Woman Warriors Newsletter

Decolonizing Health Care: Indigenous Digital Storytelling as Pedagogical Tool for Cultural Safety in Health Care Settings

My abstract presentation (general presentation category) at the AbSPORU Virtual Institute 2020, to be held online from October 13th to November 20th, 2020.

On Friday, October 2nd I had the pleasure and honour to present the following speech at the 2020 Ełèts’ehdèe-Katimaqatigiit-Nihkhah Łatr’iljil conference. This annual gathering is organized by Hotii t’seeda (NWT Spor Unit) and co-hosted by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and the Tłı̨chǫ Government. I was invited to attend this event because I am a recipient of the Researcher Capacity Development (RCD) Award for my digital storytelling research.

My name is Shelley Wiart. I am a proud Métis woman, and a member of the North Slave Métis Alliance. I use she/her pronouns. I would like to begin by acknowledging that I reside on the traditional lands referred to as Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis. In terms of Yellowknife connections, my dad is the president of the North Slave Metis Alliance, Bill Enge, and my grandmother was Anne Enge. I am the mother of three beautiful daughters; Kayla aged 11, Aubrey, 9 and Harper, 7. 

I would like to take a moment to honour the memory of Joyce Echaquan. Let us pray for her family and her seven children that no longer have a mother and for her partner that has lost his spouse is now a single parent in the midst of deep grief. Systemic change within our institutions needs to happen. 
Thank you to my digital storytelling co-creators – Maxine, Beatrice, Sheryl, Dorothy and Tanya – for gifting us your stories and agreeing to be interviewed so that I can share more details about the process of Indigenous digital storytelling. 
Today I would like to share the concept of relational accountability within Indigenous health research and how my digital storytelling re-search choose me. According to Wilson (2008), relational accountability means that “the methodology needs to be based in a community context (be relational) and has to demonstrate respect, reciprocity, and responsibility (be accountable as it is put into action)” (p. 99). Relational accountability means that the re-searcher is accountable to the community members (I use the term co-creators) and that the research must accurately reflect and build upon the relationships between the ideas and participants.

I share this concept of relational accountability because it is an important feature of Indigenous health re-search. It is a concept that safeguards Indigenous communities from harmful, extractive, and deficit-based research done by outsiders. My story demonstrates how this re-search choose me through my community relationships, the importance of my Métis identity, my reverence for storytelling, and enacting research with heart. 

In 2015, I ran a half-marathon for Team Diabetes in support of my dad, Bill and his diagnosis of insulin dependent type II diabetes. That same year, after finishing my training and recognizing a gap in my community, Lloydminster, Alberta for Indigenous women to have a safe and supportive environment to exercise, I started an Indigenous focused health promotions program named Women Warriors. Our Eight Weeks to Healthy Living program provided free fitness classes and nutrition education to mainly Indigenous women. It also included a community building aspect with a culturally relevant sharing circle to encourage women to share their experiences with health and healing.  

The participants of the Women Warriors program (2015-2018) influenced my digital storytelling research project and two of the storytellers – Maxine and Beatrice – were former participants in the program. The participants shared their personal stories of racist experiences with healthcare providers in our round circle discussions and one-on-one with me. Also, they expressed the desire to share asset-based stories of their community and culture because of the negative media and stereotypes of Indigenous peoples. Moreover, in my 4 years working with Indigenous women I witnessed how the health care system failed to create an environment of cultural safety and understand Indigenous women’s concepts of holistic health (mind, body, spirit and emotions).

Relational accountability within Indigenous health research is demonstrated in four ways: how the research topic is chosen, the methodology used to collect the data and build relationships, the analysis process and how we make meaning of the data, and the knowledge translation of the re-search outcomes (Wilson, 2008, p. 107). I will share these four ways of conducting relational accountability in my digital storytelling re-search.  

I knew that the knowledge that the participants were gifting me in our Women Warriors program needed a public platform. I knew it was my responsibility – because of my relationship with the participants and my relational accountability to them – to find a way to share their stories and empower them to advocate for themselves (Wilson, 2008; Kovach, 2009; Absolon, 2011). I recognized how important it was for me to be connected to my Métis culture and identity in order to be able to conduct community based participatory action re-search because I had an in-depth understanding of intergenerational trauma from my own family history and how the distal determinant of colonization impacted Indigenous women’s health through my time facilitating Women Warriors (Czyzewski, 2001, p. 4). My ability to support Indigenous women on their healing journeys including the exploration of residential school attendance was dependent on me having understood this legacy within my own family. This digital storytelling re-search is a reflection of my own history, and my journey of holistic health and healing. I have done my best at every step on this re-search journey to “accurately reflect and build upon the relationships between the ideas and participants….to reflect an understanding of the topic that is shared by researcher and participants alike” (Wilson, 2008, p. 101).  I never assume anything about this re-search and I always ask for clarity on the meaning of things, but I also have an internal shared knowing with the storytellers.

I felt a connection to Absolon’s (2011) “The Petal Flower” Framework (p. 51) because at the center of my own re-search was “Self” and my “location, memory, motive, and search for congruency” were all influencing my search for my Indigenous re-search methodology (p. 67). The stem of my framework became the methodology of Indigenous digital storytelling because I knew these stories needed to be told by and for Indigenous women and that their voices needed to be central to this re-search. I had an internal knowing, which is also apart of the Indigenous re-search process, that Indigenous women needed a tool to advocate for their own health care needs, and that I could not do this advocacy for them (Kovach, 2009; Absolon, 2011). I also recognized that as an “insider” re-searcher I needed to be humble on this journey because I belonged to this community of Indigenous women as a member and I had a “different set of roles and relationships, status and position” (Smith, 1999, p. 140). I did not want to position myself as an expert on their lived experiences, which is why I carried out this re-search through the lens of Indigenous feminism (Green, 2017). I also did not want to impose my own beliefs about what holistic health was for each storyteller because I understood the dangers of a “pan-Indigenous” approach to health and forcing “pan-Native” healing techniques on different Indigenous cultural groups. Because I wanted to include First Nations, Métis and Inuit women in this re-search I knew to be humble and let them lead me in their cultural knowledge and practices.  

I also recognized within myself the ability to be a good listener and storyteller, which I inherited from my dad because he is a wonderful storyteller. We have spent many hours together doing the “kinship-visiting” approach so that he could teach me about our kinship relationships, and I could reclaim my Métis “teachings, stories, values, and land” (Gaudet, 2019, pp. 47-48). Stories are the lifeblood of Indigenous communities and the way that Elders pass their wisdom to future generations. To be gifted with knowledge is to honoured by your community and requires you to be responsible for the greater good. It also means respecting the knowledge holder and their knowledge enough to listen with an open heart and prepare to receive the stories. 

I have learned how to listen, which is a special skill that Indigenous communities value, because it requires “thinking mutually” which means the “position of the listener and the teller will thus have an impact on what is told, and both parties carry responsibility for the knowledge” (Anderson, 2011, p. 21). My dad teaches me how to be a good leader through his own life stories, which often has multi-layered meaning. Elders share teachings as a form of “reciprocity in relationships” so that we can learn how to live in good relations with each other (Anderson, 2011, p. 73). Living in reciprocity is fundamental to our survival – the collective always comes before the individual. Métis  Elder, Maria Campbell states, “the quality of oral history is based on the quality of the relationship between the teller and the student” (Anderson, 2011, p. 20). Being a good listener requires a huge investment of time and energy on behalf of both the Elder and the recipient. This investment means respect, reciprocity, and responsibility that outsiders of Indigenous communities are often not privy to because traditional knowledge comes with deeper cultural teachings (Anderson, 2011). I knew that Indigenous digital storytelling was a good fit for me as an Indigenous health re-searcher because I knew how to listen, how to extract the wisdom from a story, what my responsibilities were when someone gifted me a story, and how I could reciprocate the knowledge gifted to me. I knew that the act of storytelling was a way for women to process their holistic life history and the interconnectedness of all things in the world including their relationships with people, plants, animals and spirit (Smith, 1999; Wilson, 2008; Absolon, 2011; Kovach, 2009). 

My relational accountability in the analysis of this re-search is the co-creation of meaning (Kovach, 2009). I did not rely on my own interpretations of the interview transcripts because I know the fundamental principal of Indigenous re-search are, “searching for knowledge and the consequent transmission of Indigenous knowledge happens through relationship connections” (Absolon, 2011, p. 125). The storytellers and I co-constructed the digital stories, and I have tried my best to include them in the analysis of this data to maintain the holistic quality of it and the cultural concepts inherent in each of their backgrounds (Smith, 1999; Wilson, 2008; Kovach, 2009). 

My relational accountability for the Indigenous knowledge translation event, Legacy in Yellowknife, NT was to my ancestors, my family, my community and my co-creators of this re-search. It was an honour to conduct Indigenous health re-search on my ancestral homelands and every morning I ran around the Great Slave Lake and prayed for guidance on this journey. Absolon (2011) stated protocols and honouring our ancestors are important processes in re-search and apart of relational accountability.

Research with a consciousness of Spirit also implies an awareness and understanding of enacting research with heart. Several concepts such as relationship, circle process, community, Elders and working from the heart are methodological tendencies of Indigenous re-searchers. All of the re-searchers attended to relationship in their re-search, calling for the enactment of Indigenous protocols to identify themselves and their purpose, create good setting and reciprocate the sharing and witnessing of their search processes. (p. 124).  
I followed protocol at our Legacy: Indigenous women’s health stories event by asking a local Elder with proper protocol, Sabet Biscaye to say the opening prayer in her language. I also gifted the storytellers beaded leather hearts as a token of my appreciation for their hard work and a symbol of our heart connection through this re-search project. When the Legacy event was done I made sure that I acknowledged all the people that contributed to my success including my co-creators, my family, the Elders and community members that attended the event. Also, my appreciation for the funders of this re-search  Hotii t’seeda (NWT Spor Unit) and the Alberta Indigenous Mentorship in Health Innovation 2019-2020 Undergraduate Summer Student Stipend

Absolon, K.E. (Minogiizhigokwe). (2011). Kaandossiwin: How We Come to Know. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing.
Anderson, M. (2019). Indigenous health research and reconciliation. CMAJ Aug 2019, 191 (34) E930-E931; DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.190989.  
Czyzewski, K. (2011). Colonialism as a Broader Social Determinant of Health.
The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 2(1). DOI:10.18584/iipj.2011.2.1.5.
Gaudet, J.C. (2019). Keeoukaywin: The Visiting Way – Fostering an Indigenous Research Methodology. Aboriginal Policy Studies, 7(2). https://doi.org/10.5663/aps.v7i2.29336
Green, J. A. (2007). Making space for Indigenous feminism. Black Point, N.S.: Fernwood Pub., 2007. 
Kovach, M. (2009). Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations and contexts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony: indigenous research methods. Winnipeg, Manitoba:Fernwood Publishing.  

Our first academic article from our digital storytelling re-search has been published in Northern Public Affairs magazine, Decolonizing Health Care: Indigenous Digital Storytelling as Pedagogical Tool for Cultural Safety in Health Care Settings.

Indigenous Womxn Write: Word Therapy & Strength-Based Stories

Tanya and I are hosting an online writing workshop on Thursday, Oct. 8th noon - 1 pm MST as part of the Maskwacis Microlearning Series.

Our workshop will be from the perspectives of Métis and Inuit Northern (Northwest Territories) writers. We will share our writing experiences through the Visiting Way Methodology – an Indigenous methodology that centers on relating to one another in a non-restrictive, unscripted, and responsive way.

Presentation topics will include:

  • Word therapy.
  • Our writing routines.
  • Strength-based stories.
  • Trauma porn.
  • Cultural appropriation.
  • Imposter syndrome.
  • Favorite writing resources.

Biography – Tanya Roach

Tanya Roach is an Inuk writer and throat singer living in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Her family roots are from the Kivalliq region of Nunavut; an area on the northwest coast of the Hudson’s bay. She has been writing for 10 years about life as an urban Inuk and as an Indigenous child in the NWT foster care system. Her writing can be found in UpHere magazine, Edge Yk, the Writers Union of Canada and the Literary Review of Canada. She loves books and is a full-time employee at the Yellowknife library.
Published article: A Fierce Love (2019). The Edge. https://edgenorth.ca/article/a-fierce-love.

Biography – Shelley Wiart

Shelley Wiart is a member of the North Slave Métis Alliance, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Shelley is currently finishing her fourth year of a Bachelor of Arts program in the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Athabasca University. She is the founder of an Indigenous focused holistic health program, Women Warriors (www.womenwarriors.club). Last summer she was the recipient of the Hotıì ts’eeda (NWT SPOR Support Unit) Research Capacity Development Program and for two consecutive years she was awarded the Alberta Indigenous Mentorship in Health Innovation (AIM-HI) Undergrad Summer Student Stipend for her Indigenous women’s health research project, Digital Storytelling as an Indigenous Women’s Health Advocacy Tool: Empowering Indigenous Women to Frame Their Health Stories. She published an academic article from this research, Decolonizing Health Care: Indigenous Digital Storytelling as Pedagogical Tool for Cultural Safety in Health Care Settings in Northern Public Affairs Magazine (2020). Shelley is an avid writer and was awarded first runner-up for the Sally Manning Award for Indigenous Creative Non-Fiction (2020) in UpHere magazine. She has also earned a spot as part of Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference.
Published article: My Northern Healing (2020). UpHere Magazine. https://uphere.ca/articles/my-northern-healing.

Please register for the FREE workshop on Thursday, October 8th from noon-1pm MST here. Please do not contact me to register.

Upcoming Speaking Engagements & Conferences

September 29th - October 2nd: The 2020 Ełèts’ehdèe-Katimaqatigiit-Nihkhah Łatr’iljil theme is Climate Change, Human Health, and Youth. The online event will be held Sept. 29-Oct. 2, 2020. This annual gathering is organized by Hotii t'seeda (NWT Spor Unit) and co-hosted by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and the Tłı̨chǫ Government. I was invited to attend this event because I am a recipient of the Researcher Capacity Development (RCD) Award for my digital storytelling research.

October/November: AbSPORU Virtual Institute 2020, to be held online from October 13th to November 20th, 2020. You can view my recorded presentation above, Decolonizing Health Care: Indigenous Digital Storytelling as Pedagogical Tool for Cultural Safety in Health Care Settings.

November 17th: Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) November 16th-20th, 2020. Our panel, Covid-19 and Global Indigenous Health Inequity: A Holistic Life Cycles Approach to Systems Change is scheduled for Tuesday, November 17th 12:30–2:00 pm MST. Please view our panel on the CSPC program.

Recent Media Interviews:

Tanya Roach (featured above) was interviewed on the Sickboy podcast: Healthy Inside & Out: Psoriasis