Colonialism is the fundamental determinant of health and life chances for Indigenous peoples around the world (Greenwood et al., 2022). Institutions, like healthcare systems, are shaped by colonialism (McCallum and Perry 2018). In Canada and the United States, Indigenous health research draws on deficit-based (Kovach 2014; Million 2013) and damage-centered (Tuck 2009) frameworks that pathologize Indigenous peoples, not colonial conditions that shape health outcomes. Such research generates non-Indigenous experts’ narratives about Indigenous peoples that prop up and legitimize anti-Indigenous ideas and practices in health policy and healthcare delivery. To date, scholars largely have not analyzed these critical elements of anti-Indigenous racism and health inequity (Kolopenuk, 2020). They need to. 

The leadership teams of the Indigenous Science, Technology, and Society Research and Training Program (Indigenous STS) at the University of Alberta (UofA) and the Science & Justice Research Center (SJRC) at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) propose to address increasing calls to support Indigenous peoples’ right to govern health research by developing the Critical Indigenous Health Studies Network (CIHSN). CIHSN will support the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s aligned goal to decolonize health systems. In line with leading Indigenous Studies scholars (and in the University of Alberta Indigenous Strategic Plan), we define decolonization as the restoration of Indigenous land, life, and relations appropriated or disrupted by colonialism. While no single project can undo the massive upheavals of colonialism, our project uses decolonial thinking and practice to guide us in our work to build and restore Indigenous expertise and leadership in, and governance of, health research.

Goals and Objectives

CIHSN aspires to 1) critically analyze and transform colonial systems of health and health research and the categories of life, race, sex, gender, indigeneity, and dis/ability that animate them; and 2) productively intervene against such dominant systems through Indigenous-led approaches. To pursue these aspirations, we have three project objectives:  

  1. We will renew and extend a network of researchers and practitioners involved in and dedicated to critical approaches to health research and healthcare delivery that centre Indigenous land, expertise, leadership, and governance. The resulting “ecosystem of relations” will prioritize building faculty-student and peer-to-peer mentorship that will produce career-long relationships among the participants in CIHSN.
  2. We will advance Indigenous health knowledge that moves beyond a reparative and deficit-based model of Indigeneity. We instead will build a Critical Indigenous Health Studies approach based in critical Indigenous theory (Moreton-Robinson, 2016; Byrd, 2011), operationalized through Indigenous methodologies, and connected to the defense of Indigenous relations with/in/of territory.
  3. We will translate our training innovations and methodological insights/research into health policy and education. By creating syllabi and curriculum products, we will help develop a renewed perspective and skillset in tomorrow’s health decision-makers

To achieve these objectives, we will engage decolonial approaches to research, training, clinical practice, and policy-making to rethink the meaning of health/disease productively, health equity/disparity, and power/resistance in the aforementioned domains. We also partner across disciplines, institutions, sectors, knowledge systems, and territories. Thinking with others who have both different and shared experiences and commitments invites relational and applied approaches to address challenges facing systems of health and their determinants. We can learn from productive differences in conceptual and disciplinary approaches between the Science & Justice and Indigenous STS programs. In what ways do our distinctive analytics, methods, and overall approaches enable and constrain us to achieve our goals? How can we combine lessons learned from each program to strengthen our collective approach to Indigenous health research and training?


The Critical Indigenous Health Studies Network is made possible though a generous grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and CAF America.