AMPLIFYing Indigenous voices for culturally safer sexual and reproductive health

June 20, 2023   |   Blog, News

Written by Sasha Askarian, Dr. Brittany Bingham, Logan Burd & Chelsey Perry

June is Indigenous History Month in Canada, and to mark the occasion, CGSHE is highlighting research that uplifts Indigenous Peoples and communities on our blog over the next month. Today and every day, the Centre for Gender & Sexual Health Equity works to amplify and uplift Indigenous voices.

The AMPLIFY project centres Indigenous community-based voices to inform equitable access to culturally safe sexual health care and reproductive justice for Indigenous women (cis and trans), gender diverse and Two-Spirit Peoples.

AMPLIFY is a community-based participatory action research study that draws upon quantitative, qualitative, Indigenous, and art-based methods. The research project incorporates data from two longstanding open community-based cohorts: AESHA (An Evaluation of Sex Workers Health Access) and SHAWNA (Sexual Health & HIV/AIDS: Longitudinal Women’s Needs Assessment). Leveraging this existing data provides a critical opportunity for meaningful engagement that works toward reciprocity and decolonization of data.

Weaving together research and art

AMPLIFY recently completed three in-depth arts-based workshops with lead artist, Dionne Paul. With guidance from Elders, Dionne and the research team organized workshops for participants to learn and create traditional and universal forms of Indigenous art as a method for storytelling. The workshops fostered a safe, therapeutic and empowering space for researchers and community partners to use art as a critical way of knowing. Learning artistic techniques of moccasin-making and cultural protocols re-enact sacred traditions and histories, creating space for participants to express their subjective truths.

The importance of reciprocity, traditional knowledge and storytelling

Traditional Indigenous artmaking guided by Indigenous artists and community Elders is essential to transferring and strengthening cultural knowledge and artistic methods to research participants. In establishing this relational, reciprocal and creative environment for art to act as research, we effectively disrupt colonial alienation and silence—making space for participants to speak about their experiences individually and communally. Indigenous artmaking practices are meaningfully incorporated in AMPLIFY’s research design because of their power to access individual and communal storied worlds, introducing both researchers and participants to novel dimensions of human experiences and resurgence of Indigenous ways of knowing.

The lived experiences coming through the artwork are vital to building and deepening knowledge on culturally safe and equitable sexual, reproductive health and justice for Indigenous cis and trans women, gender diverse and Two-Spirit Peoples.

Engaging research participants in new ways

Participants spoke, sketched and sewed their lived experiences while engaging in comic making and designing and assembling moccasins. Dionne led the participants through each step, stitch and pattern building while connecting the moccasin materials back to land and land-based knowledge—drawing upon the interconnectivity of sacred artmaking and storytelling. The pedagogical and creative process revealed subtle yet powerful knowledge that may otherwise live unspoken inside our bodies, minds and spirits.

As one participant expressed, the knowledge of moccasin making, “is in our DNA”.

Imagining a new future for Indigenous health care

The creative potentialities of Indigenous artmaking inspire visions and future possibilities for those continuing to practice and engage with it. Coming together in sharing circles dialogue, participants shared their dreams of what culturally safe healthcare and support could look like. A common thread weaving these dreams together illustrates healthcare spaces free of discrimination, reflect the diversity of Indigenous Peoples, and the need for greater education on Indigenous knowledges and healing practices. These stories, dreams and desires are essential to providing appropriate recommendations on ways to better access culturally safe, sexual health services and supports for Indigenous women, gender diverse, and Two-Spirit Peoples. This is why research participants are doing more than just ordinary art projects, they are employing their creative powers and (inter)subjective realities to convey knowledge that is integral to a healthy, culturally safe and just society.