Research Ethics and Well Living House Governance

Aspēýimisoh (Self-reliance):


The Well Living House will be governed using two accountability routes: one to St. Michael’s Hospital and the other to the Indigenous communities through the Counsel of Grandparents.

The Dish with One Spoon*

Historically, treaties designed by Indigenous peoples in North America were created as mutually beneficial agreements between one another. The ‘Dish with One Spoon’ was one of the most common of these international treaties. It was designed to create peaceful hunting conditions for nations in close proximity to each other.

Described as ‘one-dish alliances,’ these treaties identified a specific area of territory to be held in common. Just as family members ate from ‘one dish,’ so too would nations eat from one common hunting ground. Through one-dish alliances, two nations agreed to share the same hunting territory without conflicts over land and its resources. Wampum belts were crafted and these belts were symbols of these agreements.

The concept of ‘Dish with One Spoon’ is still relevant in contemporary culture with all the nations across Turtle Island; First Nations continue to use a ‘one-dish protocol’ and request permission from their First Nations neighbors to hunt, fish and trap on their lands. The protocol also allows food and medicines to be harvested, and grants the right to travel across the lands.

The ‘Dish with One Spoon’ protocol can be used by the Well Living House and St. Michael’s Hospital. Each entity has accrued many experiential, cultural and professional resources that can be shared to ensure the successful transfer of knowledge about happy and healthy child, family and community living.

* Some of this text is adapted from the article: Switzer M. “One-dish concept predated European arrival”. Anishinabek News, December 2011.

Counsel of Grandparents*

The establishment and operation of the Well Living House is guided by a committee of Elders called the Counsel of Grandparents. This group has extremely high credibility and influence within and beyond Indigenous communities across Canada. This group will expand with time.

The Grandparents have agreed to serve the Well Living House as role models, strategists, teachers, knowledge keepers, advocates and supporters. A core function of the Counsel of Grandparents is to strongly root the Well Living House development and ongoing operations in Indigenous ways of knowing and doing. Indigenous knowledge will be shared both by oral tradition and example. The Grandparents will help the Well Living House to function in a way that provides individuals and communities with maximum benefits and protection from harm; establish and implement accountability processes and indicators; and promote respect and allegiances between all Indigenous peoples, regardless of externally imposed labels and political divisions.

* To underline our commitment to action, the Grandparents use the word ‘Counsel’ (verb) to describe themselves, rather than ‘Council’ (noun).

St. Michael’s Hospital

The Well Living House will be housed within the Centre for Research on Inner City Health (CRICH), part of the Keenan Research Centre in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. CRICH houses an interdisciplinary team of research experts committed to innovative, community-based research methods.

An Indigenous Health Research Unit, under the leadership of Dr. Janet Smylie, has successfully operated at CRICH over the last 5 years. It will be amalgamated into the Well Living House and will provide a solid base for growth. A core strength of the Unit has been the successful negotiation of dozens of research partnerships with Indigenous communities and organizations across Canada and around the world.

Research Ethics

Indigenous communities and organizations around the world have clearly articulated that Indigenous leadership and participation is central to successful and ethical research with Indigenous communities. Clearly articulated research governance agreements and protocols are therefore an important tool in the implementation of successful Indigenous community – academic research partnerships. Through the groundbreaking Memorandum of Understanding signed with St. Michael’s Hospital, the Well Living House is raising the bar of Indigenous research ethics and governance. This agreement will provide an additional high level of guarantee that all of the research done in the Well Living House will aspire to the very highest levels of Indigenous and western research ethics. This innovative model has the potential to service as an example for others working in this arena around the world.