A lot of progress has 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
HIV, hepatitis C virus (HCV) and sexually transmitted blood borne illnesses (HIV/HCV/STBBI) is a critical issue and ongoing challenge in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
A lot of progress has been made over the past two decades documenting this epidemic, but research has been limited to individual and group-level risk factors. It has ignored the social, colonial and historical context of Indigenous HIV/HCV/STBBI-related health problems and the unequal access to screening, diagnosis, treatment, care and social support. Another gap is that the research has usually been led by non-Indigenous researchers. The research also hasn’t tended to be followed up with programs to address prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, care and social supports.
More recently, creative new implementation and program science studies – where findings from the research are applied and adapted rather than left simply as data – launched globally have been effective at limiting the HIV epidemic. These studies, however, were not focused on Indigenous peoples in Canada or led by Indigenous people. The Waniska Centre will take these studies and programs and reapply them using an Indigenous Two-eyed Seeing approach, bringing the best of Indigenous and Western perspectives and sciences.
Place, history and social contexts matter for Indigenous peoples, so Waniska’s research will be land- and culture-based. It will develop programs and research projects that will support Indigenous communities and academics, and train the next generation of Indigenous scholars, practitioners and community members in HIV/HCV/STBBI research and converting that knowledge from the research into practical, helpful information for communities and other academics.
The Waniska Centre will develop partnerships with communities and community-based organizations that will help tackle HIV/HCV/STBBI inequities. The Centre already has broad connections in both provinces, nationally and internationally, both in community and among Indigenous and allied academics.
The Waniska Centre has aspirations of reducing the HIV/HCV/STBBI inequities within and across Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and other parts of Canada. The Waniska Centre also wants to build up its own capacity to conduct research through partnerships with Indigenous and non-Indigenous experts in the field of Indigenous health and HIV/HCV/STBBI research.
Indigenous insight and methods have already been reflected in the framework of certain research, such as the HIV/AIDS medicine wheel, created in 1992 by Leonard Johnston and Frederick Haineault after consultation with elders in Alberta. The Waniska Centre aims to be the home for traditional knowledge, to cultivate Indigenous and land-based research, HIV/HCV/STBBI interventions and bringing together knowledge from Indigenous groups, academics, care providers and trainees working to become the next generation of scholars and practitioners.
The Waniska Centre has identified four ways to eliminate HIV/HCV/STBBI inequities:
- Build the infrastructure for interdisciplinary collaboration between academia, civil society and Indigenous peoples and communities with the goal of enriching and improving research and improving access to testing and its link to retention and care.
- Develop Indigenous researchers with expertise in HIV/HCV/STBBI by establishing partnerships across Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Canada and the world.
- Get more research into HIV/HCV/STBBI that is focused on and led by Indigenous communities that restore a gender balance.
- Translate, organize and disperse information such as culturally relevant knowledge and practices with Indigenous communities.
At the Waniska Centre, we believe that gender re-awakening and healing are essential for the health and wellness of an individual and their community. Gender is a concept for determining roles, processes and structures in a community or society.
Gender is a fluid construct that is affected over time by social, cultural and environmental factors, resulting in gender norms. Gender also encompasses the way that differences in people, whether they be real or perceived, have been used and relied upon to classify and assign roles and expectations to people and groups.
Men, women and Two-Spirit people all have their own lives and experiences and are operating within complex sets of different social and cultural expectations. As a result, gender and other identity factors can act as a barrier or an enabler to health initiative outcomes and conclusions because of the way the health system may interpret fact and opinion in health care.
Indigenous world views, health and wellness have been impacted by gender and colonialism. Western colonial ideas of gender roles were wrongly applied to Indigenous people and communities so Indigenous people in North America and other places touched by colonialism have been significantly impacted in terms of culture, identity, spirituality and ways of being conflicting with European-centric Christian views.
Women who were leaders or warriors were targeted, as were 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals and their own experience as leaders and guides in Indigenous society. Men were forced out of hunting and into roles such as gardening and leading the household, traditionally roles filled by women. The colonization of gender results in violence and discrimination directed at Indigenous women and LGBTQ2S+ individuals while harming men’s psyches at the same time. The imbalance in gender disrupted the way spiritual and health beliefs that led to wellness and instead contributed to inequity with substance use, HIV, HCV and other STBBIs seen today.
There are Indigenous groups and communities which consider wellness as part of the community, environment or land. The land can connect Indigenous people to ceremonial space and the wisdom of their ancestors, a common theme among Indigenous groups across Canada, the United States and New Zealand.
There are groups that consider a connection to Earth as necessary for wellness, so land serves as an Indigenous health determinant to health and wellness. This means that HIV risks cannot be addressed without consideration of the connection to the land and the way it affects health and wellness. Collaboration with Indigenous groups and communities and their ways of knowing in research can contribute to improving health.