Awakening Our Wisdom

Land-Based Healing in a Community of Indigenous Women

Indigenous communities have expressed the need for more culturally supportive healing programs. Negative experiences in the healthcare system, especially when receiving HIV and/or hepatitis C care, were viewed as particularly detrimental to participants’ wellness.

Two local HIV/AIDS community organizations that serve women in British Columbia (Red Road and Positive Women’s Network) collaborated with an Indigenous-led research team, to provide a peer- and Elder-led land-based gathering. The two organizations undertook retreat planning and programming, while the academic and peer research associates had responsibility for the research, which was undertaken through sharing circles. The project closed in 2017.

Preliminary results: While taking part in cultural practices was considered to facilitate wellness, participants described a lack of access to cultural practices, both within and outside the healthcare system. For many Indigenous people, connecting with the land is essential for promoting and supporting healing. Participants spoke about the importance of building and maintaining relationships with other Indigenous women with similar lived experiences, and finding strength in these relationships.

There is a gap between what Indigenous women wish to experience in their healing journeys, and what is currently offered. There is a need and desire for ongoing, culturally supportive, land-based programs that bring Indigenous people together on a path towards wholistic healing.

There has been a continued interest in following up with the participants of the 2017 study. Work on the next iteration of the project began in 2020. The Indigenous-led research team analyzed transcripts of the sharing circles and with an Elder involved in the first portion of the project, collaborated to write a paper, which was published in the summer of 2021. The continued work is interpretation of what took place at the retreat and how to respond, if necessary, to certain aspects of the retreat’s structure and implementation identified as areas of concern.

This project was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).