Waniska ᐊᐧᓂᐢᑲ

Tansi! Edlanét’e! Wotziye! Aaniin! Taanishi! Hau! Boozhoo! Asujutilli! Hello!

Waniska is an Indigenous-led centre for research on HIV, Hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted and blood borne infections (STBBI) focused on Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Waniska (ᐊᐧᓂᐢᑲ) is a Cree and Saulteaux word that means wake up, arise. It’s a concept filled with optimism for the new day, which we greet with renewed energy and passion. It’s a verb, reflecting that as Indigenous people, our knowledge is action-oriented. Waniska describes the Saskatchewan Health Authority Patient/Family Advisory Committee for HIV/AIDS, and is a tribute to people with lived experience of HIV. To carry on this tradition, Waniska is the name of the Saskatchewan/Manitoba Centre for HIV/HCV/STBBI Research.

Waniska is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

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About

Waniska is an Indigenous-led centre that researches HIV, hepatitis C virus (HCV) and other sexually transmitted blood borne illnesses (STBBI) from an Indigenous perspective. 

A lot of progress been made over the past 20 years studying the HIV/HCV/STBBI epidemic, but research has been limited to individual and group-level risk factors. This research has ignored the social, colonial and historical contexts of Indigenous HIV/HCV/STBBI-related health problems and the unequal access to screening, diagnosis, treatment, care and social support. 

To bring about the changes Indigenous peoples need, Waniska will reframe these studies and programs and develop new approaches based on Indigenous beliefs and methods. 

Location, history and social contexts matter for Indigenous peoples, so Waniska will do the following: 

  • build innovative land-and culture-based research
  • develop and innovate implementation/program research projects
  • grow and sustain infrastructure to support Indigenous communities and academics
  • train and mentor the next generation of Indigenous scholars, practitioners and community members in HIV/HCV/STBBI research, scholarship and knowledge mobilisation
  • create critical partnerships to address the higher rates of HIV/HCV/STBBI among Indigenous peoples

Read more: RationaleAspirationsAimsGender Re-Awakening

People

Waniska Guiding Oversight Council

The Waniska Guiding Oversight Council (GOC), which is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the program, consists of Dr. Michelle Johnson-Jennings (Administrative Scientific Director), Dr. Alexandra King (Chair of the GOC), Dr. Derek Jennings (Community Engagement Director), Dr. Alex Wilson (Training and Mentorship Director) and Prof. Malcolm King (Senior Advisor).

Waniska Staff

Research Manager – Rebecca Zagozewski

Communications Officer – Sarah MacDonald

Saskatchewan Community Coordinator – Dallas Montpetit

Clerical Assistant – Cydney Leibel

Communications Assistant – Creeden Martell

Indigenous Frameworks & Methodologies

Waniska’s work is centred on Indigenous-derived theoretical frameworks and Indigenous methodologies, which are described below. These frameworks and methodologies, when combined with community-based research, implementation and programmatic science, evaluation, and knowledge translation, exchange and mobilization, will innovate HIV/HCV/STBBI prevention, screening to diagnostics, treatment, care, support, and harm reduction for Indigenous communities.

Indigenous wholistic theory: This emphasizes wellness, or a wholistic state of balance between one’s spirit, heart, mind and body. The concept of wholism captures the multi-dimensional and relational existence of the Indigenous self or person. The self is understood beyond the boundaries of the individual, which is a stark contrast to Western societal emphasis on the individual. The Indigenous self is seen as a spiritual web of relationships with all elements of creation, including other humans, the land and the spirit world. This critical distinction proffers a sharp contrast to mainstream perspectives. These contrasting constructions of the self lead to different understandings of HIV/HCV/STBBI infection.

A trauma-based, resilience-informed model of Indigenous health: Health and wellness deteriorate into un-wellness due to various forms of trauma such as structural racism, social exclusion, residential schools, or removal of children from families. For Indigenous peoples, historical, ongoing, and intergenerational traumas due to colonization and post-colonial policies and practices trigger stress responses that lead to imbalance and adaptations. These may lead to the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical pathologies that characterize disease, which we understand to be end-manifestations of colonization and neo-colonialism. By Indigenizing a wellness approach, we shift to a non-deficit approach, ensure no one is left behind and situate control fully within Indigenous self-determination. It is our contention that a wellness approach would lead to the critical macro-micro changes required to lower HIV/HCV/STBBI rates and to promote living well with those conditions or risks, while shifting the care system to a positive, Indigenous-led trauma-informed care.

Etuaptmumk, or Two-eyed Seeing: A philosophical, theoretical, and/or methodological approach that recognizes the need for both Western and Indigenous paradigms and approaches in research, knowledge translation, and programme planning, development and implementation. This approach provides a balancing lens that emphasizes Indigenous health perspectives while upholding and valuing mainstream perspectives. It draws on the strengths of both theoretical constructs to build and establish meaningful relationships with all people that promote a sense of belonging with the aim to achieve results beneficial to all and activates the wider reconciliatory health agenda that situates the responsibility of Indigenous health care dualistically within Indigenous and mainstream realms.

Ethical Space: A middle ground where two distinct paradigmatic systems (Indigenous and Western) can engage pluralistically to the benefit of all. The fact that two objectivities exist, each claiming their own unique worldview, creates the urgent necessity for an understanding of what constitutes this cultural divide. Ethical Space will represent a location from which a meaningful dialogue can take place between adherents of different worldviews towards the negotiation of a new understanding that ultimately engages different knowledge systems.