Marissa Nakoochee

Supervisor: Vera Caine

Project: Working with pregnant and early parenting indigenous women who are precariously housed: Bringing indigenous knowledge to program development—a qualitative research study.

Degree program:


Lay abstract:

In Edmonton, there are roughly 100 homeless women each year who are pregnant and/or parenting. Over 80% of these women are Indigenous. Many Indigenous women in urban settings lack access to Indigenous ancestral knowledge and practices because of their own or their families experiences with Canada's colonial history. Their experiences are further complicated by the hostile conditions faced by women who are precariously housed or homeless. Housing, along with supports that help people remain housed, have been identified in many studies as foundational to meeting women's and their children's needs. There is almost no research on the development and implementation of Indigenous housing programs for women who are pregnant, early parenting, homeless, and use substances. There is an urgent need to attend to practices in the development of housing models that are Indigenous specific. In order to explore alternative models it is necessary to create new and richly textured accounts of the experiences and insights of Indigenous elders in relation to working with vulnerable Indigenous women who are precariously housed.

What motivated you to participate in this research?

My personal experiences as an Indigenous woman who was precariously housed while pregnant with little support and multiple barriers motivated me to participate in this research. I know firsthand how hard it can be to access Indigenous knowledge in relation to pregnancy, childbirth and parenting while residing in an urban setting. I grew up in a home directly affected by residential schools and we didn’t have that cultural connection. I had to actively seek out meaningful Indigenous practices but it’s not easy and I’m still learning. My son is now 11 and I wish I had those teachings before having him and while raising him these last 11 years. In addition to my personal experiences in that situation, I also worked as a support for Indigenous women in the inner city who are/were homeless and pregnant. It is an area close to my heart and even though I didn’t have access to ancestral knowledge when I was pregnant and struggling to overcome barriers I would like to be a part, in some way, in helping other women access Indigenous knowledge and teachings.

What are your career aspirations?

I hope to be an advocate and educator for Indigenous health. I would like to see improvement in access to equitable healthcare and an enhanced quality of life for Indigenous peoples. I would like to be involved in policy making and implementation of policy and program development for and more importantly with Indigenous peoples. I’m particularly interested in the health of women, children and families. Indigenous peoples disproportionately face inequities and social issues, however I do believe with relevant supports and programming that a difference can be made. As Indigenous peoples we need Indigenous people at all levels of policy, and program development and delivery to ensure that Indigenous perspectives are being acknowledged and understood. I plan to continue to work for and with people so that we can continue to move forward in a good way. In addition, I’m an advocate for language preservation and revitalization and will continue to do so in any capacity possible; I currently teach Cree and plan to continue to do so. Indigenous people's right to language and language learning was prohibited at one time and this created a disruption in our language and resulted in few people learning and speaking the language. I hope to be part of a movement toward increased access to language programming and language resource development.

How has this studentship helped you toward those aspirations?

This studentship has allowed me to further explore the ways in which Indigenous knowledge relates to childbirth, pregnancy and parenting for Indigenous women who face barriers like homelessness and substance use. My supervisors have been incredibly great about including me in conferences, meetings and the processes of undertaking a research project. These are valuable skills that I will take with me into my future work. My meetings and relationship building have further reinforced that there is a desire and need for this type of research. I’m coming to realize it is even more important than I thought as people are expressing similar interest. This encourages me to continue to push forward with my goals. I’m looking forward to the next part of this project and all that I will learn.