Orange Shirt Day 2022 by Laura James

Indigenous Research Stories

Discover the brilliance of Indigenous faculty and staff at the University of Calgary through our Indigenous Stories Hub. Unveil captivating narratives, insightful perspectives, and groundbreaking achievements as we showcase the incredible work driving innovation and change within our community. Join us in celebrating the rich tapestry of Indigenous knowledge and contributions that shape our past, present, and future.

Photo of Elisa Vandenborn

Elisa Vandenborn

Elisa Vandenborn is an Assistant Professor and community-based researcher in Counselling Psychology within the Werklund School of Education. She is also the Director of the Apoema Research Circle, an international and interdisciplinary research group devoted to liberation and decolonizing psychology and social justice. She is originally from Brazil and has been living in Canada for the past twenty years. Elisa did her education at Simon Fraser University and started working with UCalgary in 2018 in Educational Psychology.

Elisa had a sense of loss and displacement from her being away from her home country upon moving to Canada. While studying for her BA in Psychology, she experienced how individualistic counselling psychology was. This realization led her to community- driven spaces. This coincided with learning about Indigenous cultures in Canada and Indigenous history with the Canadian government. Elisa found similarities in the economic disparities and injustices that many Indigenous people face with the societal realities faced in Brazil. She noticed the inhumane ways Indigenous peoples and children in the foster system were being treated.  Elisa felt compelled to work with Indigenous communities on creating opportunities for the communities to thrive with control over child welfare systems. 

Elisa’s proud to be doing work side by side with communities and knowing that the research is for the benefit of the community. It’s not something that happens often in academic research as communities are often looked at as sites of concern rather than sources of wisdom, strength, and capacity to lead their own vision. 

Her research centers on the connection between mental health and child welfare, with a focus on strength-based initiatives that build capacity in Indigenous communities, through Indigenous systems and self-determination. Much of Elisa’s work is a critique of western systems which set up Indigenous families to fail and provide them limited supports to succeed. Elisa turned to community-led Indigenous models of child welfare and has worked with the largest urban Indigenous community organization in Manitoba, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre. Ma Mawi makes arrangements with Child and Family Services to support Indigenous families thrive. The organization’s family reunification program helps these families reconnect to themselves, their culture and reunify the family. Comparably, 94% of families are reunified by Ma Mawi to about 15% of families in CFS being reunified. The organization also works with Indigenous communities and reserves on building mental health programs to prevent children going into care. Elisa is grateful to be involved in the work with the organization and witnessing Welcome Home Ceremonies in communities for families that have been reunified. 

Elisa’s most recent research is funded by the CIHR Healthy Youth Catalyst Grant. She works closely with Derek Courchene (Sagkeeng First Nation- Treaty 1) who created the Trauma-Informed Care and Practice Program (TICPP). TICPP is a community capacity-building program that adopts an Indigenous lens and experiential practices to unpack issues that impact Indigenous wellness. The project aims to conceptualize how the program originally designed for adults can be adapted to provide culturally safe and relevant mental health and wellness services to Indigenous youth.  The project involves Saint Theresa Point First Nation (Cree) and Pine Creek First Nation (Anishinaabe). In addition to working side-by-side with youth in the communities, she also sees the importance in working with Indigenous grad students, and has four on her research team at Apoema Research Circle. Elisa also sits on the Conjoint Faculties Research Ethics Board, as an advisor and reviewer on community-based and Indigenous research files.    

When asked about what barriers Elisa has noticed with Indigenous research, she explains that she has seen a lot of improvement and having such amazing leadership in that regard such as the Vice-Provost Indigenous Engagement Office and the Werklund School of Education Elders Guidance Circle that helps advocate for Indigenous culture and provides access to education. The Indigenous Research Support Team has been a great support to her research as well. Elisa finds that one of the barriers in Indigenous research is that many people think they are doing well by Indigenous research but are still married to Western frameworks. She believes that it goes further than academics, the structures that adjudicate Indigenous research rely heavily on Western systems. A parallel path between Western and Indigenous knowledge systems needs to be honoured regarding assessment and we are not there yet. The lack of education on Indigenous frameworks, particularly in community-based research, is a barrier to cultural shifts in measuring impact and the communal ethics of Indigenous and community-based research. More discussion within leadership would be valuable. Elisa recognizes Jennifer Godley, Chair of the Conjoint Faculties Research Ethics Board (CFREB), as an amazing champion that has pushed for structural changes to recognize Indigenous frameworks in their own right. The Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) is another huge support, but how much it is enacted is a different story; she sees much positive potential for good work when followed. Elisa thinks there is a lot of fear from non-Indigenous people of saying the wrong thing or letting go of ideas of expertise. She believes the way forward is to have the courage to enter spaces with curiosity, accepting that will be mistakes, having humility, and finding beauty in the unknown. 

Elisa shared her suggestions for improvements that could be made in research. She believes that having a strong Indigenous representation in ethics boards would be ideal or even an Indigenous ethics board that connects and shares ways of doing with the non-Indigenous boards. Elisa suggests having more support in terms of Indigenous grant writing would be beneficial. We need to be willing to have dialogue—not discussions—between the community and the University on Indigenous frameworks and ways we can engage in building knowledge and capacity. Dialogue must be accompanied by accountability mechanisms so we, as a University, can use our gifts to meet the aspirations of communities. All too often, we are asking already overburdened Indigenous communities, staff, and scholars to do the educating on decolonization and Indigenization. While engagement with Indigenous peoples is a mandatory step, it is incumbent upon all, especially non-Indigenous people, to do our homework, to learn and find ways we can use our platform and scholarship to amplify Indigenous voices and calls, and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples. We all have a lifelong part to play in redressing colonizing research and practice. 


Dr Melanie Kloetzel, an Associate Professor at UCalgary, holds a PhD in Dance Studies from the University of Roehampton, an MFA in Dance from the University of California at Riverside.

Melanie Kloetzel

Melanie Kloetzel (MFA, PhD) is a settler performance maker, scholar and educator based in Treaty 7 territory (Moh’kinsstis/Calgary). She is the Division Lead for Dance at the University of Calgary and the artistic director of kloetzel&co., a dance theatre company that began in Lenapehoking/New York City in 1997. She is also co-director of the climate arts and justice collective TRAction  Her areas of research include place-based performance, climate art, and the intersection of interdisciplinary arts and climate justice. 

TRAction was launched in 2019 and, over the past five years, has focused on engaging communities in art-making to address issues of climate justice. TRAction’s projects emerge from and/or are informed by their close relationship with a group of Indigenous artists and knowledge keepers. TRAction’s Indigenous Advisory Council includes Chantal Stormsong Chagnon, Cole Alvis, Sandra Lamouche, Starr Muranko and Jacob Crane.

TRAction’s other co-director is Kevin Jesuino, who is a first-generation settler multi-disciplinary performer, performing arts educator, movement coach, arts facilitator, LGBTQ+ activist, and community organizer of Portuguese heritage. The members of TRAction’s Indigenous Advisory Council include: Chantal Stormsong Chagnon is a Cree/Métis Singer, Drummer, Artist, Storyteller, Actor, Educator, Workshop Facilitator, Social Justice Advocate and Activist, and owner of Cree8 Traditional art and Teachings with roots in Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, Saskatchewan. Sandra Lamouche is a Nehiyaw Iskwew (Cree Woman) from the Bigstone Cree Nation in Northern Alberta and is a multidisciplinary creator, artist, writer and storyteller, a Champion Hoop Dancer, an award winning Indigenous Educational Leader, and a two-time TEDx Speaker with over 15 years of dance experience. Starr Muranko is a dancer/choreographer, Mother and Co-Artistic Director with ​Raven Spirit Dance and has toured across Canada and internationally and trained under the guidance and mentorship of the late Elder Margaret Harris. Cole Alvisis a 2 Spirit theatre artist based in Tkarón:to with Métis-Chippewa, Irish and English heritage. They are a leader of LemonTree creations, Manidoons collective and AdHoc Assembly. Jacob Crane is a citizen of the Tsuut’ina Nation and is an Executive Director for the SLC Air Protectors and co-founded and runs a media production company called The Arrow’s Journey. 

Over the past few years, Melanie, Kevin and the Indigenous advisory council have been meeting with one another regarding TRAction’s projects. From these discussions, they realized that it might be helpful to share the learning from such meetings with the wider arts community. Working with four community connectors (Flora Aldridge, Mayumi Lashbrook, Nicole Schafenacker and Jen Yakamovich) from the Climate Art Web (another of TRAction’s projects, co-created with Chantal Chagnon), the group developed, co-wrote and launched the  Decolonial Toolkit for Climate Artists in November of 2023. 

The Decolonial Toolkit is a document that addresses the intersection of colonialism, climate change and the arts. More specifically, the Toolkit aims to help artists consider their own cultural conditioning, confront the inseparability of colonialism and climate change, and develop a decolonial foundation for both the climate art field, and the arts sector more broadly. It outlines twelve guidelines that aim to help artists understand how they can act as allies in decolonization and climate justice. 

Melanie expressed that one of the special aspects of the Decolonial Toolkit is that the guidelines can be directly applied to the work of artists focusing on addressing climate issues. As one example, the Toolkit counsels artists to conceive of their project with Indigenous knowledge keepers and individuals, rather than bringing them in ‘after the fact; likewise, the Toolkit offers significant additional resources to help individual decolonizing journeys.

In conjuction with the creation of the Decolonial Toolkit, Melanie has been collaborating with Cree artist Sandra Lamouche on the Just Breathe, Okâwîmâwaskiy performance project. This project takes participants on an immersive journey that encourages them to consider more deeply the connections between climate change, capitalism and colonialism. The participants’ physical involvement in the journey creates an opportunity to experience the anxiety associated with the climate crisis, while also witnessing solutions that stem from Indigenous worldviews

Inspired by a video, ‘Stewardess of the Land’, which was created by Sandra for TRAction’s social media project 10 Ways to Fix the Planet, Just Breathe, Okâwîmâwaskiy concludes with a discussion session with a trained psychologist where participants can process the immersive experience. With support from a Catalyzing Climate Action grant and the Canada Council for the Arts, Sandra and Melanie will be continuing the Just Breathe, Okâwîmâwaskiy project, including creating a video experience so more people have the opportunity to engage with the project. 

The Just Breathe, Okâwîmâwaskiy project has deep roots within the Toolkit, with Melanie and Sandra consistently considering how to apply the Toolkit in their working relationship. Other Indigenous-settler collaborations across the country are also putting the Toolkit into practice. One of these includes Yukon-based Gwaandak Theatre and settler theatre artist Nicole Schafenacker, who are involved in a joint project with Melanie and Sandra to assess the Toolkit in practice. These projects have led to a new project where TRAction and members of the Indigenous Advisory Council have joined to create a learning modality associated with the Toolkit; this is expected to launch in 2025.

Dr. Pamela Roach

Dr. Pamela Roach is an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Family Medicine and Community Health Sciences, serves as the Research Director of Indigenous Engagement in the VPR Office at UCalgary, and is a citizen of the Métis Nation of Alberta.

Pamela Roach

The Indigenous Research Support Team is honoured to feature the work of Dr. Pamela Roach. Dr. Pamela Roach is an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Family Medicine and Community Health Sciences, serves as the Research Director of Indigenous Engagement in the VPR Office at UCalgary, and is a citizen of the Métis Nation of Alberta. Dr. Roach is also the Associate Director, Population Health for the O’Brien Institute for Public Health. She holds a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Health Systems Safety with a focus on dementia and brain health. Her program of research examines the intersection of health services, policy, and upstream determinants of health to improve the health of individuals and populations. Pamela earned a BSc in Primatology during her undergraduate program at UCalgary and earned her PhD in Medical and Human Science at the University of Manchester. Pamela has always worked in community-based research. Her interest in mental health patient and family-centred care research began when she was working with postpartum women experiencing addictions. She then started to work with people experiencing mental health conditions who were being diverted out of the justice system. Mental health, at the time, had a great need for support and Dr. Roach felt called to help. Pam worked internationally for a few years during her time with the National Health Service (NHS) and as a research assistant at the University of Manchester in the UK. Pamela found that dementia care was underserved and started working with younger families struggling to access dementia care. She has been working with people living with dementia for about 20 years, and when she came back to Canada, she began working to help her own community with Indigenous dementia care. Today, she also responds to community-identified priorities in health research. She had initially connected with the Indigenous Research Support Team (IRST) when it was first formed in 2019. She states, “The fact that we have IRST, is remarkable.” Pamela facilitates faculty development and finds that people are expressing a need for communication and connection and having a group of people that can support Indigenous serving researchers help the communities is very beneficial. The Indigenous Community of Practice was designed to provide a space for Indigenous researchers and Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and community members to communicate and connect about the research they are involved in and to discuss achievements or barriers they are experiencing in Indigenous research. Recently, Pamela has been focusing on a few different research projects. She has been working on a project that focuses on Indigenous-centered approaches to dementia care. Pamela has also been working on Faculty development strategies for the Cumming School of Medicine in efforts to build competency in system change and the ability to work in ethical ways in Indigenous health research. Indigenous research at UCalgary has new supports and has improved immensely over the past decade although, these research projects can still face barriers. Pamela explains that the number of Indigenous faculty has grown along with the interest in Indigenous-led research and people are working to learn what that means to do ethical Indigenous research and how to advocate for it. She wants to remind people that there is room in research for everyone and that though there is fear of doing Indigenous research wrong, there is a willing and able body of support people. Pamela hopes that researchers engaging in Indigenous research learn how to engage ethically from the start - including the importance of relationship building, practicing ethical research, following timelines, ensuring that budgets are present for honoraria and the consideration of how these aspects differ from non-Indigenous research. The Indigenous Research Support Team is designed to offer support to researchers through all of these aspects of Indigenous research and encourage researchers to reach out when they begin the research process to ensure that no steps are overlooked.
Norma Jeremick'ca Gresl at the Campfire Chats: A Celebration of Indigenous Music 2023

Norma Jeremick'ca Gresl at the Campfire Chats: A Celebration of Indigenous Music 2023

Riley Brandt

Norma Jeremick’ca Gresl

Norma Jeremick’ca Gresl is Tli Cho, Dene from WhaTi, NWT. Her employment history spans over 20+ years, working primarily with Indigenous people in various capacities such as educating them on financial security, securing employment, recognizing the importance of adult education, and apprenticeship training support. Norma joined the Office of Indigenous Engagement at the University of Calgary earlier this year. Her role as Manager of Community Outreach and Program Development supports Faculties and Units in their work to address specific recommendations noted in the ii’taa’poh’to’p strategy related to academic program development. Through building relationships with Indigenous communities, she seeks to identify what type of supports the University of Calgary can offer and what programs can be developed, enhanced, or modified to help foster a healthier relationship between the University and the Indigenous communities.

Norma also works to build Indigenous Community Partnerships on land-based learning and cultural programs with the Indigenous communities of Treaty 7 and surrounding areas. She has been meeting with staff and faculty members as well to understand what programs can be made for the University in partnership with the Indigenous community members. Norma has been making visits to cultural sites such as Blackfoot Crossing, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, and Writing-on-the-Stone to gather cultural knowledge and understanding for potential land-based programs.

In supporting other Units at the University, Norma is currently working on establishing an Indigenous student and scholar’s forum to discuss “what does sustainability mean to you from an Indigenous perspective.” Please keep an eye out for invitations to join in the collaborations.

When it comes to how research with Indigenous communities is conducted with the University of Calgary, Norma has highlighted more focus needs to be placed on the researchers themselves in identifying their positionality, and where they see themselves as they work towards reconciliation. From here, scholars should work on establishing a relationship between scholars, Indigenous people, and the Indigenous communities before engaging in research.

Norma acknowledges that once a researcher has a relationship with an Indigenous community, the scholar must practice reciprocity and cultural protocol specific to that community. Scholars should be able to identify their position in reconciliation and understand Indigenous ways of Knowing, Being and Connecting. More importantly, she advises scholars to be mindful of the approach and terminology that is being used throughout their relationships and through their community-based projects.

Norma appreciates the desire she sees in scholars and students to learn and understand the world of Indigenous peoples and being open to learning the truth of the Indigenous histories and how it has impacted Indigenous peoples and all Canadians. Her passion to shared in the various committees she either facilitates or participates in. She supports research areas, curriculum development and new programs that enhance Indigenous engagement and maintains the parallel path with the ii’taa’poh’to’p strategy.

The Office of Indigenous Engagement hosts: Revisiting the Spirit of ii’ taa’poh’to’p, a celebration honouring the continued journey towards reconciliation. Since its launch in 2017, the University UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy, ii’ taa’poh’to'p, continues to guide UCalgary on its path of transformation and communicates its commitment and responsibility for truth and reconciliation. November 2022 marks five years of transformation, indigenization and meaningful inter-cultural capacity building throughout th

Gerald Ratt at the Revisiting the Spirit of ii’ taa’poh’to’p celebration honouring the continued journey towards reconciliation.

Riley Brandt

Gerald Ratt

Gerald Ratt is Woodland Cree from Northern Saskatchewan, and is a member of the Lac La Ronge First Nation in Treaty 6 territory.  He is a child of a survivor of Indian Residential School, Two-Spirit, and his traditional Blackfoot name is ai'ssoo which translates to “warrior” which was gifted to him in ceremony from Blackfoot Elder Keith Chiefmoon of the Kainai Nation. Land and place are important to who he is. His cultural identity is his strength. As a lifelong learner Gerald is open to new experiences, knowledge, and challenges for self-improvement. Gerald is dedicated to working towards increasing recruitment and retention in higher education for Indigenous students and staff through cultural safety and meaningful reconciliation. He has lived and worked in Mexico, Ukraine, and Peru. He has 15 years’ experience working in the areas of justice, child and youth care, youth leadership, and higher education with personal knowledge of Indigenous worldviews, history, treaties, cultural protocols, working with Elders, ceremonies, the legacy of Indian Residential Schools, the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) 94 Calls to Action, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Gerald currently works at the University of Calgary as an Indigenous Intercultural Initiatives Specialist with the Office of Indigenous Engagement.  

Gerald is working on a few Indigenous research projects, one of which is completed and focuses on Achieving Indigenous Cultural Safety in Higher Education with perspectives from Indigenous staff, faculty, and students. Building culturally respectful relationships with Indigenous peoples and communities that are built on an ongoing basis of reciprocity is a highlight that Gerald found important from this project. Gerald is also working on a research project on understanding allyship through an Indigenous lens with Dr. Michael Hart, Dr Kerry Black, and Dr. Reg Crowshoe that identifies what it means to being a good relative and will include treaty seven traditional knowledge keepers and Elders. He is open to working with any Grad Students and Elders who are interested in this work. Gerald is also leading two new workshops that focus on intercultural capacity building on campus and are open to UCalgary staff, faculty, and students. One of the workshops that he is leading is the Anti-Indigenous Racism Workshop Series which is a four-module workshop aiming to address the barrier of racism for Indigenous peoples. The other workshop is the 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act which addresses the history of the Indian Act of 1876 through forced assimilation.  

In relation to Indigenous research, Gerald would like to see that post-secondary recognize the underrepresentation of Indigenous methodologies in research. Indigenous oral knowledge is parallel to western written knowledge, and this must be recognized and made accessible to the appropriate communities. Gerald also acknowledges the importance of keeping Elders, Indigenous Knowledge Keepers, and communities involved throughout the entire research project as well as afterwards. Gerald has also highlighted that ceremony has its own place within Indigenous research, projects have spirit and need ceremony to be carried out in a good way.  

Music has the power to influence social change and bring communities together. It can help us to navigate complex social issues and inspire healing, reconciliation and education. And for Dr. Craig Ginn, PhD, a Métis scholar and associate professor (teaching) in the Department of Classics and Religion, he hopes the music developed through his Animal Kinship Project (AKP) will provide open educational and motivational resources underscored by an exploration of human-animal connections and traditions. The AKP

Dr. Craig Ginn, PhD, Métis scholar and associate professor (teaching) in the Department of Classics and Religion

Riley Brandt

Craig Ginn

Craig is an Associate Professor (Teaching) at the University of Calgary in the Department of Classics and Religion and serves as the Director of the International Indigenous Studies Program. He has received seven awards since 2016. Craig has taught at the U of C since 2009 during which time he has taught a wide variety of courses including Jews, Christians and Muslims, Religious Perspectives of Death & the Afterlife, From Jesus to Christ, Bible as Literature, and Christianity in the Developing World. Recent courses he has developed include Religion in Popular Music and Indigenous Traditions and Worldviews. His current research interests include religion and music, the historical-comparative study of religion, and near-death experiences. He is active in interdisciplinary research also, serving as a Co-Investigator in a community-based study exploring links between health, spirituality, and wellbeing within the Métis Nation of Alberta – Region 3. Most recently, Craig has been working on multi-media projects including the Songs of Justice Project and the Animal Kinship Project. 

The Animal Kinship Project explores the presence of animals and their impact on humans. It is being presented as an album compilation of music videos and oral teachings. One of the many animals the project focuses on is the polar bear. Craig has a personal connection to the presence of polar bears as he grew up in Churchill, Ontario. He will also be presenting what he has compiled on polar bears at an interdisciplinary panel at U of C this fall. He will also be putting together a song focusing on Inuit sled dogs and social justice concerning the slaughter of Inuit sled dogs between 1950-1975. Craig has been working with Indigenous communities and working groups from the United States of America on Bison and their impact on humans. Craig will be sharing some of his work from this project at the Office of Indigenous Engagement’s Campfire Chats being held at Heritage Park on June 21st along with other artists. 

Dr. Caroline Tait

Dr. Caroline Tait, Professor for the Faculty of Social Work and the Cumming School of Medicine in the department of Community Health Sciences

Caroline Tait

Caroline Tait is Métis from MacDowall, Saskatchewan. She is trained as a medical anthropologist with research interests in addressing Indigenous health inequities and the advancement of social justice. She earned her MA at the University of California (Berkeley) and her PhD at McGill University. She has been a Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Fellow at Harvard and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at McGill. In 2004, Caroline returned to her home province of Saskatchewan to join the College of Arts and Science, University of Saskatchewan and the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre—a provincial collaborative involving First Nations University of Canada and the Universities of Regina and Saskatchewan. In 2012, Caroline became a faculty member of the Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan. In January 2023, she joined the Faculty of Social Work and the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary with a focus on Indigenous Health Equity and Inclusion.

Currently, Caroline’s primary research focus is Indigenous peoples and organ donation and transplantation. This is a field of research which is emerging in Indigenous health and for which Caroline has been a national and international leader.  Caroline is a member of the Canadian Donation and Transplantation Research Program (CDTRP) and, also founder of the First Nations and Métis Organ Donation and Transplantation Network and the International Indigenous Organ Donation and Transplantation Network.

 Caroline is also involved in research focused on Indigenous people living with mental illness who are incarcerated.  This work is in partnership with STR8 UP, a Saskatoon based organization that assists individuals who want to exit gang life. Currently Caroline is working on a case study of a young Indigenous man who committed suicide in early 2020 while incarcerated. This research seeks to honour him by giving voice to his life journey and by identifying and addressing risk factors that contribute to elevated rates of suicide among incarcerated Indigenous people.