Indigenous health research in CIET

First Nations youth learn to dry game meat, guided by community elders, in the context of a CIET research initiative in Western Canada

From its earliest years, CIET has worked with indigenous communities, starting with Nancue Ñomndaa (Amuzgo) and Na savi (Mixteco) populations in remote villages of Guerrero state, in Mexico. Aboriginal health research has been an essential part of our identity ever since. Currently, we help communities in Mexico, Colombia and Canada as they take on pressing health and development concerns, such as youth resilience, safe motherhood, and HIV/AIDS, strive to preserve or reclaim their cultural heritage, and struggle to overcome health inequalities resulting from centuries of cultural and environmental marginalization.

Our work in this field has some common features:

  • Communities choose their research priorities and own the research process—local people frame the issues and decide how to participate.
  • Our research focuses on community strengths—including spirituality, oral traditions, identity, and support networks—that allow them to protect themselves and their members, overcome inequalities, and continue to develop.
  • In prevention studies, we put the stress on primary prevention, looking upstream for sources of individual and collective resilience. We also focus on environmental health, since many Aboriginal health problems are tied to changes in the environment.
  • We are as keen on collective dimensions of health challenges as we are on individual behavioural change.
  • We do not conclude our research with lists of recommendations. We try to give scientific support to communities as they seek their own solutions, based on their own priorities.
  • We build community capacities for research and planning through participation.
  • We search for evidence in support of traditional healing practices and the role of medicinal plants in community health.
  • We seek to harmonize traditional knowledge and modern scientific practices, without marginalizing and destroying indigenous cultures. (For more information see cultural safety)