Brock, community research explores Indigenous knowledge of wellness

NOTE: Brock University announced the creation of its Indigenous Research Grant in 2021. This is one in a series of articles profiling recipients’ research under this yearly internal award. Read more on the series on The Brock News.

For recreation therapist Andrea King, a successful, effective health-care system goes far beyond a patient visiting a specialist and being prescribed drugs to treat or manage a particular symptom.

“Western medicine is becoming aware that there is more than just the physical, more than just our minds,” says the Councillor of Nation Well-being and Wellness at the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. “We also must remember to address our spirit and emotions, this essence that makes up our beings is not meant to be compartmentalized in the ways that the western health-care system treats patients’ symptoms.”

King has partnered with Brock Assistant Professor of Nursing Connie Schumacher on a research project exploring how Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation define, and live out, the concept of ‘wellness.’

The community’s understanding of wellness is central to the project’s aim, which is to see if and how an international health assessment system could be used to aid in Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation’s health-care delivery.

In their Brock-funded project, “Defining a Good Life: Community Partnerships and interRAI Data,” Schumacher and King are exploring the assessment tools used by an international health group called interRAI.

With a collaborative network of researchers and practitioners in more than 35 countries, interRAI enables the collection of a wide range of information in three areas:

  • key factors in a person’s life, including health, social support, mood and behaviour
  • the urgency for care, need for more comprehensive assessment and referrals to other services and supports
  • ‘quality of life’ issues such as a person’s care, autonomy, privacy, participation in activities, comfort and safety

Health-care providers in Canada and around the world use the information arising from these instruments to guide decisions about care at home and in long-term institutions.

Central to the successful use of interRAI in Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation is an awareness of Indigenous ways of knowing the meanings and manifestations of wellness, says Schumacher.

The team held non-structured conversations in two sharing circles, an “intimate,” culturally appropriate way to collect research data, says Schumacher, who herself is a member of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

Schumacher and King are almost finished analyzing the feedback they received through the sharing circles to answer three research questions:

  • How does the community define and envision wellness?
  • What similarities are seen in the interRAI data items and the definition of wellness?
  • What questions about community wellness can the interRAI data be used to guide programing initiatives?

King says the sharing circles revealed how self-awareness, gathering together, sharing knowledge and being strongly rooted in community are core components of wellness in the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

She notes how the inter-generational trauma she and other members experience “is literally stored within our physical being” and needs to be addressed as a community in holistic ways to bring about wellness.

“Our men are at the drum, and they’re singing together and they’re healing together,” she says. “And maybe it’s not just the words that they’re expressing together, but also the companionship that they’re creating together.”

King says her Nation is laying the foundation to create an Indigenous-led holistic Wellness Centre that will house Western medicine, alternative health practitioners and Indigenous healers, and is aiming to use the sharing circles’ wellness discussions as part of guiding principles at the new centre.

Schumacher says the project will form a foundation for other Indigenous nations to examine the use of interRAI instruments in their wellness systems.

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