Early-career IMHR scientist secures major federal grant to study Indigenous health and wellness

Across the country, the physical and mental health inequities faced by Indigenous populations continue to be impacted by the intergenerational consequences of harmful colonization practices enforced by the Government of Canada.

Previous research has demonstrated, for example, that First Nations youth and adults living on-reserve who did not attend Residential Schools – but have parents or grandparents who did – experience higher rates of distress.

Despite what we know, there still remains a large gap in knowledge when it comes to the long-term health and wellness impacts of other collective traumas faced by Indigenous populations.

That is why better understanding these impacts is the focus of a new Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funded-study co-led by Dr. Robyn McQuaid (Principal Investigator), an early-career scientist at The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR) and one of the recipients of the Emerging Research Innovators in Mental Health (eRIMh) incubator program.

Together with Dr. Amy Bombay (Dalhousie University; member of the Rainy River First Nation), Dr. Cindy Blackstock (First Nations Child & Family Caring Society; member of the Gitksan First Nation), and Dr. Kimberly Matheson (IMHR and Carleton University’s joint Culture and Gender Mental Health Research Chair), Dr. McQuaid and the team will use the just-awarded $508,726 in grant funding to better understand the risk factors of child welfare involvement within Indigenous communities, and the long-term impacts of the Sixties Scoop and the child welfare system on Indigenous health and wellness.

"During the Sixties Scoop, large numbers of children and youth were removed from their families -- and the practice of taking Indigenous children and youth from their families and communities still continues today." - Dr. Robyn McQuaid

Currently, Indigenous children account for 52.2% of all children in foster care, while representing only 7.7% of children under the age of 14 in Canada.

“Family units and connections to Indigenous culture have and continue to be impacted by this harmful practice – so we need a better understanding of the long-term outcomes in order to effectively nudge forward policy changes related to child welfare practices, and ultimately help to identify healing opportunities for Indigenous peoples who have been affected.”

The research team plans to work with large national survey data to examine the individual-level and community-level factors associated with child welfare system involvement and their impacts on health. The team will also work closely with the 60's Scoop Legacy of Canada, a non-profit organization focused on healing and wellness for Sixties Scoop Survivors, to examine the direct and intergenerational impacts of the loss of culture and community on Indigenous health and wellness.

“The research that Dr. McQuaid and her team are pursuing in the area of Indigenous health and wellness has the potential to help significantly transform policy and care, and contributes to addressing and improving existing inequities within the mental health landscape,” says Dr. Florence Dzierszinski, IMHR interim COO and Director of Research Development and Partnerships.

“Given the ongoing funding challenges and growing competition for grants within the current research environment, it is a particularly significant accomplishment that Dr. McQuaid has secured this major grant so early on in her career.”

Dr. McQuaid says that she largely credits her Indigenous partners, as well as IMHR’s internal peer review process, for the success of this grant.

About Dr. Robyn McQuaid

Dr. Robyn McQuaid is an early-career scientist at The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR), whose work explores how adverse experiences interact with biological factors to impact mental health. A key feature of her research is to take a personalized approach to understanding mental health disorders by considering gender, culture, and environmental experiences. Dr. McQuaid is also one of the recipients of the Emerging Research Innovators in Mental Health (eRIMh) incubator program.

About the CIHR

As the Government of Canada's health research investment agency, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) supports excellence across all four pillars of health research: biomedical; clinical; health systems services; and population health.

Created in 2000 under the authority of the CIHR Act, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada’s health research investment agency. CIHR’s mandate is to “excel, according to internationally accepted standards of scientific excellence, in the creation of new knowledge and its translation into improved health for Canadians, more effective health services and products and a strengthened Canadian health care system."

The CIHR Project grants Spring 2019 competition funded a total of 382 grants, plus an additional 21 bridge grants, for a total investment of approximately $275 million into research. Out of the 373 individual principal investigators in this competition, Dr. McQuaid was one out of only 85 early-career researchers to receive funding.

Click here to view the full results of the CIHR’s Spring 2019 competition