Community approach transforms aboriginal health research

Community approach transforms aboriginal health research

May 7, 2008

They call it "helicopter research." Academics drop in to First Nations communities, conduct their research, and then leave—taking with them the knowledge they've gained during their visit. Often, the First Nations communities never hear from the researchers again—and never learn the results of their studies.

The Manitoba First Nations Centre for Aboriginal Health Research is putting an end to this. The centre is conducting innovative, collaborative health research in partnership and consultation with First Nations communities. And this approach is serving as a model for other aboriginal health institutes across the country.

One of the centre's major projects is a study of the way health surveys are carried out in First Nations communities. The project involves developing new ways to measure the social factors that influence health in First Nations communities.

For instance, poverty affects health, but aboriginal Canadians define poverty differently than non-aboriginals. Health surveys conducted in aboriginal communities need to factor in this information so policymakers don't assume that raising income alone is enough to improve health. Researchers at the centre hope the study will lead to improved health policies that recognize the link between wellness and the role of tradition, spirituality, and ties to the land.