Speech from the President: Pathways Annual Gathering

March 23, 2015

Ottawa, Ontario

Thank you for your kind introduction, Malcolm.

I would also like to thank Knowledge Keeper (Tim) Yearington for his words of blessing. Let me acknowledge as well the Algonquin people, on whose traditional land we are gathered.

Tonight we are holding the very first of what will be annual meetings on the Pathways to Health Equity for Aboriginal Peoples initiative, which was launched almost three years ago. This is a unique opportunity for all of the partners and all of the Aboriginal communities of Canada to take note of the first achievements in the implementation of this new model for creating and transferring knowledge. We are here to listen to you.

Over the next few days, researchers, partners, Indigenous community members and other stakeholders will come together to reflect on what has been achieved through this Signature Initiative so far – and what is yet to come.

This gathering is a chance for us to work towards a unique partnership that advances our collective desire to improve the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

As President of the Government of Canada's health research investment agency, I can tell you that CIHR is steadfastly committed to addressing the disproportionate health burden faced by Indigenous people in Canada.

That is why we have made the health and wellness of Indigenous communities and families one of the four research priorities of CIHR's new strategic plan, launched just a few weeks ago.

In this plan, we propose to increase the impact of our strategic investments, by ensuring that they address well defined objectives and tackle pressing health issues through large scale, inter-Institute and multidisciplinary approaches. As a consequence of this new direction, research that seeks to improve health equity for First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples will find a home in all of CIHR's Institutes, and not solely within the Institute of Aboriginal Peoples' Health.

The Pathways initiative is already built on this model, in that it is supported by investments from several CIHR Institutes. It also hinges on the participation of partners and Indigenous communities from across Canada.

Pathways to Equity represents an investment of $25 million over 10 years. The purpose of this initiative is to support high-calibre research on interventions in four priority areas: 1- obesity and diabetes, 2- oral health, 3- tuberculosis, and 4- suicide prevention.

In no way will these research areas be explored in silos. On the contrary, our intent is to encourage cross-sectorial approaches so as to favor interdisciplinary learning between these various research fields.

As you are aware, CIHR has launched a variety of programs through Pathways – all of which are represented at this gathering. Applied Public Health Chairs, Population Health Intervention Researchers, Partners for Engagement and Knowledge Exchange, and Implementation Research Teams will help lead to better health and health equity for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

We all agree that the success of Pathways - as that of other aboriginal peoples' health research initiatives - will ultimately depend on our capacity to increase the number of First Nations, Inuit and Metis researchers. Indeed, these investigators are ideally poised to understand and address the health issues of their communities.

That said, it would be very unwise to confine emerging Aboriginal researchers to the problems specific to their own communities. Canada needs to train high-quality Aboriginal researchers in all fields of health research, because all fields can benefit from the rich cultural heritage that these young researchers will bring to their work.

To deliver on this commitment, CIHR and its Institute of Aboriginal Peoples' Health is about to launch the Indigenous Mentoring Network Program. This program will support the mentorship activities of established researchers and community members. These activities will help Canadian Indigenous students and new investigators become leaders in their respective fields through networking and knowledge building.

It is also critical for aboriginal peoples' health research initiatives to be anchored in the international context and benefit from the knowledge and practice of other aboriginal communities worldwide.

Which is why elements of Pathways are part of a trilateral agreement with Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council and the Health Research Council of New Zealand, in support of research for the improvement Indigenous peoples' health. Likewise, Pathway's suicide prevention exemplar is linked to one of the initiatives sponsored by Canada within the framework of the Arctic Council.

Results from this initiative, which aims at scaling-up interventions and programs that address Indigenous health inequities, will be made public at the Circumpolar Mental Wellness Symposium that is to take place in Iqaluit two days from now.

This symposium is being organized by the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum where eight circumpolar countries collaborate on sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. Canada currently holds the Chairmanship of the Council, in the person of the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq.

Delegates to the Circumpolar Mental Wellness Symposium will include researchers, Indigenous youth and policy-makers. They will discuss the work that two international research teams, funded through Pathways to Equity, are doing on the subject of suicide-prevention interventions in circumpolar regions. Together, we will examine the evidence base for these interventions, and then determine the best approach to ensure that they are applied where they are appropriate and necessary.

I believe this is a great time for Indigenous health research.

We are moving away from uni-directional processes where researchers developed evidence and then transferred it to practitioners to implement. Rather, we are moving towards a collaborative approach, based on the engagement of a broad range of partners and stakeholders and focused on building capacities within communities.

As we continue to support Indigenous health research, it is crucial for us to work across all health sectors and in partnership with Indigenous communities. By listening to one another and respecting Indigenous Ways of Knowing, we will reach the universal goal of achieving health equity for First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

I wish you success over the next few days as you discuss the four priority research areas of Pathways.  I hope these discussions will mark an important step toward the attainment of our common goal.

Thank you.

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