Speech from the President: Sharing the Land, Sharing a Future – National Forum on the 20th Anniversary of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples

November 4, 2016

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Thank you, Gauri, for your kind introduction. [Gauri Sreenivasan, Canadian Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences]

Distinguished guests, dear friends,

First, I wish to acknowledge the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples on which we are today. As well as to recognize that this land is also the homeland of the Métis Nation.

I would like to thank the Caboto Centre for hosting this forum. I also wish to thank Queen’s University’s School of Policy Studies and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba for organizing this conference.

As we come together on the historic occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, it is fitting that we pause and reflect on our progress while taking stock of what remains to be done – together.

Twenty years ago, the seeds of hope were planted.

Through their bold and farsighted recommendations, the visionaries of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples created an aspirational document, and one that has fueled the hopes of a generation of Canadians.

They heard what needed to be said, took those words to heart, and captured the many voices of Canada’s diverse Indigenous peoples.

In particular, the Royal Commission recognized that there were gaps in health care and health research – gaps that needed to be closed.

When CIHR was created in 2000, members of the research community and CIHR leaders understood that Indigenous health research had to be a priority.

To deliver on this priority, CIHR included, among its 13 inaugural Institutes, the Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health.

I am proud to say that this Institute remains the first and only national institute of health research in the world dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples.

On behalf of CIHR, I wish to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of the individuals who have led this Institute: its inaugural Scientific Director, Dr. Jeff Reading, and its current Scientific Director, Dr. Malcolm King. 

Malcolm could not be with us today as he is in Melbourne, Australia, representing Canada at the Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference. But I know that he would have liked to be here, and I wish to sincerely thank him for his tireless efforts to foster research excellence on Indigenous peoples’ health.

I am proud of CIHR’s track record in supporting indigenous peoples’ health research and in helping support the training of a new cadre of indigenous scholars in this field.

But I am particularly sensitive to what we have learned as an organization through 16 years of collaboration with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities.

We have learned about the extraordinary diversity and richness of these communities, and about their traditional ways of learning – and healing.

We have learned about community-based research and have developed, jointly with the communities, what has since come to be known as implementation science. In fact, the “Pathways to Health Equity for Aboriginal Peoples” Signature initiative was CIHR’s first major Implementation Research and Delivery Science strategic initiative.

We have also learned about the difficulties for young indigenous researchers to integrate into a Western Academic System, which led us to develop mentoring programs.

We have learned about the difficulties of the Inuit Communities to live in a country still focussed on the South which led us to develop projects under the umbrella of the Arctic Council.

But most importantly, perhaps, we were humbled to learn about the terrible plight of indigenous communities as pertains to health issues, with health outcomes that are way behind those of other Canadians.

This is why more research needs to be done. More research to provide the scientific evidence necessary for improving the health status of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples.

In our latest strategic plan, Roadmap II, CIHR established the health and wellness of Indigenous populations as one of the agency’s four priority areas of research. 

Consistent with a number of the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we recognize that the time is ripe to step up further our efforts in Indigenous People’s Health research.

As part of this commitment, CIHR has tightened its relationship with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities. Based on their advice, we have committed to immediately implement a series of concrete actions to further strengthen Indigenous health research in Canada. 

Specifically, CIHR is committing to:

  1. Increase its capacity to interact with indigenous communities in a culturally appropriate manner, through the creation of a dedicated team assigned to working directly with Indigenous peoples, researchers, and communities;
  2. Ensure that the Federal Government is made aware that the membership of CIHR’s Governing Council should reflect the diversity of Canada’s Indigenous peoples;
  3. Accept the definition of “Indigenous health research” as drafted by the Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health in consultation with Indigenous stakeholders;
  4. Develop, in collaboration with the newly appointed Institute Advisory Board on Indigenous Peoples’ Health, performance indicators to validate CIHR investments in Indigenous health research;
  5. Increase its investments in Indigenous health research to a minimum of 4.6% (proportional to Canada’s Indigenous population) of CIHR’s annual budget;
  6. Seek to grow these investments as research capacity and additional financial resources allow;
  7. Continue working with the Reference Group on Indigenous Health Research ‎ to implement iterative peer review processes for applications relevant to Indigenous health, so as to ensure better success rates for Indigenous-focused investigator-initiated grant applications;
  8. Create, with the advice of the Institute Advisory Board on Indigenous Peoples’ Health, impactful strategic initiatives aimed at improving the health of Indigenous peoples;
  9. Hold annual meetings between the President of CIHR and leaders of the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and the Métis National Council to discuss Indigenous health research priorities;
  10. Work with other federal research councils to develop strategies to strengthen Indigenous research capacity development through training and mentoring along the entire career continuum from undergraduate to postdoctoral levels.

At CIHR, we understand the power and potential of health research and the value of working collaboratively. I feel confident that the additional knowledge produced as a consequence of these targeted actions will lead to healthier individuals, families, and communities.

It is also our hope and expectation that the actions and commitments we are taking today will contribute positively to strengthening a relationship of trust and mutual respect and improve the health of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.

I look forward to working with you – and with all our Indigenous partners – to achieve these goals.

Thank you

Merci

Miigwetch

Ékosi

Munsi

Marsee

Matna

Wopida

Wela’lioq

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