Indigenous Faculty of Health Sciences PhD candidate Krista Stelkia

SFU researcher to study role of racism on chronic disease among Indigenous people in Canada

June 21, 2018

By Phoebe Melvin

Indigenous people in Canada experience higher rates of chronic disease, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, than other Canadians – yet the role that racism plays in preventing and treating chronic disease is underexplored.

Faculty of Health Sciences PhD candidate Krista Stelkia plans to change this with her research.

Stelkia is of Syilx/Tlingit descent. She’s a member of the Osoyoos Indian Band in B.C.’s Southern Interior and has strong family connections to Tlingit/Tagish in Yukon Territory.

Her drive to complete this research for her PhD is not based on one specific story, but rather, is an accumulation of events that opened her eyes to how important it is to work in this area.

“I feel very driven,” says Stelkia, “toward conducting research that aims to address the issue of neglect and racism against Indigenous peoples in the health-care system, and it is a topic that First Nations communities have been asking for.”

As the recent recipient of the prestigious Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) Doctoral Award, Stelkia will receive funding for the next three years. This will allow her to focus on her research and will ensure she has ample time to engage First Nations communities in a meaningful way, right from the beginning.

The specific aim of the research is to examine how racism impacts chronic illness in First Nations communities through interviews with Indigenous people living with chronic health conditions, as well as analyzing data from two Canadian health surveys. The combination of approaches will help Stelkia tease out complex ways in which racism can influence the risk factors, disease prevalence, access to treatment and health outcomes.

The findings of this research will help identify gaps in health-care delivery, treatment and screening, which in turn can be used to inform the development of culturally safe interventions to improve health outcomes and the patient-oriented care journey.

“I am passionate about uncovering the stories and experiences of Indigenous peoples who have lived with and continue to live with the impacts of racism on their health and well-being” says Stelkia.

“I hope the findings from my research can directly contribute towards making progressive and transformative impacts on the health of First Nations in British Columbia and make way for  more culturally safe environments when accessing health care.

“Ultimately, I hope my research will contribute towards the advancement of health knowledge on the impacts of racism on health across Canada and around the world where Indigenous peoples' continue to struggle for social justice and to create a future that is free of racial discrimination.”

 Stelkia will be conducting her research under the supervision of SFU Faculty of Health Sciences professor and First Nations Health Authority Chair in Heart Health and Wellness Jeff Reading, in partnership with the I-HEART Centre, based at the Providence Health Care Research Institute at St. Paul’s Hospital, and First Nations community partner Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.