Krista Stelkia is an an interdisciplinary Indigenous health researcher whose primary work involves investigating structural determinants of Indigenous peoples’ health and well-being

New FHS professor to lead on structural determinants of Indigenous health and advance Indigenous student mentorship

November 04, 2022

By: Sharon Mah

Dr. Krista Stelkia has joined the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) as an Assistant Professor. The SFU alumnus is already collaborating on several research projects with professors Jeff Reading, John O’Neil, Robert Hogg, and Scott Venners and is currently serving as interim co-director of the Centre for Collaborative Action on Indigenous Health Governance along with professor Jeff Reading.

“I'm excited to be establishing a research program at the Faculty of Health Sciences that focuses on excellence in Indigenous health research,” says Stelkia.

Stelkia also serves as a Principal Investigator on the British Columbia Network Environment for Indigenous Health Research (BC NEIHR) which is one of nine networks across Canada supporting Indigenous-led health research through capacity development, research and knowledge translation (KT).

As an interdisciplinary Indigenous health researcher whose primary work involves investigating structural determinants of Indigenous peoples’ health and well-being, Stelkia’s research examines the structural drivers, including social policies, that impact present day health inequities experienced by Indigenous peoples. Though her work is rooted in health sciences, she examines how anti-Indigenous racism exists within and across multiple systems – including healthcare, criminal justice, and education – and how the structural nature of this racism creates environments and enables interactions that negatively impact Indigenous peoples’ health and well-being.

“There’s been a lot of work done in the United States to try to advance the measurement of structural racism; however, [in Canada] we don’t have the data yet or the indicators to measure [these impacts],” observes Stelkia. While Canadian health researchers have documented disparities in health outcomes and access to health care between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, there are no standard mechanisms available to quantify structural racism disparities or to directly link them to health impacts.

In her new roles at FHS, Stelkia hopes to collaborate with Indigenous communities, other researchers, healthcare organizations, and partners such as First Nations Health Authority to provide a path forward to collecting data relevant to the Canadian context and developing tools to measure these systemic impacts on Indigenous health. “I feel the way forward in Indigenous health research is about having communities brought on as leaders in research and shifting the power dynamics that can often exist in research. Indigenous health is very much about partnership and collaboration and trying to ensure that community is fully informed, aware, and making critical decisions on how they see the research happening. It’s very much about going to community and being a humble learner [and about] establishing and maintaining critical partnerships in a truly meaningful way.”    

Outside of her research interests, Stelkia is very excited to be in a position to be a mentor at FHS because she wants to be able to show Indigenous students what is possible for them within academia. “I had the lucky opportunity of having Dr. Jeff Reading as my supervisor and mentor, and I feel he heavily influenced my view of the importance of mentorship, so I try to embed those philosophies in not only my teaching, but also in my research. If a student is interested in any aspect of Indigenous health, I would be supportive.”

Stelkia is available to supervise graduate students and encourages interested students to contact her directly. She adds, “I’m really interested in helping students who are interested in structural racism because it is such an emerging area of scholarship – there are lots of topics that can be explored. Students interested in community-engaged research…have existing partnerships with their home communities, and want to develop programs or investigate things within their own communities. Supporting students in doing that work is a huge priority [for me]…and would be an area that I think would fit well and align with my work.”

Stelkia notes that she has an open door policy for students, faculty, and community members to reach out to her with questions. “It’s all about opening up a dialogue and seeing what’s possible. I’m excited to meet and greet [with] you!”