Proudly Celebrating a 5-Year Partnership Grant

HARC Research Director and UNBC faculty member, Dr. Sarah de Leeuw, along with Dr. Margo Greenwood, UNBC faculty and VP of Indigenous Health at Northern Health, together with northern and provincial partners, lead a five-year, 1.3 million research project focused on further enhancement of Indigenous health and the healthcare climate in northern BC.

‘Cultural Agility in Northern BC’s Healthcare System: Increasing Indigenous Employment Participation and Responsiveness to Indigenous Well-Being’ aims to bring about a more culturally safe and humble health care environment in which to both provide and receive care, as well as inspire new generations of Indigenous professionals to join the healthcare systems of northern BC.

Funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), this is the first joint federal research partnership grant of its kind to be held at UNBC, and one of only nine such grants held across Canada. The work builds on a pilot project launched in 2016, with both projects part of the joint “Healthy and Productive Work Initiative”, created by SSHRC and CIHR.

Central and formal partners include Northern Health (NH), National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health (NCCAH), the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR), Two Rivers Gallery, and the UNBC Office of Research. The project also includes and builds upon numerous new and existing Indigenous and non-Indigenous community partners and collaborators across the north. These include the First Nations Health Authority, the Northern Medical Program, UBC, McMaster University, the Rural Coordination Centre of BC, BC Cancer, Carrier Sekani Family Services, Central Interior Native Health Society, and the Prince George Nechako Aboriginal Employment and Training Association.

Many of these partners and collaborators came together in October, 2018 for a celebratory “Lunch and Launch Event” at the Two Rivers Gallery in Prince George to mark the successful transition of the 2-year pilot project into the much larger 5-year partnership project. Attendees were welcomed to the unceded territory of the Lheidli T’enneh by Indigenous healthcare provider and cultural educator Barby Skaling and Elder Violet Bazoki. Participants were encouraged to create small written and visual reflections on the question “What Cultural Safety in Northern BC Healthcare Means to Me” while sharing lunch.

Presentations shared throughout the afternoon highlighted research questions, relationships built and progress made with the project thus far. There were also frank considerations about work to be done as the project moves forward into its second phase. Relationship, commitment, creativity and innovative problem-solving were consistent themes throughout many of the short presentations given by partners and collaborators. Primary investigator Sarah de Leeuw spoke about how a project like this wouldn’t be possible without the long-term friendships and relationships that exist within the research team, while co-investigator Margo Greenwood stressed the need for strong relationships “individually, organizationally, and systemically” within the commitment to creating culturally respectful and safe healthcare practice in northern BC.  

David Williams, Vice President of Human Resources at Northern Health, and Nicole Cross, Northern Regional Director for First Nations Health Authority, spoke of shared goals surrounding the need for enhanced recruitment, retention and support of Indigenous professionals in healthcare delivery in northern BC. Both agreed that committed and creative partnership work is necessary in addressing the complex dynamics involved in working toward creating a culturally safe and diverse healthcare system that better reflects, and respects, the communities that it serves.

An ongoing, and always growing, example of innovative partnership in action is the First Nations Community Education Program, a collaborative program sponsored by the First Nations Health Authority, Northern Health, UNBC’s Northern Medical Program, and the Health Arts Research Centre. The program offers undergraduate medical students the invaluable opportunity to visit northern Indigenous communities for cultural learning and community teachings and will continue to develop under this larger partnership project. Dr. Terri Aldred, Carrier from the Tl’azt’en Nation, Indigenous Family Physician and Site Director for the Indigenous Family Medicine Program, spoke about the importance of this project, as well as others being run within the Northern Health region, in addressing systemic racism, cultural safety and social justice. While she shared about “less than ideal” personal experiences in the education and healthcare systems, she also shared her hopefulness related to the openness of many non-Indigenous healthcare providers to be “called in” to the task of addressing racism and being self-reflective around discrimination in the healthcare field. “We all want the same things and we need to start talking about these things out in the open. We need to be okay with the ridiculously uncomfortable process.” 

Two Rivers Gallery Executive Director, Carolyn Holmes, spoke about the connection between art and health when speaking of her excitement in partnering on the project. “Creativity, self-expression and cultural expression are so important for us, our healing, health and wellbeing, and especially important for Indigenous peoples.” Dave Snadden, representing the Rural Coordination Centre of BC, also shared about the art within healthcare. “50% of what we do is not science, it’s art. Having the arts involved in telling the stories [of northern BC] is such an important piece of the voice that needs to come from the north.”

Hearing from each of these partners and collaborators emphasized how truly fitting it is that this project is funded through a “Partnership Grant”. No singular institution or organization could productively work toward realizing the goals of the project alone, and we at the Health Arts Research Centre are so grateful and honoured to be working alongside this team! Be sure to check back for updates on this research’s initiatives and developed resources as the project moves forward!


Read more about this exciting project in the UNBC Media Release!