Ontario Network Environment for Indigenous Health Research

NEIHR helps improve treatment of mental health issues among Indigenous People through holistic, culturally based interventions and capacity development

Dr. Suzanne L. Stewart, Director, Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, University of Toronto

Dr. Stewart, PhD, C.Psych

Through the Holistic Indigenous Mental Health and Wellness: Transforming Healthcare Strengths and Solutions NEIHR (ON NEIHR), Dr. Stewart strives to improve the mental wellbeing of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples by building on capacity of Indigenous knowledge that will prevent illness and strengthen individual wellness. With academic and Indigenous community partners, ON NEIHR examines six primary themes: cultural safety; Indigenous holistic prevention and early intervention; land-based and planetary health solutions; healing from trauma and reducing addictions; enhancement of wellbeing and elimination of suicide; and translating Indigenous knowledge data into practice and policy. Situated in 10 sites across Ontario, ON NEIHR is demonstrating how health systems should move away from Western biomedical treatment of Indigenous medical illness to holistic, culturally based interventions instead (which include sacred aspects of healing: physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental dimensions). Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, ON NEIHR’s representatives have still held virtual meetings with government officials to address how research findings regarding the network’s themes can be translated into new policies that will help Indigenous Peoples. ON NEIHR has also hosted webinars regarding Indigenous mental health issues (e.g., self-hatred) that feature Indigenous academics and Knowledge Keepers. A successful two-day knowledge exchange between ON NEIHR researchers and youth took place to address different perspectives of the network’s themes (others will take place in the future). ON NEIHR also posts information updates on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and their email listserv, and supports a program with the Indigenous Mentorship Network of Ontario to create 130 new and emerging scholars. 

“A lot of Indigenous mental illness related to our network’s themes stems from racism to intergenerational residential school trauma,” said Dr. Stewart. “By reaching out to undergraduate, master’s, PhD, and postdoctoral students, and embracing holistic Indigenous interventions, we will help create a new generation of researchers who respect Indigenous cultures and hold an Indigenous knowledge framework for mental health service and policy that will benefit the healthcare of Indigenous Peoples at a national and international level.”

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