frame Their Health Stories
From May to June 2019 I co-created two digital health stories with Indigenous women from the Women Warriors programs in Lloydminster and Onion Lake Cree Nation (OLCN), on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan. I relocated to Yellowknife for the months of July and August and co-created three digital stories with Indigenous women there.
I conceived of this project as community based participatory action research carried out through the lens of Indigenous feminism, which center the participant as the person most knowledgeable about their own experiences.
The objectives of these health stories was to allow Indigenous women to share, with a medical audience, their traditional knowledge and Indigenous healing practices, and to help them conceptualize and communicate about their own health stories and service needs.
It also served to educate non-Indigenous peoples about traditional healing practices for different Indigenous groups bridging the gap between biomedical western medicine and traditional healing.
International Women's Day 2020 Indigenous Feminist Panel
Historically, through colonial policies like the Indian Act and the imposition of patriarchy on matriarchal societies, Indigenous women have been and continue to be marginalized by main-stream society 1 A consequence of this marginalization is health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous women. Indigenous women experience the highest rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, and have lower life expectancy, elevated morbidity rates, and elevated suicide rates in comparison to non-Aboriginal women 2. Indigenous women past the age of 55 are more likely to report fair or poor health compared to non-Indigenous women in the same age group 3. Furthermore, social determinants of health for Indigenous peoples reflect major disparities in relation to non-Indigenous Canadians including “higher levels of substandard and crowded housing conditions, poverty, and unemployment, together with lower levels of education and access to quality health-care services” 4.
Indigenous women’s health stories are complex due to their intersecting identities of race and gender, their experiences of colonialism, and social determinants of health. All of these factors can make it challenging for them to access culturally appropriate healthcare.
In order to close the gaps in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Canada, it is critical that Indigenous people’s voices are central to the process of reconciliation in healthcare 5 . Reconciliation in healthcare aims to close the gaps in health outcomes that exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and support Indigenous peoples as they heal from colonization, the legacy of residential school, and the ongoing systemic racism embedded in our institutions. Indigenous women’s knowledge is integral to sustaining traditional knowledge systems, and healing practices, and decolonizing knowledge production 6
This research is the original, unpublished, independent work by the author, Shelley Wiart. The digital storytelling research is covered by Ethics File number 23355, issued by the Athabasca University Research Ethics Board (AUREB) for the project “Digital Storytelling as an Indigenous Women’s Health Advocacy Tool: Empowering Indigenous Women to Frame Their Health Stories” on March 26, 2019. This research also received a Northwest Territories Scientific Research License number 16553, issued by the Aurora Research Institute on May 29, 2019.
On Wednesday, December 2nd, I had the pleasure of virtually meeting three University of Toronto students, Vivian Ho, Michelle Mao, and Sarina Sharma to share my insights on the methodology of Indigenous digital storytelling. They viewed our Indigenous women’s digital health stories online and wanted to learn more about becoming a better ally in decolonization.
This interview is featured on the Women Warriors Youtube channel. It was conducted for UAlberta course credit for Julie’s INTD 301 Foundations of Leadership. Her purpose was to create an interactive map, highlighting influential non-prototypical leaders in Canada. It was an honour to be interviewed by Julie and learn more about her family history and reclaiming her Inuit heritage and identity.
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