CERAH researcher wins Aboriginal Leadership Award

Holly is an Aboriginal health researcher based at the Centre for Education and Research on Aging and Health (CERAH), Lakehead University.  Holly’s research over the past 12 years, conducted in partnership with First Nations’ communities across Northwestern Ontario, has advanced access to quality palliative care for people living and dying in First Nations communities. In 2011 Holly and the project received the first Lakehead University Aboriginal Partnership Award for the partnership with Dilico Anishinabek Family Care and the Kenora Chiefs Advisory.

Holly is currently a co-investigator (researcher) and the Project Manager of the Improving End- of-Life Care in First Nations (EOLFN) research which was funded at 1.9 million dollars by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (2010-2013).  For further information on the research please visit the project website http://www.eolfn.lakeheadu.ca.  In particular see the 6 minute video entitled "The Power to Choose" on the home page.

As part of the nomination package, nominator Dr. May Lou Kelley, was asked to provide examples of how Holly has exhibited extraordinary leadership.  An excerpt from the nomination package follows:

"The story of Holly’s research career began in 2003 when Holly, at that time an Master of Social Work student, visited me in my office. I was an established researcher in palliative care and Holly asked if I would supervise her to do a research project that focused on understanding the palliative care needs of First Nations people. Holly, an Anishinabekwe and member of the Red Rock Indian band, had recently lost a friend to cancer and she was passionate about the importance of First Nations people knowing about palliative care and having access to quality palliative care services.

Holly’s request began a 10-year journey that has led us to conduct a national program of research that is ground breaking not only in Canada but also internationally. When our research began in 2003 there was no Canadian research on palliative care for First Nations and standard research methodologies for conducting health research were being challenged as culturally inappropriate for use in Indigenous research. Particularly lacking were Aboriginal health researchers such as Holly to take research leadership.

Over the last 12 years, Holly has effectively forged collaborations with First Nations communities and researchers and implemented community-based participatory action research methodologies. Findings have included Indigenous understandings of palliative and end-of-life care and practical tools and resources to support community capacity development in First Nations communities. Holly’s research is always guided by the ethical principles of OCAP (Ownership, Control, Access and Possession).

Creation of partnerships and genuine collaborations with First Nations communities and organizations is the foundation of Holly’s work. The current CIHR project (2010-2015) has supported local community capacity development within four First Nations communities from Ontario and Manitoba: Fort William First Nation, Naotkamegwanning First Nation, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory; and Peguis First Nation. These First Nations communities have developed palliative care programs for their community members wishing to remain at home while living with a very serious life limiting or terminal illness. Local project advisory committees and community leads participate on the research management committee and other community members are hired as facilitators in each community. These facilitators have been to Lakehead University every year to be trained by Holly in data collection and research methods. First Nations community members have also presented their own community research findings at regional, provincial and national conferences, supported by the project funding.

There have been practical outcomes to Holly’s research that benefit the First Nations communities involved. Each of the four partnering First Nation communities, two in Northwestern Ontario, have designed a local palliative care program to meet unique community need. Learnings generated from each community’s experience are being compiled into a workbook that will be accompanied by resources to be shared with all First Nations communities who wish to follow the process developed through the research. These resources are all available, at no cost, on the project website. New partnerships have been forged with provincial health services to enhance care.

The research has also made a national impact. The project created a framework to guide policy and practice that has been widely shared with groups such as the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, the Assembly of First Nations, the Chiefs of Ontario, the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (national) and the Local Health Integration Networks. In November 2014 in Thunder Bay, Holly convened a meeting of 25 Aboriginal health stakeholders from Northwestern Ontario to meet with federal MP Charlie Angus. Mr. Angus has initiated and gained preliminary federal government support for his private members bill that would develop a Pan Canadian Palliative Care Strategy. The goal of Holly’s meeting was to have Mr. Angus hear directly about the unique needs and circumstances of First Nations communities in relation to palliative care.

To proactively share the project activities and results with all interested parties, Holly facilitates quarterly meetings of an Improving End-of-Life Care in First Nations Alliance. This Alliance has over 100 members committed to improving palliative care for First Nations and includes stakeholders from federal and provincial government departments, palliative and cancer care experts and organizations, Aboriginal health and First Nations political organizations and individual First Nations communities.

In large part due to Holly’s leadership, Lakehead University has become recognized as the ground breaking university in Canada for creating new knowledge in Palliative Care for First Nations communities. In the last 12 years her research has been funded by Public Health Agency of Canada, the Northwestern Ontario Regional Cancer Foundation, the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care, the First Nation and Inuit Health Branch Regional Office, the Northwest Local Health Integration Network, and most recently the Canadian Institutes of Health Research."

Congratulations, Holly!!

Please visit the Influential Women of Northern Ontario to read Holly's Story (click here).