Community-based participatory research: A tool to support empowerment of Aboriginal people
Indigenous people of Canada and elsewhere experience severe and systematic disempowerment with devastating health and social impacts. These are reflected in the staggering number of Aboriginal people in long-term care, such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, mental health inpatient and forensic mental health units in the judiciary system.
For the last two decades, most health policies addressing Aboriginal health promote initiatives based on empowerment principles. Empowerment is complex and can occur on multiple levels. In fact, empowerment can be described as:
- a value orientation: an ideology or philosophy that guides interventions;
- a process that promotes participation of people, organisations and communities towards the goals of increased individual and community control, political efficacy, improved quality of community life, and social justice;
- an objective: marginalized or oppressed individuals and groups gain greater control over their lives and environment, acquire valued resources and basic rights, and achieve important life goals and reduced societal marginalization.
Community-Based Participatory Action Research is an empowerment research strategy aimed at raising critical consciousness through people generating relevant knowledge in order to address the issues that are of priority concern to them. This implies that individuals are active participants who, together, identify their problems, evaluate the social and historical context within which these issues evolved, and develop strategies that will permit them to achieve their goals of improving their society. In this approach, people develop their own tools so they can act within their community. This “bottom-up” view is based first and foremost on the needs identified by the community and its members, and takes into account the community’s cultural practices. The researchers assume roles of peer facilitators to generate broader systemic frameworks for understanding given situations. These frameworks are then used to question the situation and identify alternate courses of action. From here, the process itself is spiralling as knowledge and understanding informs strategy development, followed by action, reflection and new understanding with ongoing change and improvement being the goal.
Project Mirerimowin is an example of this type of initiative using Community-Based Participatory Research to understand, address and improve well-being and foster empowerment in Aboriginal youth.