Woman Warriors Newsletter

Alberta Indigenous Mentorship in Health Innovation (AIM-HI) Network Retreat

For the newsletter audience members that are not familiar with the term “decolonization”, I will provide a short definition so that you have context for the excerpt from my AlM-HI/Internal Medicine Retreat speech that I created to set up the room as a “decolonized space” before screening the stories. (For more information about decolonization please access the resources in the reference list).

“Decolonization is the process of deconstructing colonial ideologies of the
superiority and privilege of Western thought and approaches. On the one hand, decolonization involves dismantling structures that perpetuate the status quo and addressing unbalanced power dynamics. On the other hand, decolonization involves valuing and revitalizing Indigenous knowledge and approaches and weeding out settler biases or assumptions that have impacted Indigenous ways of being. For non-Indigenous people, decolonization is the process of examining your beliefs about Indigenous Peoples and culture by learning about yourself in relationship to the communities where you live and the people with whom you interact” (Cull, 2018, p.6).

The stories you are about to view share powerful themes about the legacy of residential school, intergenerational trauma and the importance of land, language, culture, and community as factors to improving Indigenous women’s health outcomes. All of the digital storytelling presenters have either attended residential school or their parents and/or grandparents have attended residential school. These stories have the potential to be triggering for residential school survivors and their family members. With that in mind, if you are in need of mental health support after screening the stories, you can go to the womenwarriors.club website under the tab “Digital Stories” and “Mental Health Resources” to download the PDF documents of contact information for mental health support and counseling.

Before I being the screening, I would like to highlight the importance of storytelling and listening in Indigenous cultures. In the book, Unsettling the Settler Within, “Indigenous educator Jo-ann Archibald describes the principals and protocols that are integral to Indigenous storytelling as pedagogical practice: respect, responsibility, reciprocity, reverence, holism, interrelatedness and synergy” (Regan, 2010, p. 190). Storytelling – a form of knowledge exchange – plays a vital role in Indigenous communities. Regan, author of Unsettling the Settler Within states, “Storytellers share their own life experiences with humility as a way of provoking critical reflection in others, while continuing to learn themselves. Decolonizing stories told in this manner are an interactive exchange between teller and listener in which both learn and teach” (Regan, 2010, p. 32). Furthermore, it is essential to the decolonization process that “Indigenous people speak with our own voices about our histories, culture, and experiences as we continue to resist the onslaught of colonial structures, policies, and practices” (Regan, 2010, p. 33). For Indigenous peoples, we are constantly struggling to find spaces to practice decolonization and centering our voices in the reconciliation process. This presentation is about creating a safe space for Indigenous women to share their health stories in a culturally appropriate way with reciprocity of being both educator and learner.

It is the role of our audience members to listen acutely to these stories. Regan states, a responsible listener, especially for non-Indigenous audience members that may not be familiar with Indigenous storytelling, means the following:

“Our thoughts are silent. Our attention is in the present…When we are willing to enter a space of listening…we will hear, know and sense things both spoken and unspoken …we don’t know how this happens, but we know that it does happen. It is as though the stories that are shared are doorways into many other stories…once we enter that world with another…this can lead to many things. One of them is change” (Regan, 2010, p. 192).

Furthermore, I would like to share that responsible listening on your part “requires a double attentiveness, a listening to the testimony of the one who is speaking and, and at the same time, a listening to the questions we find ourselves asking when faced by this testimony…We must pose questions to ourselves about our questions” (Regan, 2010, p. 191). This type of listening allows for self-reflexivity, which is an absolute requirement for reconciliation. As Indigenous scholar, Val Napoleon states,

“Many cross-cultural sensitivity training programs are designed solely to educate settlers about Indigenous people without any reciprocal sharing by the former about their own history, cultural practices, world views, and values. Consequently, settlers have their awareness increased, but not about themselves. Instead, it is a one-way street, another example of the “Aboriginal people under the looking glass” phenomenon.”Thus, for settlers, as Roger Epp argues, “making ourselves the subject under closest scrutiny becomes essential as part of the decolonization project”” (Regan, 2010, p. 34).

We decolonize this space by being responsible listeners, questioning our own assumptions, biases, and prejudices about Indigenous people and enacting reconciliation in health by learning the different perspectives on Indigenous wellness and respecting the traditional knowledge these women are gifting you.


Cull, I., R.L.A. Hancock, S. McKeown, M. Pidgeon, and A. Vedan. (2018). Pulling Together: A Guide for Indigenization of Post-Secondary Institutions. Electronic Resource: BC Campus. https://opentextbc.ca/indigenizationfrontlineworkers/.

Regan, P. (2010). Unsettling the settler within : Indian residential schools, truth telling, and reconciliation in Canada. Vancouver, British Columbia: UBC Press.

Steps to decolonizing our Indigenous women’s health stories screening space. Graphic by Shelley Wiart.

Internal Medicine Retreat

Sunday, September 29th. I was invited by Dr. Cheryl Barnabe, Associate Professor, Departments of Medicine and Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary to present at the Internal Medicine Retreat for residents (physicians training in a specialized area). Two of our digital storytelling co-creators, Sheryl & Tanya connected via Facetime to speak with the residents.
After screening the stories I asked the residents to complete a questionnaire to reflect on the digital stories and potential for change in practice. The responses are coded below and I’ve only included a section of the questionnaire. No identifying information has been included and I have consent from the residents and organizers to share this information.

There are several uses for digital storytelling in healthcare settings including educating health care professionals, and engaging them in critical reflection of their practice (Kendra, et.al. 2018). An important part of my research methodology is capturing the medical audience’s awareness of their own perceptions of Indigenous peoples’ health, and reflecting on how they can incorporate information from the digital stories into their practice. The Cumming School of Medicine – Internal Medicine Retreat – was my first opportunity to screen our digital health stories with a medical professional audience and receive feedback. After screening the stories the residents (n=8) were asked to complete a questionnaire[1]that I provided. Their responses demonstrated that the digital stories served as a pedagogical tool[2]for increasing their understanding of the legacy of residential schools and increasing their cultural competency and cultural safety with Indigenous patients.

Question 1. Reflecting on the digital stories, what events or factors do Indigenous women face that contribute to the health challenges they experience?

  • Psychological trauma, isolation and restrictions in residential school.
  • Significant generational trauma.
  • Previous negative experiences with healthcare lead to futhur aversion of the system.
  • Intergenerational trauma, residential schools, lack of physical/intimate relationships with family.
  • Intergenerational trauma, residential school experiences, lateral violence, stereotypes/racism, colonialism, mental health barriers, accessing culturally safe care.
  • Intergenerational trauma- the effect this experience had on people which had effected each subsequent generation.

a) Were any if these events or factors a surprise or new to you? If so, please explain.

  • Did not have idea about the reality behind residential school and their impact on indigenous health. 
  • The scope of generational trauma.
  • I wasn’t familiar with the concept of intergenerational trauma. 
  • I was not aware of the physical relationship aspect (lack of affection/touching).
  • No, I am Metis and work in Indigenous health research and clinical medicine.
  • No, I have previously had training with this and have worked extensively with Indigenous populations.

b) What events or factors do you feel you could address in your interactions with Indigneous patients? How would you do so?

  • Be respectful and sensitive to the cuture and not be judgemental based on any previous experience
  • Sensitivity
  • Eliciting cultural perspective with respect to issues, diagnosis, treatments.
  • Awareness of answers to #1.(Intergenerational trauma, residential school, lack of physical/intimate relationships with family) Using respectful, non-intrusive language.
  • Providing safe care. 
  • Asking about their background – asking how this has affected them.

c) Which of the stories resonated most with you?

  1. Fragmented by Maxine – 3 respondents
  2. Broken Trust by Beatrice – 0 respondents
  3. Secrets Revealed by Sheryl – 1 respondent
  4. Living our History by Dorothy – 1 respondent
  5. Tuq&urausiit by Tanya –  3 respondents

d) Why was this/these stor(ies) effective for understanding Indigenous women’s health?

  • Maxine’s story is a direct consequence of the behaviour, lack of love, and lack of emotions she experienced at her home. Tanya’s story is just a reality of challenges people face dealing with two cultures.
  • Maxine’s story the effect of lack of attachment – the impact.  
  • They were very effective but Dorothy’s story showed more success and more family and community, which I was able to identify with.
  • Very personal and clear story of effects through multi-generations of residential school. 
  • Hearing first hand individual experiences are more effective than a didactic lecture/slideshows.

[1]The questionnaire was prepared by Dr. Rita Henderson, Assistant Professor, Models of Care Scientist, Departments of Family Medicine and Community Health Sciences & Dr. Cheryl Barnabe. Associate Professor, Departments of Medicine and Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary.
[2]Pedagogical tools are designed to convey important lessons and allow people to improve their understanding of a problem or undertaking.

This Research is Sponsored by

Future Plans for Dissemination

My research has an integrated knowledge translation plan that allowed the participants to share ideas and input about how to disseminate the research and their digital stories to the community. I also have a continual consent process with my participants and I keep them informed when I present their digital stories at academic conferences or events. I will continue sharing with them how their stories are impacting the audience even after my formal research is done. I take direction from the project participant when they suggest spaces to share their digital health stories. For example, one of the participants emailed me to suggest we approach APTN to share the digital stories. I have since been in contact with a video journalist and we have future plans to meet and discuss this project. We are also considering creating an Indigenous knowledge translation workshop where we screen the digital stories with health care professionals, then host talking circles, and have a group discussion on reconciliation in healthcare. I am in the process of searching for academic or healthcare conferences that we can attend as presenters.

I am currently editing the Women Warriors website in preparation for sharing our five Indigenous women’s health stories and my own 10-minute digital story on The Methodology of Indigenous Digital Storytelling in Health Research. I plan on uploading the stories within the next two months. I have copyright issues that need to be in place before I release the stories.

If you would like to host us in your community to share the digital stories or have any suggestions about where to share them, please email me.
Shelley@womenwarriors.club. Thank you!