Aboriginal Health Research and the Academy: Ethical Tensions and Institutional Barriers

2011-2013

CIHR Catalyst Grant

Despite millions of dollars and decades of research, ongoing and significant health disparities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians continue to persist, suggesting a different approach to Aboriginal health research is urgently needed. CIHR’s Guidelines for Health Research Involving Aboriginal People (2007) and the second edition of the NSERC, SSHRC, and CIHR’s Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (2010) highlight this call and conceptualize an alternative approach – one that is community-based and participatory, marking the beginning of a new research era in Canada. These policy documents guide our understanding of ethically responsible research. In essence, research without engaging Aboriginal peoples, their ontologies and epistemologies, simply will not improve the health of Aboriginal Canadians. At issue are the institutional barriers that exist, creating ethical tensions for scholars seeking to do Aboriginal health research ‘in a good way’. Debates about what constitutes ‘ethically sound’ Aboriginal health research in theory versus practice are now beginning to surface. We need to clarify and minimize the ethical tensions and institutional barriers that exist, which, on balance, detract researchers from engaging in Aboriginal health research ‘in a good way’. We also need to align institutional ethics with community ethics, doing so will ultimately improve the health outcomes of Aboriginal Canadians. As such, this project is seeking to understand how health researchers currently navigate/compromise their academic/community environments when carrying out Aboriginal health research, as well as, to speak with Directors of Research Ethics Boards and Financial Administrators so as to understand challenges and institutional barriers from their experiences and perspectives. This way we can develop two sets of recommendations: 1) for university research ethics boards concerning ways in which ethical tensions in Aboriginal health research can be minimized; and 2) for university administrators and faculty association presidents concerning ways in which the institutional barriers can be dismantled, allowing health researchers to embark on Aboriginal health research ‘in a good way’