Defining Indigenous Health Research

Indigenous Health Research (IHR) can be defined by any field or discipline related to health and/or wellness that is conducted by, grounded in, or engaged with, First Nations, Inuit or Métis communities, societies or individuals and their wisdom, cultures, experiences or knowledge systems, as expressed in their dynamic forms, past and present.

Indigenous health and wellness research embraces the intellectual, physical, emotional and/or spiritual dimensions of knowledge in creative and interconnected relationships with people, places and the natural environment. Such research is based on the right to respectful engagement and equitable opportunities; it honours culture, language, history, and traditions.

Indigenous health and wellness research, thus defined, may be implemented and adapted in research involving Indigenous Peoples around the world. Whatever the methodologies or perspectives that apply in a given context, researchers who conduct Indigenous research, whether they are Indigenous or non-Indigenous themselves, commit to respectful relationships with Indigenous Peoples and communities.

Meaningful and Culturally Safe Health Research

Respectful relationships can be established when the research environment is socially, spiritually, emotionally and physically safe. Cultural safety is a participant-centered approach that encourages self-reflexivity among health researchers and practitioners. It requires an examination of how systemic and personal biases, authority, privilege and territorial history can influence these relationships. Cultural safety requires building trust with Indigenous Peoples and communities in the conduct of research.

Realizing cultural safety in health and wellbeing research entails understanding the social, political and historical contexts that have resulted in power imbalances. It requires an individual to have cultural humility, competence, sensitivity and awareness in determining relevant health research policies, programs, models and projects with Indigenous Peoples.

Meaningful and culturally safe practices refer to equity in health research and delivery. In a meaningful and culturally safe research environment, each person's identity, beliefs, needs and reality is acknowledged. Participants feel safe based on mutual respect, meanings, learning experiences and shared knowledge. Cultural safety empowers people and ensures that the participating community, group or individual is a partner in decision-making.

Bourassa, C., Oleson, E., Diver, S., & McElhaney, J. (2021). Cultural safety. In K. Graham, & D. Newhouse (Eds.), Sharing the Land, Sharing a Future: The Legacy of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. University of Manitoba Press.

First Nations Health Authority. (2020). Cultural Safety and Humility.

Williams, R. (1999). Cultural safety – what does it mean for our work practice? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 23(2), 213-214.

Date modified: