Australian, New Zealand and Canadian health research funding agencies have agreed to work together to better support Indigenous researchers and Indigenous research.
A tripartite agreement has been reached between the NHMRC, Health Research Council of New Zealand, and Canadian Institutes of Health Research (more details are here.)
The agreement follows a workshop held in Melbourne, which aimed to identify some of the challenges facing emerging Indigenous researchers, and to develop innovative mentoring practices.
Thanks to Clive Aspin (Ngati Maru), a Maori public health researcher with extensive experience of Indigenous health research in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, for providing this report.
Breaking down the barriers for Indigenous researchers
Clive Aspin writes:
At a recent meeting in Melbourne of leading Indigenous researchers from Australia, Canada and New Zealand, there was overwhelming agreement that much still needs to be done to build the capacity of the Indigenous research workforce in the three countries.
There was universal agreement that an increase in the Indigenous research workforce will make a significant contribution to reducing health disparities and closing the gap on health disadvantage in all three countries.
With these sentiments in mind, the government funding agencies of the three countries (National Health and Medical Research Council, Canadian Institute of Health Research and the Health Research Council of New Zealand) brought together experts from the three countries for two days of intense deliberations focussed on how to build and develop mentoring programs for emerging Indigenous researchers.
All three agencies were well represented by strong delegations of senior and emerging Maori researchers from both community and academic research centres.
The three funding agencies have agreed that investment in the capacity building of Indigenous researchers is a vital step towards achieving health equity between Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.
But serious challenges face young Indigenous researchers embarking on a career in Indigenous research, especially for those who opt to work within the narrow confines of academia, a feature common to all three countries.
Repeatedly throughout the meeting, people described the numerous obstacles they had to overcome to forge a niche for themselves within universities.
As one senior Indigenous researcher put it, “Indigenous researchers often feel exploited by institutions to attract research dollars”.
From a lack of suitable mentors to understanding and learning the nuances of the research process, there was agreement that many challenges need to be addressed in order to implement a viable mentoring program that will reap sustainable and long-term benefits for Indigenous peoples.
One of the most important challenges for people engaged in Indigenous research is how they build and maintain effective partnerships with Indigenous communities.
Any durable mentoring program must give priority to engaging communities in a meaningful way in the research process, an area in which universities have not always had a good track record. Delegates agreed that this was a matter of great importance when developing mentoring programs for Indigenous researchers.
Universities have a responsibility to ensure that they engage effectively with communities. At the same time, they need to ensure that Indigenous scholars and researchers are provided with suitable mentors to allow this to happen. With there being a major shortage of senior Indigenous mentors, this constitutes a real challenge for emerging Indigenous researchers.
But a mood of optimism prevailed at the tripartite meeting. With cross country support and ongoing collaboration as well as strong commitment from funding agencies, emerging Indigenous researchers can look forward to the implementation of a mentoring strategy that will have a wide international reach.
All three agencies have committed to implementing a mentoring program that will lead to the development of long-term strategies to support Indigenous researchers as well as communities and in time, it will contribute to further reductions in health disparities.
• Clive Aspin (Ngati Maru) is a Maori public health researcher with extensive experience of Indigenous health research in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. He has a long-standing personal and professional interest in HIV and its impact on Indigenous peoples. He began his training in public health at the University of Otago in New Zealand. In Australia, he was a Senior Indigenous Research Fellow at the University of Sydney, where his work focused on Indigenous health and chronic illness. He has extensive governance experience and has served on the Board of the Health Research Council of New Zealand.