C/O Feast Centre

The Silhouette: Please introduce yourselves.

Randy Jackson: I'm Randy Jackson. I'm an assistant professor in the school of social work with a cross-appointment in health, ageing and society and identify as Anishinaabe from Kettle and Stony Point First Nation.

Renée Masching: Hello, my name is Renee Masching. I work with [Canadian Aboriginal Aids Network]. I'm the director of research in this organization. I have bloodlines from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and also [am of] Irish descent. I was adopted and raised in a family of Eastern and Western European descent.

What do you do at the Feast Centre?

RM: It's a great honour and privilege. Randy and I co-direct the centre and that is based upon decades of experience working together. My role in the Feast Centre represents community voice on behalf of and with many others on our team and supporting the centre. As we structure the centre, we want to be really clear about bringing diverse perspectives to the centre and particularly ground ourselves in a community-based research perspective. My ‘community hat’ is a reflection of the organization, where I work and the membership base that I represent, but, of course, recognizing I also have roles and responsibilities in academia and, for example, Randy would have roles in community as well. 

RJ: To add to that, the Feast Centre is a five-year, close to $5 million undertaking that's looking to develop training opportunities for scholars and trainees and community members who wish to use Indigenous knowledge in their [sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections] research. For that, we work across the four pillars of health research, including clinical, epidemiology, basic science and the social sciences. We've developed a number of training opportunities and the centre of that would be our Learning Lodge Institute, hopefully drawing on land-based training opportunities for researchers. We're also developing a webinar series and a podcast series to go along with the Learning Institute. In addition to that, we offer grant opportunities for Feast Centre members who wish to be more focused on the kind of work that they're doing. So, we offer training grants to students across masters, PhD and postdoc. We offer training opportunities for undergraduate students to become involved and learn about Indigenous STBBI research. Just a whole range of things that we've been developing over the last year and a half or so.

How did you both get involved in and become inspired for the Feast Centre?

RJ: Well, the Feast Centre is really a two-decade-long collaboration between Renee and I working across 45+ different research projects over the last 18-20 years. So a lot of community-based expertise in this endeavour. Across those 45+ projects we did, we did a critical review on the way in which we were approaching research and I really wanted to share some of our knowledge around that. Knowledge for knowledge's sake is fine, but when you're in an Indigenous setting like we are, the development of it is a sacred pursuit. It's really about socially transforming society so that we're addressing disparities of health that Indigenous people experience because of structural disadvantages.

RM: Part of that vision is also recognizing the need for a response to STBBI that is meaningful and evidence-informed and it is also informed by the people who live every day in this reality. Both in the context of living with various infections, as well as the context of prevention work, so we're thinking of the researchers, the individuals, the healthcare practitioners and also, maybe a little bit self-serving, but we're really overworked. There is a lot of interest, and rightly so, in Indigenous health . . . but there's a very small cadre of people who are doing that work, particularly in the context of health and even narrower, in the context of STBBIs. So part of the vision of the Feast Centre is both to bring in new people and to recruit and encourage those who are involved in health research already to focus their attention and energy on Indigenous STBBI research. That's a combination of joining our fellow Indigenous scholars into the work, as well as working with our allies to do more to introduce and explain and understand how we would bring Indigenous ways of knowing and doing into research. This is so we can share the burden a bit and have confidence that good work and good research are proceeding as we understand it and as our team helps us to build that perspective. This also comes from a foundation of a response to HIV, particularly an activist response. I think an activist orientation and activist researcher orientation is exciting and necessary. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge, knowledge for the sake of understanding, for instance, the philosophy and theory of Indigenous research is really important. But, every day, I have to go back to our community of people living with HIV, to our organizations that are responding. If I'm standing in front of a group of people saying: "Well we've learned about what it's like to live with HIV, that's really interesting" — that's an absolutely inadequate presentation for people's lives. We're celebrating the lives of people who are with us, we're acknowledging the lives of people who have passed. Research has to have an impact because people's lives are on the line. What we're learning and doing and why we're doing it is because we want people to live well and live longer. We want people to be in a place where prevention is in place so that people aren't living with STBBI . . .  You know this matters, this is a commitment. We're really trying to make a difference in people's lives.

RJ: In addition to what Renee said, our centre draws on several sorts of methodological approaches, including decolonizing and Indigenous methodologies. But really, we're community-driven and that's really an important value that we try to articulate so community-identified concerns are really what drive the Feast Centre. We want a social transformation that positively addresses some of the disparities, issues that were identified by Indigenous communities themselves. We try to work from that perspective. The other perspective that I think is really, really important here is this idea of strengths. So there are enormous Indigenous cultural strengths that we want to foreground in the research that we do. It's that focus on strength that articulates a position you don't often hear in research literature about Indigenous people. That research that's being published overwhelmingly tends to focus on challenges and pathologies that Indigenous people are thought to live with, whereas we want to tell a fuller, greater picture about Indigenous people that focus on their strengths in the context of those challenges that they experience. We want to show that Indigenous culture is very efficacious in terms of helping people heal and live successful and productive lives. The responses to health disparities need to be grounded in Indigenous approaches and ways of being in the world.

What is your favourite memory of the Feast Centre?

RJ: What floats to the top of my mind right off the get-go here is the launch of the Feast Centre, which was about a year ago and you can watch the video on YouTube. We had a number of Indigenous artists participate along with us, a number of other people connected to the Feast Centre, the hope that they had for the Feast Centre. Renee and I talked in that video about how we orient ourselves to the Feast Centre and the work that we wanted to do.

RM: That was the first thing that came to mind. Running a major centre, running a major grant [and] working closely in partnership across distances and in COVID as we've tried to bring life to the Centre. The launch really culminated a lot of that passion and vision. The other side of that is we've stuck together and worked really hard and through hard times and through really exciting times.

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