BC NEIHR Blog Spotlight Post: Trails BC and the Tmixw Trails Program & Great Blue Heron Way


The BC NEIHR is working to give Indigenous leaders in community, wellness, research, and health a voice by conducting spotlight interviews on the wonderful work being conducted. The first of these spotlight interviews can be found below with Sage Flett Kruger, an Indigenous woman of the Okanagan Nation working with Trails BC to create a more inclusive and safe space for Indigenous people.

 Interview by Laine Grace, Interior IHRF


Can you please start off by quickly introducing yourself and your role?



Wai, Husk’al’hault, incha iskwist Sage Flett Kruger. I’m speaking to you today from my traditional territory of the Okanagan Nation. I am the Indigenous engagement manager for Trails BC.


What projects/work/ideas /events are you working on right now that you are most excited about?



The project I am most excited about right now is our Tmixw Trails program. This program was developed to engage and inspire Indigenous youth and families to participate and be active on trails throughout the Okanagan territory. The premise is holistic learning, engaging, walking tours of trails for participants. Included in the tour we have Elders and/or knowledge keepers telling traditional stories in relations to the lands we are touring. This would include the use of both English and Nsyilxcen (Okanagan) languages. There are additional fun components including actives such as bird/plant bingo. 


What inspired you to do this amazing work?



In our culture, land and health are closely linked. Land is the ultimate nurturer of people. It provides not only physical but emotional and spiritual sustenance. It inspires and provides beauty. It nurtures our souls. We, in turn, have a reciprocal duty as stewards of the land.

There are times when it feels like Indigenous persons are unseen or overlooked when planning is done by municipalities, regions, districts, etc. Trails BC, however, is actively working to create a diverse and inclusive space for all people to enjoy being active on trails in the region. I was pleased to be hired on as the Indigenous Engagement manager to facilitate the creation of programs dedicated to Indigenous peoples and having a space to feel safe and connected with one another.


Can you speak more about your role with Trails BC and what it means to you?



I am not an Indigenous Health Researcher, however my role as Indigenous Engagement Manager for Trails BC is directly related to community and individual wellness. More often, in the mainstream, health is measured using a variety of health indicators that do not always reflect Indigenous wellness indicators. Holistic well-being in our community includes mental, emotional, spiritual and physical factors. On a community level, we consider the abundance of language speakers as an indicator of wellness. Handing down our traditional stories and traditional knowledge impacts our wellbeing. Our Tmixw project touches on a balance of many of these factors.


Inviting our Indigenous community members to participate in the Tmixw Trails program may provide an opportunity for our youth to feel seen and heard and to ask questions related to the territory. Having Elders participate and feel safe and comfortable enough to share their stories, all of these things are vital to our community wellness.


Do you feel your upcoming events/work/ideas benefits community wellness? Or how do you envision it benefiting individuals and communities?



Land is what sustains us physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. A holistic vision of wellness includes activity and walking trails are a perfect setting. Values that support and uphold wellness include Respect, Wisdom, Responsibility and Relationships. The connecting factor is to include a diverse age group. By doing this work we hope to empower our youth to connect more with Elders and Knowledge Keepers from the community.


Can you explain the importance of these Trails events being ‘Indigenous only’ spaces?



Having a program that is only focused on Indigenous people creates a safe space for our youth, Elders, and other community members to be fully present with one another and to embrace our Indigenous roots. Where we are underrepresented or feel unwelcome it is unlikely that we will participate. Getting our community members on or off reserve and out onto trails they may not have explored before can provide a balance between physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellness.


Why are these trails projects important for Indigenous communities, collectives, and organizations / what benefit will these projects have to health and wellness?



Maintaining a healthy, balanced life as well as showing leadership through modelling wellness and healthy behaviours will be the take-away from out program.  We intend to create a program that will become a model/template we can us and implement it in other areas throughout BC.


Have you received funding to do this work? If so from where?



Yes, we are grateful for the generous support from the Stober Foundation.


Is there anything else you would like to share about your work?



Trails BC is also working on a project called The Great Blue Heron way. It is a project to connect First Nation communities with active transportation routes for safe and accessible transportation for people from these communities along with people who have disabilities and others, as well as people who may not have access to vehicles or are not able to afford other transportation.


In Metro Vancouver, Tsawwassen Elder Xwasteniya (Ruth) will lead the development of a First Nations vision for the Great Blue Heron Way working with the Indigenous youth we will hire to engage other First Nations. This will help re-establish traditional linkages between Coast Salish communities and reframe the lens of trails and active transportation to incorporate Indigenous perspectives and contemporary and historical understandings of the land.


What advice would you give other communities planning projects like yours?



Wellness starts with individuals who then influence their families, who then influence their communities, who in turn influence their regions. Outreach to your communities is key. Having collaborative group talks with the youth. Elder’s, leadership. Getting to feedback from your community will always help your project and build relationships. Make sure the communities you are working within are represented in your decision-making process. Cultural safety is an outcome based on respectful engagement that recognizes and strives to address power imbalances inherent in the many mainstream systems. Ensure your environment is free of racism and discrimination. Respect is about honouring where we come from: our cultures, traditions, and ourselves. Wisdom includes knowledge of language, traditions, culture, and medicine. 


2021 Indigenous Graduate Student Research Showcase

NEW! BC NEIHR – IMNPN Publication

2021 Indigenous Graduate Student Research Showcase

On January 1, 2021, the BC NEIHR and IMN PN collaboratively launched this interdisciplinary Indigenous Graduate Student Research Showcase of papers focused on Indigenous wellness. For this special showcase, we invited Indigenous Masters and Doctoral students from British Columbia universities to submit their work.

We received six submissions that moved on to peer review. Those included submissions from the University of British Columbia, Royal Roads University, and Simon Fraser University.

Working closely with our Editor, Robline Davey, who is an Indigenous Doctoral student from SFU, students received one-on-one mentoring about how to properly format a submission for a peer reviewed publication. Robline’s position represents our practices of an Indigenous mentorship model, or cascading mentorship, in which she (a doctoral student) was provided the opportunity to gain experience as an Editor (with mentorship and support from the BC NEIHR operational team), as well as mentor more junior students in preparing manuscripts for publication.

The peer reviewers include six senior Indigenous doctoral students from BC as well as members of the Operational Team. Following an iterative process, the role of each reviewer was to provide comments and suggestions on the content as well as offer ways to strengthen written presentation of the work. Each submission was assessed by two reviewers.

This showcase provides a forum for BC Indigenous graduate researchers’ work and was an opportunity for them to receive peer mentorship and strengthen their writing skills. As well, the Editor and peer reviewers were provided with mentorship on how to review manuscripts from a strength-based, Indigenous perspective. 

To read the Showcase: Click here

Interview with Dr. Charlotte Loppie

Getting to Know Dr. Charlotte Loppie 

Interview date: May 17, 2021; Charlotte Loppie and Tara Erb

Location: Online BC NEIHR Information session (webinar)

Dr. Charlotte Loppie is a Professor of Public Health and Social Policy as the University of Victoria (UVic) and NPI of the BC NEIHR (British Columbia Network Environment for Indigenous Health Research), as well as Associate Dean of Research in the Faculty of Human and Social Development (UVic). Charlotte is a Mi’Kmaq/French Acadian scholar widely recognized for her meaningful engagement with Indigenous communities, supporting research capacity and tackling the health disparities faced by Indigenous peoples. 

Tara Erb:

Thank you, Charlotte, for joining us today.

Charlotte Loppie:

 You’re quite welcome (both laughing)

Tara Erb:

Charlotte, I was hoping to start with just you telling us a little bit more about what made you want to be a researcher.

Charlotte Loppie:

Yeah, so I just wanted to start off by saying, isn’t this awkward. Just, Tara has been trying to do an interview with me for months and months and I’ve been putting it off and so then she was like, Oh, we’re just gonna have like a social gathering and talk about the NEIHR and I was like, Sure, let’s do that. It’s just like no- I’m just gonna ask you all those questions that I’ve been trying to ask you for months. So that’s how I got roped into this, although it’s very lovely to see everyone and I’m happy to be here it seems so weird to just be interviewed in front of a bunch of people. And she said people wanted to know the answers to these questions- why anyone would be interested in, I’m not sure but I will answer them.

Yeah, so I never wanted to be a researcher. I was a single mom, with a grade 10 education that got a GED, and then ended up doing undergrad, and, and I liked it. And then someone said, why don’t you do a master’s degree and I was like, okay, and I really liked the research that I got to do. And then someone said, why don’t you do a PhD and I was like, alright, and then I got hooked because a group of Mi’kmaq women that I knew said, why don’t you do your research about us, because they knew I’d like research around menopause. And I was like, okay, and then I got invited to join a group called the Mi’kmaq Health Research Group which was community members and organizational leaders and some folks from Delhousie. I learned a lot about this back in 1998 – I learned a lot about from community about how to do this in a better way- like it was 22 years ago. So it wasn’t perfect (i.e., Indigenous health research)- and it’s still not- but it was better, they were suggesting better ways to do things.

And then I just kind of got hooked and said well I guess I’ll do this for a career. I think I finished my PhD when I was 45. So, and now I’m 46 So… (Laughs). I’m not 46. But yeah and so it was a very happy, collection of like people saying, why don’t you do this and me saying, yeah, okay, let me do that.

Tara Erb:

You’re always so modest Charlotte. (Laughter)

Charlotte Loppie:

Just being honest. (Smiles)

Tara Erb:

I’m sure you’ve had quite a few, but can you share maybe one or two milestone moments or highlights of your research career?

Charlotte Loppie:

Yeah, I can tell you what stands out for me every time someone asked me this. The group of women that I worked with that- so I have a long standing relationship with the Canadian Aboriginal Aids network- they contacted me back in 1999, they needed sort of a mentor for a couple of Indigenous students that were doing their graduate work. And I said, sure, and then they, we just started working together. At the beginning it was mostly them saying, can you do a workshop for us, can you help with this and I was always happy to help. And then a group of Indigenous women living with HIV approached me and said, no one is telling our story about why we are HIV positive, and how our lives led to this time and we want to tell our own story, and we want you to get the money, and lead the research and I was like okay And so we got the money, and it was called Our Search for Safe Spaces. It was them who wanted to tell the story about how sexual violence had played a role in their lives.

It was a very difficult study, it was really traumatic for most of us, but they wanted that part of their life- their life story told. Once that was completed, they were like, okay, so now we want to tell a story about how we’re well, how we’re healthy, in the context of living with HIV. So they said, get some money. So I got some money, about a million. Got it funded, and it was called Visioning Health. So, Indigenous women living with HIV across the country did research in ceremony with Elders, and they use the arts, whatever arts they wanted. We don’t have time for me to tell you about it right now, but it was the most heartwarming- relational, beautiful experience that I’ve ever had in research, because at the end of the project, even though it was a research project, asking women to talk about you know wellness and culture and gender and – and not about HIV and how hard it is on them. At the end of it, every single woman said, this was healing for me, this was like good medicine for me and it was for all of us. So a research project that was healing for people. You don’t get better than that.

Tara Erb:

Thanks. So we know research interests, research priorities, and the ways we do research change over time. Just in general can you share how you think Indigenous health research has changed over the years?

Charlotte Loppie:

It’s changed immensely. I mean there are some elements of it, like people who don’t have good intentions, people who are just building a career on the backs of whoever- that in some case hasn’t changed, you know, they exploit other people, right. So there are still people who are getting into the business of research, to build a career for themselves and they’re focused on themselves.

But as a general sort of research enterprise when I started in the ’90s, there were- I had no mentors. There was nobody talking about Indigenous research as like a ‘field of research’, as a methodology, until Linda Smith wrote that book in ’99. But you know, then the CIHR was created, and they created a an Institute for Indigenous or Aboriginal People’s Health. That was Jeff Reading, the guy I used to be married to- we’re still friends. But he fought for an Institute for Aboriginal people, because nobody wanted one. Trust me. And that changed the landscape, at least for health research in Canada for Indigenous peoples. Do we have a long way left to go? Will I be alive? I’m 62. Will I be alive to see it? No, but you folks might. Some of your kids or grandkids might see a time when Indigenous communities collectives, organizations are leading research. That we have data banks, bio-banks, research centers all across the country- that research is completely self determined.

I like I said, it’s changed a lot, but we have a long way to go, and so that’s why I like to see some young fresh faces in the crowd here. Not that everybody doesn’t look great, but some of you aren’t that young and, like me. And so, I’m just counting on all of you to pick up the bundle and keep moving with it.

Tara Erb:

And that’s a perfect segue. So thinking of where Indigenous health research has been, where it is now, and the future of it- you’ve said a couple of the things like bio-banks and our own data centers- do you want to touch a bit, go a bit more in-depth into that how you envision Indigenous health research in the future, as well tie in how the BC NEIHR fits into that?

Charlotte Loppie:

The BC NEIHR- just so folks who don’t know anything about it- is one of nine centers across the country that are funded to support Indigenous students through scholarships and fellowships,  fund Indigenous communities, collectives, organizations to do their own research, or to create opportunities for them to partner to develop their own research, to lead their own research, to share their own research. Then we have a bunch of things we call capacity bridging programs, not “development”, because Indigenous communities have tons of capacities right? Tons. It’s just that some folks haven’t worked in the area of research. So we ‘bridge’ the capacities people already have to the research context, right? I think it’s a bit disrespectful not to acknowledge that communities have lots of capacities and we have lots to learn from those communities. So, that’s our job. And so we’re starting that work, we’re developing that work, we’re trying to focus on cultural safety within research or anti-racism within research because the research enterprise can be very racist right? Like funding organizations that won’t allow communities to hold funds. You know, peer reviewers that look at grant applications and don’t know anything about Indigenous people or they have some racist ideas about Indigenous people. They don’t value Indigenous research. They don’t value the way we do research. Then there’s the research ethics boards, who also don’t know much. And so we’re trying to look at that all- and at researchers in general- but we’re trying to look at each of those environments and say, where can we intervene? As like as a network, as an organization, to clear the path so that Indigenous researchers don’t get harmed when they’re trying to do their work, and how can we lift or help to support Indigenous communities collectives, and organizations so that they can be self determining in the research enterprise? So they don’t always feel like, Oh, we’re just like an add on or people are just trying to partner with us to get something for themselves.

Right, and so I feel like networks, like the BC NEIHR- but there are others, and I hope that there will be many others- we say everything is health, but you know the social sciences, the physical sciences genome BC, there’s a lot of research enterprises out there that are still at like the year 1980 or something, are still like Indigenous research? What’s that? Why would we even think about Indigenous people- partnering with Indigenous people? or why that’s valuable?

So I think that one of the things that this network can do is a) all the stuff I just said, but b) maybe represent like a model or a template for other kinds of supports, networks- whatever we want to call it- in lots of different areas where we’re researching or searching for the answers to questions, searching for the most useful way to do things. Ways to benefit community. Right? There’s lots and lots of ways that we can do that, and we’re just like one little, little area.

Tara Erb:

Just a little pause, we do have with us today also Stephanie Day who does a lot of work with the NEIHR. And I thought Steph, if you could just also add to that question of how your role, what you’re doing in the NEIHR, how that is impacting the landscape of Indigenous Health Research?

Stephanie Day:

Yeah, sure. Hi, it’s really nice to see everyone here today, as Tara said my name is Steph Day from Haudenosaunee from Oneida Nation of the Thames and my mom’s side, and English and German on my dad’s side of the family. I am really grateful visitor here on the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ territories. So I work with the NEIHR as a community research liaison. Currently just in our first year of doing that, my goal has been to try to build as many relationships with Indigenous communities, collectives and organizations in BC as possible, get the word out there as to who we are and what we can do. And really, my role (and then the role of hopefully future Indigenous research facilitators within the NEIHR) will be to help with our own funding applications for Indigenous communities. So for the funds to go directly to communities to do the health research that they want to do. I can help with, you know the application process of that, or budgeting, or all those kind of things. I work with Tara, quite often in terms of making learning modules for topics that communities identify as helpful for them in their own research. Really, as Charlotte spoke to the capacity bridging, I’m kind of- I can serve as a little bridge. As in, okay you’re wanting some support in this area, let’s bridge some of the existing knowledge in that or what other communities have done that have been really helpful for particular health research areas you’re exploring. So that’s just a little snapshot into who I am and what I do, and it’s been a joy to work with the BC NEIHR so far.

Tara Erb:

Thanks, Steph. And if you visit our website there’s a little bio on Steph, as well as contact information if anyone wants to reach out to and connect with staff. So Charlotte I just have one last question, because I recently had a conversation with a representative from an Indigenous organization in BC, and one of the first questions they asked me, I thought you could elaborate on. You touched on that already a little bit. Currently, what are the discussions around how to support ICCOs (Indigenous communities, collectives and organizations) becoming independent leaders of their own research, and exactly how does that look like right now on the provincial and national scene? So, where is it at and what are people actually doing about that?

Charlotte Loppie:

Yeah, so for those folks that aren’t familiar, most health research- but not all of it- is funded through the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR). There’s three big funding organizations for research in Canada, one does the social sciences and humanities, one does all the physical like chemistry and engineering and biology and all that, and then CIHR is the health research – a collective of Institutes. The three together are called the Tri-Council. Only people who work at a what they call ‘eligible institution’, which means a hospital or a research center or a university, can hold the funds from those centers. Right, we can imagine that hamstrings communities a lot because then they are like beholden to whoever’s holding the money, right? You know, the person with the money usually has some power to make decisions. Well, we want to make sure that communities do have the power right? OCAP is about ownership, control, access and possession- so we feel like that has to relate to funds as well. So you can become an eligible institution, but it takes a really long time, like a year, and you have to go through tons of paperwork. I mentioned earlier, the Canadian Aboriginal Aids network, they are a large national network of AIDS Aboriginal Aid service organizations. And so, they applied, they went through the process, and they are now eligible to hold CIHR funds. So it’s doable. The great thing about the Institute for Indigenous Peoples Health (IIPH) is that it’s led by a amazing woman named Carrie Bourassa- an Indigenous woman- and she has made it her mission to support communities to become eligible. And one of the things that the NEIHR wants to do as well is we want to support people. So people like Stephanie, Tara, me, our whole operation, we can be helpful for those communities or collectives that want to become eligible hold their own funds. The other thing is that if you have a good relationship with a researcher, you can always arrange to have- you know, and we do this all the time- the researcher can get the money, right, and then they just block transfer to the community. There’s nothing saying that they can’t do that. So there are other ways if you don’t want to go through all the rigmarole of going through the process there. You know, that’s the thing about relationships, is if you have a good trusting relationship with researchers, there should be no reason why they can’t just transfer the funds over to communities and let communities take the lead in that way.

For more information about the BC NEIHR visit: www.uvic.ca/bcneihr or email: bcneihr@uvic.ca

Honouring our Realities, Reconnecting to Self, and Engaging with All Our Relations as Key to Overcoming Graduate School Slump

Post by Stephanie Day

The past year has been…so complex. Each person, family, community, and Nation will have their own unique experience of what the past year has been like and meant for them. From the many global challenges, injustices, and movements, to the smaller, more personal challenges that spurred existential fears and wonderings. All of these existential thoughts, experiences, and challenges all occurred during a pivotal point in my academic career – crunch time for completing a master’s degree and thesis. If I am being honest, there were months dispersed among the past year where very little work was accomplished; little inner work, schoolwork, and even paid work. I would sometimes feel numb to the raw intensity of what life was providing me during this time, passing the days with mindless television and constant pervasive thoughts and worry for loved ones. I would think of activities I could engage in that might support me to find my way back to myself and my schoolwork, but even those activities seemed to be too much. I have started finding my way back to myself through small daily steps, including: working out of an office (as opposed to my bedroom that I worked out of for one year), scheduling tasks into my calendar and making a commitment to try to stick to the schedule (although remaining easy on myself when I do not), attempting to go for walks in nature daily, and appreciating the birds singing, the ocean’s heartbeat, and the strength behind the crisp air that gives us life. When I honoured and acknowledged the weight of our current realities, began to process those realities, started to reconnect to myself, and started to relate again to all our relations, I found an open path inviting me back toward my thesis. Ceremonial honouring of the people, ancestors, and all relations that permeate that work has been special. Shifting my mindset from the Western standards and pressures to finish to one of respect, honour, reverence, reciprocity, responsibility, and gratitude has re-awakened my relationship to my thesis and those I have encountered throughout it. It is deeply motivating for me to remember the relationships I am accountable to, including those of the future generations. Each year I gain, I appreciate more and more how precious and fragile life, relationships, and all our relations are as we constantly seek to make meaning of our universe – at least to me, it feels a lot better to do it while honouring all our relations.

Stephanie Day works as a Community Research Liaison for the BC NEIHR. She is currently completing her Master’s in Counselling Psychology at the University of Victoria.

BC Indigenous Artist Margaret August Creates BC NEIHR Logo

We are very excited to announce that the BC NEIHR logo has been created! The logo design was created by Indigenous artist Margaret August. This is the story behind the image. The three Salmon in the logo represent our three key partners: First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), Métis Nation British Columbia (MNBC) and British Columbia Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres (BCAAFC). These community-led organizations are leading BC NEIHR health and wellness research initiatives across BC. This logo also represents the land and water-based practices of First Nations, Métis and Inuit. While traditions are connected to our diverse cultures, we acknowledge and celebrate our common and enduring relationships to the land and waters. Salmon represent a source of strength and wisdom; despite strong currents, they always return to the place of creation. Coming full circle, Salmon finish what they begin, bringing cycles to closure. 

Artist Margaret August is a Two-Spirited, Coast Salish artist from Shíshálh Nation. Margaret was born in 1983 in the traditional unceded WSÁNEĆ and lək̓ʷəŋən territories. This is also where she has been building her skills as a professional artist. Margaret’s work is inspired by her ancestral teachings and encounters with nature. Margaret originally began developing her artistic talents at an early age. She carried on with her visual art practice as she became an adult. Some of her artistic influences include renowned artists such as Susan Point, Mark Preston, and Butch Dick. Margaret has been showing work in group art shows since 2011, by taking the necessary time to grow as an artist while developing her own style, and in her business skills. In 2019, Margaret started working with further training under the guidance and mentorship of fellow Coast Salish Artist, Dylan Thomas to sharpen her skill set towards advancing the foundation in the nuances of Salish art design. This has led to creating art in multiple mediums such as serigraph/giclee prints, glass and cedar sandblasted pieces. Now, she is learning how to carve on wood. Margaret is committed to her art practice as she believes it is her life’s purpose.

For more info you can check Margaret out on Facebook, at Margaret August Art, or www.margaretaugust.com