Reclaiming Balance: Developing a First Nations’ Children’s Environmental Health Equity Assessment Tool

Working with local First Nation Leaders of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak to determine community needs and wishes, this research project combines traditional environmental health empirical research methods with First Nations methodologies to develop a health impact assessment tool for First Nations communities. Specifically it will explore elements of health that are not typically examined, such as: safe water, healthy food, and social, cultural, natural, and spiritual connection with the land. The group aims to lend its collective expertise to the development of a more holistic, culturally relevant and collaboratively developed health impact assessment tool,. The team is submitting a planning grant application to CIHR for October 15th, 2012.

Project Updates (in their own words):

In December 2012, our group was successful in securing a Catalyst Grant from CEHE for $2,000, to support planning and writing a proposal to the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR). We are pleased to report that on February 15, 2013 we successfully submitted a proposal for a grant of $25,000, under the CIHR’s “Spring 2013 Priority Announcement Specific Research Areas – First Nations, Inuit, or Metis Planning Activities”. We are very hopeful that we will be successful in getting this grant.

The research initiative that grows out of this planning activity will address a critical knowledge gap in understanding how resource development adversely affects the already compromised health of First Nation communities. Manitoba Hydro is planning or building $18 billion in new hydro projects (Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, 2013) and addressing the impacts of hydropower development on health, especially the health of children in First Nations communities, is critical.

With the CIHR grant we intend to organize a 2-day meeting in Fall 2013 in Winnipeg, Manitoba to bring together Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) – a non-profit political advocacy organization representing 30 northern Manitoba First Nations – with community representatives, scientific experts, and a newly-emerging team of leading researchers and health promoters from across Canada in the area of children’s environmental health equity (the Research Team). The goals of the meeting will be to plan a research initiative to develop a First Nations Children’s Health Equity Assessment Tool, building on the strengths of existing community assets and integrating our collective, evidence-based knowledge of the social and environmental determinants of health. The meeting will give participants an opportunity to increase indigenous, environmental, health, and scientific-literacy, share concerns, and establish a process to build a culturally-appropriate community-based participatory research partnership.

We expect the relationships, goals and processes developed at this meeting will become the foundation of an operating grant proposal to CIHR in 2014. The long-term goal of this new partnership is to conduct research, develop knowledge translation tools, educate, and build the capacity of MKO First Nation communities to identify, address, or mitigate adverse health impacts of hydropower development and other resource development activities taking place in their territory, especially as they impact children’s environmental health.

Through this, MKO hopes to create momentum to change the health status of their population starting with the children, who are the most vulnerable. MKO seeks support from the Research Team to help build community capacity to positively address and minimize risk factors in relation to children’s environmental health status in First Nation communities. Local community strengths, collective knowledge sharing, and measureable action will enable a collaborative First Nations Children’s Environmental Health Equity Assessment Tool to strengthen the foundations needed to raise healthier and more resilient children. The Research Team will assist MKO and the First Nations it represents in capturing baseline community health data, develop tools for effective environmental impact assessment participation, identify health and food security “legacy measures”, help create an adjustable, context-specific equity-based knowledge translation framework that builds community capacity in children’s environmental health promotion and chronic disease prevention, and use community-based, participatory, Indigenous, qualitative, and quantitative research methodologies to address knowledge gaps of importance to the First Nation communities. Although focused on one region, we anticipate that the outputs of these future initiatives will be useful in regions throughout Canada.