University of Saskatchewan

September 18, 2014   

PhD student joins tradition and western science in health research

June 29, 2005

By David Hutton
Research Communications

 U of S PhD Student Links Aboriginal Tradition and Western Science in Health Research

University of Saskatchewan PhD student Sue Wilson Cheechoo is working to build a partnership between her own First Nation community near Moose Factory on the shore of Hudson's Bay and Western scientists to help solve environmental challenges.

"The people of the Moose Cree First Nations (MCFN) are interested in exploring how their knowledge can be complemented by Western science to identify environmental factors that may be contributing to a decline in the health of their people," said Wilson Cheechoo, a student in community health and epidemiology.

She has received a $10,000 Northern Resident Scholarship from the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies (ACUNS). She and a U of S team of toxicology scientists will try to identify environmental factors that may adversely affect community health by combining traditional and Western knowledge systems. They will gather stories from MCFN members and examine them from the perspective of indigenous culture and toxicology (Western science).

Industrial society's environmental fallout - from global warming to PCBs - shows up in northern communities far from population centres.

"Many northern indigenous peoples have a close relationship to the land that makes them highly susceptible to environmental impacts."

Backed by a fellowship with the Indigenous Peoples Health Research Centre, Wilson Cheechoo is both a member of the MCFN community and the academic team. She views herself as a middle person who helps bridge the two worlds.

"I believe this is an integral role with historical and traditional roots that may become further recognized, appreciated, and utilized in future research with indigenous peoples," she says.

There are few research projects in Canada where an indigenous community has guided toxicology studies this way.

"The design of the project reflects what I call reciprocity in research," she says. "The project recognizes and incorporates two knowledge systems to provide guidance for a research area that is traditionally dominated by science."

Geography professor Alec Aitken, chair of the Canadian Northern Studies

Trust which provided the scholarship, says Wilson Cheechoo's award is "further proof of the vigour of northern research currently being conducted on the U of S campus and provides with us an opportunity to celebrate the success of an Aboriginal woman in the health sciences."

For Wilson Cheechoo, research and family go hand in hand.

"My education is a family affair," says the married mother of six. "The impacts of this research will be felt amongst my family, friends, and neighbours. It is a project that will require much trust and respect from all partners."

Wilson Cheechoo credits her success to her family, who have played a major support role thus far.

"We have all ridden through the ups and downs of my studies over the years," she says. "While they understand the value of education, they also understand how these pursuits need to be in line with the values of our family."

Her husband, Dale, from the Mushkegowuk Territory in Northern Ontario has been accepted into pre-medical studies at the U of S.

Today is National Aboriginal Day which was proclaimed in 1996 to acknowledge and celebrate the unique heritage, cultures and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

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For more information, call

David Hutton
Research Communications
University of Saskatchewan
(306) 966-6490

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