September 21, 2022

Building consensus on indicators of social and emotional well-being

By Marina Giovannoni*

Ashton James is a graduate student who works with clinical epidemiologist and WCHRI member Maria Ospina.

Please tell us about your research. 

My work aims to build consensus on indicators of social and emotional well-being for Métis children in Alberta. We’re conducting a scoping review to identify, describe and consolidate indicators that have already been developed in countries with histories of colonialism. We are utilizing that set of indicators with Métis knowledge holders to build consensus on which ones are meaningful to Métis children in Alberta. 

What drew you to work on the social and emotional well-being of Métis children? 

I worked for the Métis Nation of Alberta before pursuing graduate studies. When we look at health research, Métis experiences are underrepresented—it’s common for Métis to be overlooked or grouped with experiences of other Indigenous peoples, which fails to recognize distinct experiences of Métis colonization and subsequent health impacts today. 

What considerations have been important in conducting research with Métis people and communities? 

We followed a set of principles developed by the National Aboriginal Health Organization known as The Ethical Principles of Métis Research. The principles outline ethical engagement in research with Métis folks and emphasize understanding Métis contexts in relation to health and research processes. This includes learning Métis histories, forming relationships and being mindful of sharing power within research. Emphasis on diversity—capturing nuance in stories of how people relate to Métis identity and experiences—is central to such considerations. 

It has also been important for me to consider my position and the positions of other white settlers in colonialism. Reflecting on this piece can be really uncomfortable; seeking to understand this discomfort throughout the research process is part of the learning. 

What has been the most memorable moment of your research journey so far? 

I took a course on community-based participatory research, and something that was eye-opening for me was the idea that community engagement happens on a spectrum; what’s considered engagement is determined in relationship with those you’re engaging with. The key moment for me was switching from focusing on, “What are the steps of community engagement?” to putting my energy into relationships instead.  

What should institutions be doing to foster a culture of reconciliation with Indigenous people? 

That’s a big question. Institutions have a role in creating spaces where truths can be told, heard and understood. Institutions can also work to create opportunities for Indigenous folks and emphasize Indigenous representation within leadership positions. Ultimately, the roadmap to reconciliation needs to be determined in conversation with Indigenous peoples. 

How do you feel personally connected to this research? 

I grew up in an environment that was really connected to the land that we lived on and to my extended family. In the context of my work, indicators of well-being include land and kinship, so I reflect on how my privilege has afforded me those things and how colonialism has fragmented them for a lot of Indigenous peoples. As a white settler, I reflect on my responsibility to use the opportunities that I’ve been given to address inequities within systems, and that’s where I feel the strongest connection to this research.  

What advice do you have for other researchers who would like to engage in research with Métis people and communities? 

Learn and comprehend Métis history; form relationships within the community in addition to organizations you may be partnering with; be mindful of how you can work to share power within research; and, reflect on feelings of discomfort as you learn to navigate your position in this research context.

Ashton James is supervised by Maria Ospina. Her graduate studentship project is funded by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.

*Marina Giovannoni is a member of WCHRI’s Trainee Advisory Committee (TAC). Additional members from TAC who contributed to this story include editors Luis Fernando Rubio Atonal, Robert Mcweeny and Kaya Persad, with videography and photography by Robert Mcweeny.