Dr. Heather Castleden

/Dr. Heather Castleden
Dr. Heather Castleden2017-07-24T08:46:48+00:00

HEC Lab Research Director

Biography:  Heather Castleden is a white Settler scholar-ally, trained as a health geographer. She undertakes community-based participatory research (CBPR) in partnership with (often) Indigenous peoples, communities, organizations, and Nations, on their priority issues that fall within her thematic areas of expertise: the nexus of cultures, places, power/resistance, and relational ethics. Prior to her current joint appointment in the Department of Geography and Planning and the Department of Public Health Sciences at Queen’s University, she earned tenure at Dalhousie University in the School for Resource and Environmental Studies (2009-2015). During her 6½ years as an independent researcher, she has received numerous awards, including a 2010 Julian M. Szeicz Award Early Career Achievement Award from the Canadian Association of Geographers, a 2013 Faculty Outreach Award, a CIHR New Investigator Salary Award (2013-15), and now as a Canada Research Chair in Reconciling Relations for Health, Environments, and Communities (2016-20).

Dr. Castleden is the Director of the Health, Environment, and Communities Research Lab (HEC Lab). The HEC Lab focuses on reconciliatory, respectful, reciprocal, and responsible CBPR. The Lab is committed to equity-oriented projects that apply social, environmental, and health lenses, and our work comes together through intersections of cultures, places, power/resistance, and relational ethics using innovative, decolonizing research methodologies. The HEC lab is equipped with a wide range of field equipment (audio/video recording, photovoice, and digital story technologies), qualitative data analysis and transcription software, as well as common and individual internet-connected computer work stations.


  • Adjunct Scholar, Faculty of Graduate Studies, Dalhousie University
  • Associate Research Scholar, Healthy Populations Institute (Previously the Atlantic Health Promotion Research Centre)

Academic Training:

  • 2009: SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow (University of Victoria)
  • 2007-2008: NEARBC Postdoctoral Fellow (University of Victoria)
  • 2002-2007: PhD Human Geography (University of Alberta)
  • 1998-2001 MEd Adult and Higher Education (University of Alberta)
  • 1988-1996: BA Anthropology and Native Studies (University of Manitoba)
  • 1989-1991: Dip. American Sign Language Interpretation (Douglas College)

External Awards:

2016: Canada Research Chair (Tier 2): The Canada Research Chairs Program attracts and retains some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds. Chairholders aim to achieve research excellence in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

2013: CIHR New Investigator Award: The objective of the CIHR New Investigator Salary Award program is to provide outstanding new investigators with the opportunity to develop and demonstrate their independence in initiating and conducting health research through provision of a contribution to their salary.

2010: Julian M. Szeicz Award: This award is presented annually by the Canadian Association of Geographers in recognition of a significant achievement by a Canadian Geographer at an early career stage, specifically in recognition of my contribution to the geography of  environment, health and Indigenous community-based research.

2008: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Award: A prize to recognize the outstanding contribution of a recent PhD graduate in Geography from the Canadian Association of Geographers.

Professional Affiliations:

  • Canadian Association of Geographers
  • American Association of Geographers
  • Community-Campus Partnerships for Health
  • International Association for Ecology and Health

Research Interests:

My program of community-based social, health and environment research is primarily unified through: 1) participatory research with Indigenous partners concerning issues that are important to them; 2) shared development and testing of innovative qualitative research tools that adhere to Indigenous principles for decolonizing methodologies; and 3) engagement in studies concerning the ethical tensions and institutional barriers associated with community-based participatory research processes and outcomes.

(1) Social, Environmental, and Health Equity: I am particularly interested in understanding, comparing, and contrasting Indigenous and non-Indigenous risk perspectives regarding social, environmental, and health impacts and adaptations in resource-dependent communities associated with environmental change. Particularly, I am concerned with how these perspectives are expressed and differentiated among and between stakeholders and decision-makers, and the implications these perspectives bring to bear on social-ecological communities.

(2) Methodological Innovation: My research stream on methodology takes, as its point of departure, the contributions of my doctoral research, in which I modified and subsequently evaluated the cultural applicability of using Photovoice, an innovative visual/oral research tool, to identify, document, and understand Indigenous environment and health perspectives. My postdoctoral program of study has involved training in and exploration of additional digital/visual methods. As an emerging methodologist, I am now testing digital storytelling as a method and dissemination tool in community-based research regarding the cultural, social, economic, and political implications of environmental change.

(3) Ethics: Through my stream of research on ethics I am continuing to build on my postdoctoral studies through inquiry into the distinctive nature of ethics associated with community-based and participatory research. Key principles of both include shared decision-making power and ownership in all phases of the research, community capacity, mutual trust and learning between team members, and integrated knowledge disseminated for the mutual benefit of all partners. The tensions associated with these principles, particularly the ‘ethically significant moments’ that occur after an ethics review board gives its approval, are ever present and require constant attention through rigorous and reflexive research.

To summarize: My career trajectory is to build a program of integrated, methodologically- and ethically-sound community-based participatory research that combines these four streams in the context of coastal communities in Canada. My research is geared towards developing a response to these and other issues in a way that maintains my record of engaging in innovative scholarship that plans for and creates social and environmental change. I would describe my work as the product of a balancing act between academic engagement and advocacy.


Graduate Student Supervision:

If you are interested in undertaking graduate research in my lab, please send me an email that includes a brief statement of your research interests (500 words) along with an up-to-date curriculum vitae and a copy of your (unofficial) academic transcripts.