Woman Warriors Newsletter

Indigenous Knowledge Translation: Why Indigenous health re-searchers need a newsletter

On Tuesday, April 17th, 2017 I released my first Women Warriors newsletter announcing my podcast. Over the past three years I have written 100 plus articles and generated an email list of 450 plus engaged audience members from across Turtle Island. I have kept in touch with many of my podcasts guests and formed long-term relationships with my audience member via emails and social media interactions.

This content is the original, unpublished, independent work by the author, Shelley Wiart. Any use of this publication must have prior permission from the author. All Women Warriors content is copyrighted. Email to ask for permission: Shelley@womenwarriors.club

When I started Women Warriors in 2015, I was a community member advocating for Indigenous health promotions and type 2 diabetes awareness and prevention. I began writing my Women Warriors newsletter to promote my Women Warriors podcast and build an audience of Indigenous community members. 

My evolution from a community member and podcaster to an Indigenous health researcher is apparent in my 100 plus newsletter as I embarked on my post-secondary journey in 2017. I kept writing the newsletter because it was an emotional outlet for me and a tool of advocacy and connection. Instead of dwelling on my isolation and my frustration of completing my undergrad through long-distance education, I focused on writing my newsletters, advocating for Indigenous women, and building a network of researchers and Indigenous community members from across Canada through my email list. 

I started my email list with 135 contacts imported through my Gmail account and grew it to 478 contacts through diligent advertising to sign up on my website or asking people for their permission to add them to the list. My intentions were clear on the audience that I wanted: Indigenous health researchers, or allies of Indigenous health researchers, Indigenous community members that worked in the fields of indigenous health, or professionals in positions of power to influence health policy. 

To protect the privacy and confidentiality of my audience members and honouring ethical conduct as an Indigenous health researcher, I will not share the names on my email list. I will share that when I hit my send button, my newsletters arrive in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and several American states. On average, 140 audience members open my newsletters, and through social media engagement, my total opens are approximately 350-400 unique opens. My most popular newsletter this year with 520 opens was Digital Storytelling Summer Research & My New Project “Save Our Healthcare. Last year’s most popular newsletter with 812 opens was Presentation at AIM-HI Retreat and the Internal Medicine Retreat. The newsletter with the most audience opens, 197 was the announcement of our Yellowknife knowledge translation event, Legacy: Indigenous Women’s Health Stories. My favorite newsletter with 138 opens was Anger, Education, and the Power of Motherhood: Indigenous Women Transforming Systems featured a lecture I attended in February 2019 for the Indigenous Knowledge Public Lecture Series featuring Dr. Carrie Bourassa.  

I am sharing my Women Warriors newsletter campaign data with you to demonstrate how my newsletter is an effective form of Indigenous knowledge translation (iKT) for my research and provides a forum for ongoing community engagement. I formed long-term community relationships and trust by sharing my personal stories about Indigenous health and the projects that I am working such as last week’s newsletter, “Family Violence Awareness Month: A Culturally Relevant App for the Northwest Territories.” Several people on my email list contacted me after reading my newsletter and shared their family violence resources with me.

The following is my literature review on Indigenous knowledge translation (iKT) for my digital storytelling research, Digital Storytelling as an Indigenous Women’s Health Advocacy Tool: Empowering Indigenous Women to Frame Their Health Stories. Below the lit review, I will share why Indigenous health researchers need a community newsletter for their own iKT, especially during the pandemic when in-person community engagement is limited. 

Indigenous knowledge translation is “by and with” Indigenous peoples and is defined by Smylie et al. (2014) as “sharing what we know about living a good life”. Cooper & Driedger (2018) recognize the gap in evaluation opportunities for knowledge translation (KT) products (p. 64) and Jull et al. (2018) state there is a gap in the published literature on how to practice Indigenous KT (iKT) (p. 7). There is a need for iKT processes using strength-based approaches because of the history of colonial practices, policies, and research that have resulted in deficit-based narrative and stereotypes of Indigenous peoples (Cooper & Driedger, 2018, p. 62). In the past, the narrative surrounding Indigenous peoples’ health has been from a deficit lens and has encouraged harmful discourses of pathology and stigma, surrounding indigenous peoples (Hyett, 2019). Hyett et al.’s (2019) defined a deficit discourse as, “a mode of thinking that frames and represent Aboriginal identity in a narrative of negativity, deficiency and disempowerment” (p. 103). These stereotypes of deficiency have exacerbated, rather than addressed, persistent health disparities and continue to harm Indigenous peoples (Hyett, 2019; Sylvestre, et al., 2018). 

Furthermore, Cooper & Driedger (2018) make the distinction that the construction of Indigenous knowledge often differs from the knowledge within Western institutions, meaning that iKT dissemination products must also fit within Indigenous ways of knowing, and be guided by Indigenous knowledge keepers and knowledge users (p. 64). The purpose of iKT is as a democratic process between users and researchers to co-produce knowledge that can be put into practice with the goal of research outputs being relevant, useful and applied to both practice and policy (Jull et al., 2018, p.3). Integrated KT is necessary in Indigenous health research because it carries the principles of respect, reciprocity and collaboration in community research, and therefore becomes inherently ethical and acceptable by Indigenous communities (Jull et al., 2018, p. 4). The strength of iKT is that the knowledge holders/community members are recognized as collaborators and co-present, which fosters more meaningful relationships that are based on mutual respect and trust, and thereby more ethical and relevant research (Jull et al., 2018, p. 6).   

The purpose of this research is to fill iKT gaps by evaluating the participants’ experience at our Legacy event in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. This research fills a gap in how to safely and ethically conduct Indigenous knowledge translation (iKT) with Indigenous women. It also features the storyteller’s self-directed iKT and implementation and how they enacted learning opportunities for their communities. This research is unique in that my digital storytelling co-creators told me, the researcher, where they wanted their stories featured in the media such as CBC North, APTN, Eagle Feather News and the academic conferences they were willing to feature our research – the Alberta SPOR Summer Institute. Furthermore, whenever I present our DST research I ask them if they would like to attend and I offer their names as speakers for media requests[1]. This research gives Indigenous women the opportunity to share their Indigenous knowledge translation ideas on how health care providers may implement culturally safe care for Indigenous people in both practice and policy. 

For my newsletter, I write strength-based stories or projects featuring Indigenous women’s holistic health and healing. I am careful of the language that I use – direct and plain writing is best – and I avoid any negative or judgment laden topics. Newsletters that feature mainly academic writing are not popular such as, Research Findings on the Digital Storytelling Process (83 audience members opens and a total of 171 opens). So if you are sharing your own research findings, try to balance it with other information such as personal stories or webinars that you hosted. My most popular webinar newsletter, Indigenous Digital Storytelling As Pedagogical Tool For Cultural Safety In Health Care Settings had 134 opens (I can also see academics on my list opened it multiple times – 7 to 23 times) and a total of 293 separate opens. Academics are constantly being asked to host webinars to showcase our research findings so double up on using your content in your own newsletter as an iKT strategy. 

To shake-up content and get fresh perspectives, I invite a diversity of Indigenous writers to share their own stories, such as my Cannabis + Indigenous Women Series. It featured five guest writers: Brandy-Lee Maxie (First Nations), Heather Morigeau (Métis), Tanya Roach (Inuit), Cheryl Stump (First Nations), and Juanita Lindley (First Nations) that shared their personal stories on cannabis usage in Indigenous communities. In keeping in line with reciprocity, I always pay my guest writers in the form of an honorarium, or if they refuse money I send them a gift in the mail (usually my favorite book, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and earrings or beaded merchandise made by Indigenous artists). I also offer to edit the content of their writing if they want, but I send the revisions back to them for clarification and I stay as true as possible to their voice. I never censor their content or tell them what to write – they have total creative control. I promote my writer friends by providing their emails in my newsletter and I send them writing opportunities I find online. This kind of content collaboration allows me to reach a wider audience because the writers share the newsletter with their networks as well as my own network. Plus, this content could potentially be turned into a community based participatory action research project or an anthology with me as the editor. I do not have time to do such projects right now, but if I was looking for work (which I am not so please don’t ask me to collaborate on anything) then this would be a good project to start. 

I am a consistent content creator with the goal of bi-weekly newsletters sent out on Saturday mornings. I choose Saturday morning because it is convenient for me, but the Mailchimp experts (the marketing platform I use for my free newsletters) suggests emails be sent early weekday mornings. I suggest Mailchimp as your newsletter provider because it is free for your first 2000 audience members and there are many tutorials on their website or on Youtube to teach you how to create newsletters. Through my free newsletter, I have received many opportunities including writing a column for the Yellowknifer newspaper, connecting with researchers across Canada that are interested in collaborating on projects, and most recently, a job offer! Yes, it takes precious time to create free bi-weekly content, but the opportunities are worth it.

Finally, the most important takeaway from sharing my newsletters data, content creation, and my opportunities because of it, has to do with ethical research with Indigenous communities. Relationship and trust-building take time. LOTS OF TIME. You cannot rush Indigenous community members into trusting you. When approaching Indigenous communities for research projects they want to know that an Indigenous community has claimed you and that you have long-term and respectful relationships with Indigenous peoples. I can demonstrate YEARS of relationship building with Indigenous community members through my newsletters which are featured on my website. I can show that I have been reciprocal and collaborative in my work. Also, if I have an upcoming research project I can reach out to my Indigenous community members on my email list and ask them for referrals or their participation. They know my name, what I’m about, how I co-create with Indigenous women, and why I’m motivated to do this work. I have over one hundred newsletters demonstrating my commitment to improving the health outcomes of Indigenous women and communities. My newsletters – a form of iKT because I’m sharing what I know about living a good life – builds quality relationships and trust with my audience members.

My advice for Indigenous health researchers during the pandemic is to redirect your energies from in-person relationship-building to start your own newsletter for online relationship building. A biweekly newsletter is an effective form of iKT because it gives you the opportunity to share your good works. It is more cost-effective than paying to get your academic articles published since newsletters are FREE and it reaches a diverse audience. I will share that my newsletters are read by some amazing academics from across Canada and I don’t pay a thing to get my content in front of their eyeballs. I know academia is publish (in academic journals) or perish, but the real focus in Indigenous health research is on the quality of relationships you have formed. Community trust and long-term, respectful relationships are the most important aspect of Indigenous health research and must come before publishing academic articles. Start generating content that is strength-based, full of practical advice such as, Cultural Safety: How I applied it in research and health care settings and share your ideas on how to improve the quality of life for Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island. Or ask the Indigenous community members you collaborate with and inspire them to become the newsletter writer for your research project. 

I hope this newsletter has generated some excitement about new ways to do iKT and expanded your thinking about ways to share Indigenous health research and build relationships. I love to hear from Indigenous community members and health researchers about their projects so please reach out to me. I also appreciate it when audience members send me a quick email in response to my newsletters. This newsletter is a different approach than I usually offer, but I’m trying to think of ways to help audience members be effective health researchers and/or advocates from home. Please reach out to me via email if you have questions: Shelley@womenwarriors.club. 

 I was interviewed for the Sickboy Podcast (August 2020) about our Indigenous women’s health stories and I referred storyteller Tanya Roach as a follow-up guest on Inuit women’s health. https://www.cbc.ca/listen/cbc-podcasts/434-sickboy/episode/15793036-women-warriors-advocating-for-indigenous-womens-health

Upcoming Speaking Engagements & Conferences

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.