Decolonizing Birth Research: Indigenous Researchers, Clinicians, and Community Experts measuring respect, disrespect and mistreatment in Indigenous childbearing communities

Project Summary

The Decolonizing Birth Research project aims to explore the experiences of Indigenous families during pregnancy and childbirth, using participatory methods and measures that reflect the values and needs of the communities. The main objectives are:

  1. To identify and/or validate person-centered measures of respect, disrespect, racism and/or mistreatment as experienced by Indigenous families during pregnancy and childbirth
  2. To identify wise and decolonizing health research practices within the broader context of research that supports Indigenous self-determination


We are working with six communities (Okanagan, Haida Gwaii, Vancouver, Seabird Island, Port Hardy, and Cross Lake, Manitoba), in partnership with Community Leads who:

  • Coordinate local activities for every stage of this project
  • Engage Elders, Knowledge Keepers and community leaders to seek approvals and guidance
  • Define project goals and objectives
  • Develop culturally responsive and safe research methods
  • Facilitate community engagement and participate in data analysis, and reporting


Community members have been active participants and have been involved in defining research questions, methods of engagement, and interpretation of results. Through a patient-oriented approach, we were able to recognize and incorporate Indigenous methods and multiple ways of collecting information such as through talking circles, storytelling/journaling, online surveys, and individual interviews with the community leads, and/or trusted community leaders and Elders.

As a result, project results are more reflective, relevant and useful to specific community needs and priorities.

Project Findings

Our project showed that, to Decolonize Birth Research, researchers must plan for and respond to the three R’s: respect, reciprocity, and relationships.

In our project, to show respect, the research team acknowledged and recognized the Community’s priorities for learning and knowledge sharing. We decided to modify ways to conduct the research and change timelines in favor of urgent community needs, exercise patience, trust and accept that the work will get done when the Community is ready, not when the researcher needs it to be done.

Our work was reciprocal, in that we saw each Community Lead as the expert in the research process, while the PIs and research units provided the technical tools and information. We created a process and structure for the research plan for communities to define priorities and research objectives within a larger umbrella of “ways to measure experiences of respectful maternity care”.

Our relationships to each other, the Community Leads, and the communities were critical to the progression of this work. We learned that conducting research in good ways in Indigenous communities, with both Indigenous and settler researchers, means to center relational principles, such as humility, critical reflection, willingness to put aside our agendas; and engage in communication that is genuine, authentic, and transparent.


As a result, participants were able to identify measures and metrics that elicit their lived experience. Participants chose ways to share that did not re-traumatize, and prioritized measures that describe strengths-based models of care, including Indigenous midwives, doulas, and birth on sovereign lands.


We expect that, by the end of March 2022:

  • All six communities will have engaged in data collection
  • Three communities will have decided on and initiated their knowledge translation and mobilization plans
  • Communities will identify specific metrics and culturally safe ways of collecting data on respectful maternity care in Indigenous communities in BC
  • We will co-develop a roadmap and strategy for Indigenous communities to lead or meaningfully participate in maternity care research that promotes autonomy cultural safety, and decolonizes birth research

This project is part of the Patient-Centred Measurement Cluster.


Dr. Rachel Olson, Co-PI
Dr. Wanda Phillips-Beck, Co-PI
Elder Roberta Price
Dr. Saraswathi Vedam, Co-PI
Sandra Gosling
Laura Beer
Ali Tatum
Chloe Rickard
Lauren Redman
Rayann Big Plume Harris
Blanche Bell
Ashley Armstrong
Tia Felix
Sage Thomas
Nikki Fraser
Elisha Taylor-Child
Muriel Scott

Webinar | Centering Lived Experience & Expertise: Health Equity and Measurement

If you’re in a rush, check out these snack-size highlights:

How patient partners informed the Delphi process
Duration: 0:58

Patient engagement as empowerment
Duration: 0:58

Respectful engagement means flexibility
Duration: 1:14

Watch the full webinar:

Duration: 15:44