A new Research Affiliation Agreement between British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the province’s First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) is supporting research driven by First Nations communities.
This is the first agreement of its kind between FNHA and an academic institution. The partnership allows FNHA to access federal research funds through institutions like the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). FNHA will receive 50 per cent of funds that SFU receives for research that impacts the health of First Nations communities.
Sonia Isaac-Maan, COO of FNHA, said that institutions like CIHR have stringent requirements for who can access funding — and usually, they are academic institutions. By being a research affiliate of SFU, FNHA can access federal funding for health research that takes First Nations beliefs into account.
“Historically, First Nations have had lots of barriers to accessing services, either from inability to actually get services based on where they are, and experiences in the past with the health system that didn't interface well with their belief system,” said Isaac-Mann. “Part of what we're doing is working on some innovative things in relation to mental health and wellness, looking at healing, trauma [and] land-based approaches.”
For B.C., FNHA is a critical institution for health care driven by First Nations communities; in 2013, the federal government transferred health services targeted to First Nations communities to the FNHA — a first for Canada. Since then, FNHA has been working to build its capacity to deliver health care to First Nations communities in the province.
An example of the research that would be supported under the agreement is SFU’s $2.5-million Harm Reduction study funded by CIHR, which is studying how to improve the health system's response to the opioid crisis impacting First Nations communities. The research is being led by FNHA, though its team includes members that are both FNHA research leads and SFU adjunct faculty.
SFU, as an academic institution, was eligible for the federal funding. FNHA itself is not eligible to receive such grants, but through its agreement with SFU, it could receive funds from the university to conduct community-based research that includes Indigenous perspectives on health and harm reduction.
“It's a reciprocal relationship with the university,” Isaac-Mann said of the agreement. “It helps us [to] actually do the research in a meaningful way for First Nations, but it also helps SFU in terms of the reconciliation work that they want to do with First Nations in the province of B.C.”
The agreement acknowledges the First Nations Principles of OCAP: ownership, control, access, and possession of research for First Nations communities. Normally, research agreements would acknowledge the right of academic partner institutions to intellectual property ownership.
While OCAP itself is not new, “Having an academic institution actually recognize and work with us to ensure that those principles are upheld is fairly new,” said Isaac-Mann.
Isaac-Mann said that FNHA has an engagement strategy for ensuring First Nations communities can easily access results from these studies.
On an ongoing basis, FNHA is striving to fund research that is relevant to and driven by Indigenous communities. With the formalized support of institutions like SFU, FNHA can create frameworks for conducting ethical research and build its capacity for directly accessing federal funds. Meanwhile, SFU can better understand the health priorities of Indigenous communities.
“We're trying to take a different approach here to prioritize the research questions that [First Nations] communities have identified, not the other way around,” said Isaac-Mann.