Strong hearts and open minds

Sue Ross and Indigenous women collaborate to raise community awareness of menopause

Sue RossSue Ross, Cavarzan Chair in Mature Women's Health Research & Innovation, has discovered that surprisingly little research has been undertaken about the experiences of menopausal women in Indigenous communities in Canada. This led Ross and her team (with Maskwacis Health Services) to try to better understand menopausal issues in Indigenous women. As a starting point, the group chose to hold small group discussions with women of the Maskwacis community (located 70 kilometres south of Edmonton).

A community workshop was held to share the small group findings. “After the workshop, several women inquired ‘what’s next?’” says Ross. “They decided they wanted to form a group” to use the findings of the research to support other women in the community.

The women chose the group name “Sohki Teyhew,” Cree wording for “Strong Heart,” a name that represents the role of woman at the centre of the family and their place within the community. Members of the group include: Margaret Montour, Samson Cree Elder; Matilda Roasting, Louis Bull Elder; Maskwacis Health Services’ Director of Nursing, Bonny Graham; University of Alberta researcher Richard Oster; and other women from the community.

The participants already knew their key goal - they hoped to increase understanding about women’s body changes and experiences of menopause, particularly among spouses, children and family members.

“They were very passionate about it,” says Ross, “They felt that better understanding would reduce stress within families.”

After a year of ongoing collaborative meetings and community workshops, the group developed informational pamphlets -- including culturally-sensitive suggestions to help menopausal women and their families. The creation of the pamphlets was honored at a traditional elders’ ceremony, after which the pamphlets were distributed through local meetings and Maskwacis Health Services.

“Our group wants to expand this work to support women’s experiences of other taboo issues such as incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse,” Ross explained. These issues touch many women, but are rarely discussed or researched. In January, Ross and the group submitted a grant application to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for funding to assist with this expansion.

The group will continue to work within the community and hopes to move forward by taking the menopause pamphlets and other knowledge outcomes to other Indigenous communities in Alberta.

This project provided Ross with an opportunity to experience a new way of conducting research as well as opening a lens on how to work collaboratively with Indigenous populations.

“My research program is moving towards wellness research,” says Ross. “This project taught me to keep an open mind, to listen to the women participants describing their needs. They brought their culture, wisdom and life experiences to the project. They knew they wanted to increase community understanding about menopause, not to try to ‘cure’ it.”

Ross believes that WCHRI’s contribution to the project was fundamental in providing networking and grant opportunities to help her move forward.

“Incidental conversations with other WCHRI members while participating on grant review panels gave me the confidence to undertake this project. The community of WCHRI was invaluable in facilitating the sharing of knowledge and experience.”

Sue Ross’ research has been funded by generous supporters of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women through WCHRI.

Lois Hole Hospital for Women