Research

Professor champions community-based, collaborative approach to research and film

July 22, 2021
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By Sharon Mah

Dual careers in Indigenous health research and film making might seem like a study in contrasts. However, Faculty of Health Sciences assistant professor, Lyana Patrick, actively engages in both practices, noting that her processes for conducting research and creating films contain more parallels than they do differences.

Part of the reason Patrick’s research and film making run along similar lines has to do with her approach and methodologies: she takes a community-based, collaborative approach to her work and is very consultative and committed to grassroots relationship building. She is also mindful of the ethics of consent involved in both research and film making in Indigenous communities, seeing it as something that needs to be embraced by the community and embedded within (or at least, strongly informed by) traditional protocols.

“One of the things that we [Patrick and her Lantern Film production partners] are really committed to is the upfront process … of building trust – getting dinner with communities, making sure the [essential] people are involved,” says Patrick. “All of that work … has to be really solid and strong before you start production. It's the same with [health] research – you want to make sure those relationships are established before start data collection. It's very much about making sure that you've got your integrity in that early relationship building.”

Why is community consent so important, especially in the context of Indigenous health research and storytelling?

Patrick – who is a member of the Stellat’en First Nations – observes that “there are definitely [Indigenous] stories that will not be told and can't be told because either they're sacred or they're not meant to be shared. But there are lots of stories that are also meant to be shared and that can be made public, so it's really about understanding how that functions and operates. You can't do that work unless you are deeply embedded and knowledgeable about community relationships.”

Beyond securing consent from communities to conduct research/tell stories, Patrick’s many projects allow the voices of the different communities to emerge and shine in her work. For example, her research with the DUDES club – which she featured in an article in The Conversation – strongly emphasized the community-led focus of this health initiative with the Indigenous male participants working together to enable access to health information, provide a network of support and connection, and share community advocacy tips.

Similarly, in two of the three short films Patrick created for the 150 Stories That Shaped British Columbia series (“The Tomahawk” and “A Place to Belong” which was co-directed with Rosemary Georgeson), she centers the voices of key characters rather than imposing her interpretation of the situation or her own narrative onto the story. In fact, you never hear Patrick’s voice at all – she allows her subjects to tell the story in their own words throughout both pieces.

(“The Train Station,” Patrick’s third short film created for the 150 Stories That Shaped British Columbia series, veers from this approach, as it involves an intimate family recollection of love and survival in the setting of an Indian Residential School experience.)  

Patrick’s immediate future looks both bright and busy. She is preparing to teach classes in the upcoming terms, and will be engaged in SFU’s Emerging Thought Leaders program as well as continuing her own health research work.

She is also busy conducting research, making community connections, and otherwise laying the groundwork to create a feature length documentary about the building of a dam in Northern B.C. and its real and significant impacts on physical and spiritual health of the Dakelh communities.

Patrick sees both her health sciences research and her film making as two approaches to knowledge building.

“It's about building up our understanding of the world around us and the circumstances in which we're living and I think that storytelling obviously is the cornerstone of our pedagogical approach as Indigenous people,” she says. “In terms of our storytelling, this is how we teach, how we produce knowledge. I just want to make that picture a bit more vibrant bit, more complex and informed by other world views in a really meaningful way.”

Lyana Patrick’s animated short film, “The Train Station,” was recently named one of the Top Five Audience Picks at the 2021 DOXA film festival. Her three film shorts have been featured at several documentary film festivals, including the prestigious Hot Docs and the American Film Institute Documentary Festival. All three shorts are now available for streaming on Knowledge.ca.