Judith Bartlett, a Métis physician and researcher at the Centre for Aboriginal Health Research, is the project’s international principal investigator. She also leads the Canadian research team, which includes University of Manitoba researchers John O’Neil, community health sciences, and Yoshitaka Iwasaki, physical education, and six Aboriginal researchers from the universities of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. The head of the New Zealand team is Paul Robertson, a Maori researcher at the University of Otago.
Earlier this month, the project received $2 million in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and $1.5 million from the New Zealand Health Research Council.
“It’s really an attempt by us, as Indigenous people, to begin to explore areas of importance to the future of Indigenous communities,” Bartlett said. “In Canada, it’s particularly important for us to look at support for the Aboriginal health workforce, including community health workers, nurses, social workers and physicians.”
The first phase of the project will examine the roles and functions of Indigenous developed health networks, like professional associations and health organizations, in both Canada and New Zealand.
“We may not restrict our research to only Indigenous networks,” Bartlett said. “We’re also interested in how Indigenous health workers interact in mainstream networks, such as Aboriginal developed caucuses of a mainstream organization.”
Phase two will develop research tools to generate data on key health worker career progressions, or “work-life transitions”, and examine the meaning of “resilience” from an Indigenous health worker perspective.
“Resilience is usually looked at on an individual level, but Indigenous people are very collective in orientation,” Bartlett said. “We’re going to examine Canadian Aboriginal methods and Maori methods to create an internationally useful framework. Our methods include ways of managing data that are really collective processes, which is a very different approach.”
Phase three will collect and analyze the resilience and work-life transitions data. The team will use this analysis and the network descriptions to develop a Resilient Indigenous Health Workforce Networks (RIHWN) framework. The final phase will involve pilot projects in both countries designed to evaluate the RIHWN framework within selected networks at various stages of development.
The major goal of the research is to determine how Indigenous developed networks support resilience and help Indigenous health workers progress from training to sustainable careers within the health system.
“This project is unique in both the Canadian and international environments,” said John O’Neil. “It’s an Indigenous-led project, and it’s looking at the emergence of an Indigenous health workforce and its importance to the overall well-being of Indigenous communities. That’s very original and creative research.”