Jul 05, 2021, By: Jessy Dame
As research continues to shift to a strengths-based foundation, which focuses on the inherent value, skills and knowledge of individuals and communities, it becomes clear that the current and still most-prevalent research approach, which focuses on risk and deficit-based research, is outdated. Taking a risk and deficit-based approach can be problematic because its use of language that focuses on vulnerabilities has the potential to further stigmatize populations.
While it is necessary to identify the contributing factors and context of societal and structural barriers, we must also look to how the language in surveys, exams, and other question-based tests can actually perpetuate stigma towards Indigenous communities. Researchers must turn to the questions being asked of Indigenous community members and reflect on what communities are being asked and what foundational framing these questions are grounded in.
For example, this is a question that I was given on a grant application: “What do you think needs to occur in coming years to promote the resurgence of Indigenous social, political, cultural, linguistic, and economic success, and what challenges do you think are holding Indigenous communities back from achieving these?,” I propose that asking a question this way not only further stigmatizes Indigenous communities as struggling; it also puts blame back onto the community, as if it is their own fault for not achieving goals. With this in mind, my response to this question is: “Nothing is holding us back; we are moving forward, but within the capacity that the current state of society is allowing.”
Framing a question from the standpoint of “holding us back” continues to support the notion that Indigenous people can be held back. This notion is fundamentally untrue. We are here and we are surviving.
But what if we reframe the question to, “What current systemic and racialized policies are in place that limit Indigenous communities’ ability to thrive?” This places the blame where it’s due: on the system rather than on the community.
For too long, research and reports have placed the blame on Indigenous communities for the inequities currently occurring. Current-day research appears to highlight communities in a way that showcases their “risk factors” and as being “held back,” when they are in actuality pushing past such barriers and creating protective factors.
A common question I see as I continue down the path of academia is, “How do we change the system?” I have now come to realize that this is not the question to be asking anymore.
I believe we, as Indigenous people, need to recognize that the strength we have as individuals is the most important factor in our resurgence.
Somehow, society has seemingly come to believe that the only question and answer is about changing the entire system rather than focusing on ourselves. We have lost many of the individual aspects of how to change the system on a functional level. The question we need to ask is, “How do we change ourselves?” If I change, the system will effectively change.
This individual voice has been lost because large systems are able to make Indigenous people feel silenced, but we cannot be silenced. We cannot stop talking, and we cannot be held back. History shows us this. So again, I bring the conversation back to the question being asked: “What do you think needs to occur in coming years to promote the resurgence of Indigenous social, political, cultural, linguistic, and economic success? What challenges do you think are holding Indigenous communities back from achieving these?”
I believe we, as Indigenous people, need to recognize that the strength we have as individuals is the most important factor in our resurgence. That being loud, proud, and intolerant of bigotry is not bad or negative, but rather protective and a pathway.
Nothing is holding Indigenous communities back from moving forward. Rather, the system is blocking our path forward and persuading us to view the blockade as a community issue.
The biggest thing holding us back is that prejudicial questions are being used as the foundation of our research.
My name is Jessy Dame, and I am a very proud Two-Spirit, Métis, certified registered nurse. My parents are from Manitoba, both Treaty 1 and Treaty 2 territories. I acknowledge my mom, who raised three children as a single mother. If it were not for her dedication and love, I would not be where I am today.
I have worked within neonatal and postpartum health, as well as within remote communities on the west coast and within northern B.C. I currently work as a sexual health nurse within a queer-focused sexual health clinic. I have also recently completed my Master of Nursing degree with a primary focus on protective factors among self-identified Two-Spirit and gay men and who have attempted suicide. In writing this opinion piece, I believe it is extremely important to provide a self-situating statement as this allows the reader to understand the frame of mind and perspectives I bring to this work.