Success = Relationships + Transformative Action

Welcome to IRSI’s very first blog post. We’re so excited to have spoken with Dr. Helen Brown and Kelsey Timler, from the Critical Research in Health and Healthcare Inequities (CRiHHI) research unit within the School of Nursing here on campus.



Which of your current research projects has you really excited right now? Why?

All of our current projects are exciting and inspiring, yet each in different ways. Some projects have been underway for over 10 years, such as our Sanala Research with the ‘Namgis First Nation, and others projects are just beginning, such as a new one with the Teslin Tlingit Nation in the Yukon. All of our projects focus on accounting for the social and historical context of inequities for Indigenous communities, those spanning domains of health and healing and criminal justice.  We aim to partner with First Nations communities to foster contexts within which Indigenous knowledge, values and strengths can tackle community-defined health and social priorities in ways that are all too often marginalized and absent from mainstream health care, social and correctional services. We are particularly excited now about the scope of our work reflects our commitment to social justice, equity and decolonizing research – from culturally grounded health promotion, to rehabilitation and healing for incarcerated Indigenous men and land-based healing for Indian Residential School survivors. We are also particularly inspired by not only the focus of the work but how our relationships and teams have developed, through sharing experiences, food, participating in community events, learning history and partnering with a commitment to participatory approaches for community-led research. On the ground this means spending a lot of time in beautiful places across British Columbia and the Yukon, washing dishes, sharing meals and jokes, and getting to know different people in really present and connected ways. Thus, both what we study and our relationships for research are the inspiration!

What was your inspiration / motivation to get into this type of work?

Helen: For far too long, health and health care have been dominated by behaviorial and medicalized orientations to health and wellness; ways of understanding health that obscure both historical and social determinants of health. I have repeatedly seen as a nurse that health care does not equal health and when colonial history – and its ongoing forms — is acknowledged for its role in health and social inequity, it opens a space for health researchers to contribute to transforming care that address the factors that undermines Indigenous health and well-being; poverty, violence, trauma, addiction, mental health and chronic illness that are all continuous with colonialism, oppression and marginalization in the Canadian context.

Kelsey: I worked for ten years as a professional cook in fine dining restaurants across Western Canada. While I always have and will love cooking and sharing food, I started to want to do something that impacted the wide range of people that don’t have the privilege of eating at high-end restaurants. My path to community-based and participatory research is rather winding, but was foundationally driven by a love of people, a belief in the power of language and storytelling, and a desire to give back to a world that has given me many unfair advantages because of who I am, where I live, and what I look like. The importance of food and land rights in social justice has been one of the most motivating aspects of the projects we are working on now, letting me connect to my line cook roots while also working in partnership with Indigenous peoples whose connection to land and food is incredibly inspiring in the face of so many structural inequities.

How do you define success in community-based research. Can you share some stories that demonstrate success?

Helen (left) and Kelsey (right) in Teslin Tlingit traditional territory

Success = relationship + transformative action. It is as simple as that! Research, at its very heart, is relationships among knowledge holders and inquirers – both academic and community –to generate actionable ideas for tackling community-defined health priorities. Success is also measured by the engagement of Indigenous strengths, values, knowledge and traditions as the way forward, wherein the identities and world views of Indigenous peoples create the path forward in partnership with non-Indigenous peoples/researchers committed to truth and reconciliation, equity and decolonization. One example of success in community-based research is from our Work 2 Give Research project, which is conducted in partnership with the Correctional Service of Canada and the Tsilhqot’in First Nation. When we first started travelling to the Tsilhqot’in communities we were told that the project is more about communities helping men on the inside, not merely receiving donated items. This helped reframe the research as well as the way the operations of Work 2 Give was conducted – Tsilhqot’in communities did not want to be mere recipients of things made by men in prison, they wanted to be active partners in healing and restoration. Being able to hear that and communicate it to our partners has helped guide the development of the program in the Tsilhqot’in communities – focusing on community strength and priorities in a way that might not have happened if we didn’t let the community guide us!   

How could a group like IRSI (Indigenous Research Support Initiative) better work to serve you as you work with Indigenous community partners? What tools/support could be provided in order to help your projects even more?

Support from IRSI would be best implemented through the already established commitment to developing protocols, MOUs, agreements, ways of working and best practice. Developing a repository of resources and templates that reflect IRSI’s mandate and values – and those learned by IRSIs affiliates and partners — can contribute to a collective approach to partnership that aligns with participatory and decolonizing research.

IRSI’s support for faculty promotion and tenure case – for profiling partnership research with Indigenous communities – is another area of focus needed within UBC. The unique features of research supported by IRSI could potentially inform academic career planning, grant budgeting, knowledge translation and exchange within academic contexts. Often referred to as “atypical and relationship-intensive”, partnership-based research with Indigenous communities has and still is de-legitimized in terms of how funds are spent, publication decisions and metrics of output to reflect scholarly progress.

It would be great if IRSI could connect Indigenous UBC students to researchers for potential engagement or RA (research assistant) work, as a means to create capacity and partnerships above and beyond our home departments.

Conferences list serves for Indigenous research, across diverse contexts would be incredibly helpful. There are so many intersections to this work and it would be great to learn more about opportunities to connect with other community organizations and scholars across diverse yet overlapping disciplines. Additionally, sharing information about presentations and events hosted by other scholars from UBC and beyond that are relevant would be great (the University of Victoria has a great newsletter from CIRCLE – Centre for Indigenous Research and Community-Led Engagement, as one example)!



Thank you so much to Helen and Kelsey for sharing your knowledge with us!