New federal strategy aims to ensure Indigenous governance of research

Mark Lowey
February 18, 2020

Canada’s Tri-Council of major government funding agencies will create an Aboriginal Leadership Circle to guide implementation of a new Indigenous research strategic plan that seeks to ensure First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples lead and govern any research that involves them.

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) is also hiring a director of Indigenous strategy who’ll be responsible for implementing the strategic plan. “This [strategic plan] is about proposing a new interdisciplinary research and research screening model that will contribute to reconciliation on Indigenous research,” Dominque Bérubé, SSHRC’s vice-president, research, told RE$EARCH MONEY. “It’s a totally different approach to how we want to recognize Indigenous leadership of research.”

Budget 2018 allocated $3.8 million to SSHRC to develop the strategic plan, on behalf of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) and in collaboration with the Tri-Council.

The CRCC brings together the presidents of the Tri-Council agencies, the National Research Council, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the chief science advisor, and the deputy ministers of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and of Health Canada.

In addition to the Aboriginal Leadership Circle, the Tri-Council has issued a call of interest to create a new working group of eight to 10 Indigenous people, to provide advice on developing and implementing culturally appropriate peer review approaches and practices for research conducted by and with First Nations, Inuit and Métis. Appointments to the group are expected to be made this June.

Indigenous communities and organizations across Canada co-developed the strategic plan, through a large-scale engagement that included a national dialogue in Ottawa and 14 regional events. The Tri-Council agencies also awarded 116 “Connection Grants,” with a value of up to $50,000 each, to Indigenous organizations to get their perspectives.

The CRCC released the document, Setting new directions to support Indigenous research and research training in Canada: Strategic Plan 2019-2022, in January.

“The strategic plan reaffirms the CRCC’s commitment to advancing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action and marks a significant step forward in supporting new models for Indigenous research and research training,”  Michael Strong, chair of the CRCC, said in an email.

Bérubé says the plan also reflects calls by Indigenous peoples that when it comes to research, there should be, in their words: “Nothing about us without us.”

Implementation plan targeted for spring

The implementation plan for the new strategy also will be co-developed with Indigenous partners, she says. The target is to have the implementation document, which will include timelines and performance measures, ready by this spring.

Although the strategic plan will be implemented by the Tri-Council agencies, the Canada Foundation for Innovation also will fully consider those elements that touch on its research infrastructure funding activities, Bérubé says. The plan also serves as a reference for other CRCC member organizations, including the National Research Council.

Bérubé says the Tri-Council is committed to establishing greater Indigenous representation and decision-making, including at management levels, at its three agencies. For example, the CIHR’s Institute for Indigenous Peoples’ Health scientific director is Dr. Carrie Bourassa, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan and who is Métis.

Another Tri-Council commitment is to revise and introduce new merit review criteria to ensure that researchers are accountable – including for ethical conduct – to Indigenous communities, and Indigenous knowledge systems are recognized and contribute to scientific and scholarly evidence.

The Tri-Council also has been working for the last year on revising funding eligibility guidelines to reduce administrative barriers and ensure equitable access to research funding and infrastructure support for Indigenous organizations, Bérubé says.

When it comes to training, Budget 2019 committed $824 million over 10 years, starting in 2019-20, and $61.8 million ongoing in support of Indigenous “distinctions-based” post-secondary education.

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) participated in the co-development of the strategic plan, including hosting a regional event with Indigenous senior business leaders in Vancouver.

“I think that what the team at the Tri-Council has done is really monumental and is fundamentally groundbreaking,” says Max Skudra, the CCAB’s director of research and government relations. “They really went to huge efforts to get out on the road and listen to Indigenous people and Indigenous leaders on research.”

Indigenous peoples and organizations have not been framing and explaining research from their own perspectives, because other people have been speaking for them, Skudra says. For example, national statistics agencies have for many years not properly reflected the Indigenous economy’s contribution to the broader Canadian economy, he notes.

However, a report by the CCAB found that Indigenous peoples contribute $30 billion annually to Canada’s GDP, which is expected to increase to $100 billion by 2024, Skudra says. “I think that this strategic plan is going to do a lot to empower Indigenous-led research, which is going to show the richness of that contribution by Indigenous people to Canadian society and the richness of Indigenous culture broadly.”


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