Change has just begun for Indigenous peoples in recent years. It has been only 34 years, for example, since Aboriginal people in Canada challenged the Federal government to enshrine Aboriginal, Métis and Treaty rights in the 1982 Canadian Constitutional document. This provided the foundation for the first step in the struggle to assert Aboriginal Justice Rights — the inception of the first Native owned and controlled justice program in Canada. Later, as a result of action taken by Native parents in the early 1970s, a policy statement was created that allowed First Nations peoples to administer their own schools, which has evolved to include urban Aboriginal schools as well. In the same time frame, Native people were lobbying for the development of cultural health-based programs such as treatment centres. In Australia, New Zealand and the United States similar changes, as a result of sometimes radical social movements, were occurring. Canadian Aboriginal people, like many Indigenous peoples globally, have only begun a process of reclamation and healing, which includes retaining (and sometimes gaining) control over different areas of their lives, a development often referred to as self-determination. Asserting our voice has been a matter of cultural survival; for many, a matter of life and death.
While research has always been part of the traditional way of knowing in Aboriginal societies, bringing the western and Aboriginal research traditions together is proving to be the next challenge Aboriginal people face. An activity that has been kept hidden away either at the university or behind government doors, surrounded by an almost mystic veil, the western research process is now becoming more accessible for at least some of the world’s Indigenous people. Many Indigenous leaders and scholars understand that an important component in creating policy and systemic change lies in their participation in research processes. In fact, the need for Indigenous communities to engage in their own research processes, find their own solutions to health issues and retain control of Indigenous knowledge is so essential that peoples globally are now discussing how best to accomplish this. The most common approach for collaborative health research is Participatory Action Research (PAR), which engages community members and researchers in the research process for the purposes of empowerment and systematic change.
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