SSHRC shares progress on implementing Indigenous Strategic Research Plan following pandemic setbacks

Mark Lowey
April 12, 2022

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) is making progress on implementing the federal Indigenous Strategic Research Plan despite delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, says SSHRC’s vice-president of research.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Dominque Bérubé told Research Money. “We’ve published our first progress report.”

When the Indigenous Strategic Research Plan was released in January 2020, SSHRC was given responsibility to implement it on behalf of the Tri-Council of major government research funding agencies. Along with SSHRC, these agencies include the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

The strategic plan, co-developed with Indigenous communities and organizations across Canada, is intended to ensure that First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples lead and govern any research that involves them, and to contribute to reconciliation on Indigenous 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 federal government’s chief science advisor, and the deputy ministers of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and of Health Canada.

SSHRC initially expected to have a document to guide the implementation of the Indigenous Strategic Research Plan released in the spring of 2020.

“And then the pandemic hit, just in the middle of the recruitment of our director of Indigenous strategy,” Bérubé said.

SSHRC, like the other two Tri-Council agencies, quickly shifted to a virtual operation and pivoted to support investment by the federal government in pandemic-related research and other work, she said.

Nevertheless, SSHRC’s director of Indigenous strategy tasked with leading the the strategic plan's implementation was hired in the fall of 2020, Bérubé said.

However, Indigenous communities were particularly hard-hit by COVID-19, which presented challenges for Tri-Council staff in engaging actively with Indigenous partners and organizations, she said.

“For us, the implementation of that plan cannot be done if it’s not done in co-construction with our Indigenous partners,” Bérubé said.

In another setback, SSHRC’s director of Indigenous strategy left the agency last month to work with Indigenous Services Canada  on implementing a large infrastructure project announced in the last federal budget.

SSHRC has already posted the position and hopes to have a new director of Indigenous strategy in place by June, Bérubé said.

Steps forward in implementing the Indigenous Strategic Research Plan

In 2020, SSHRC created a “Reference Group for the Appropriate Review of Indigenous Research,” comprising First Nations, Inuit and Métis scholars.

This 18-member group was formed to evaluate proposed changes to the research merit review process to make it more culturally appropriate for Indigenous peoples. The group also will develop guiding principles to help harmonize the review of Indigenous research across the Tri-Council research funding agencies.

SSHRC, with its separate Indigenous Advisory Circle that was created in 2014, also has co-developed the definition of and the guidelines for Indigenous research, Bérubé said.

This advisory group, which includes Indigenous and non-Indigenous members, provides guidance to SSHRC’s senior management to support and promote Indigenous research and talent development to help advance understanding in reconciliation.

“We’re the only country in the world with a definition of Indigenous research,” Bérubé noted.

SSHRC also recently issued a call to create a third advisory body, the “Indigenous Leadership Circle in Research,” to guide overall implementation of the Indigenous Strategic Research Plan.

“We just finalized the selection of the members, and we should be able to announce the launch of that Circle this May,” Bérubé said.

In another step forward, the Indigenous Funding Opportunities Working Group was created in fiscal year 2020-21, with a mandate to analyze and recommend improvements to existing tri-agency funding opportunities and to inform the development of future research programs to support reconciliation.

The long road to implementation

SSHRC's new goal is to release the implementation plan by the end of March 2023. That target may be optimistic though. SSHRC heard in some comments from the Indigenous Advisory Circle that implementing the plan will take longer than two or three years, she said.

“In the spirit of reconciliation, it’s going to take 10, 20 years, it’s going to take generations, in fact, to really be in line with what we are committing to in that plan,” Bérubé said.

“It’s not a question of ticking the box of publishing a document, putting it on the website, and then saying, ‘Okay, we’re finished,’” she said.

For example, the 2015 final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, in Calls to Action No. 65, called on SSHRC – in collaboration with Indigenous peoples, post-secondary institutions and educators, and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) and its partner institutions – to establish a national research program with multi-year funding to advance understanding of reconciliation.

Bérubé said a recently signed partnership between SSHRC and NCTR, which took four years to develop, will soon launch two new funding opportunities.

Another consideration in implementing the Indigenous Strategic Research Plan is that the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the national representational organization for the 65,000 Inuit in Canada, has its own strategic research plan, she said. “And they want the tri-agencies to be able to support the ITK plan.”

In implementing the federal Indigenous Strategic Research Plan, SSHRC is responding to the community’s wants and needs, using a nation-to-nation approach, Bérubé said. “The plan is going to have to be really adapted to all of the realities of all of our partners.”


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