People & Culture

Featured Fellow: Chantelle Richmond

The Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Health and the Environment speaks about her work as a health geographer, restoring relationships with the land, Indigenous methodologies and more 

  • Dec 05, 2022
  • 608 words
  • 3 minutes
Chantelle Richmond above the Deshkan Ziibii, London, Ontario. (Photo courtesy Chantelle Richmond)
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She’s the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Health and the Environment and an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environment at Western University. Chantelle Richmond is also part of a growing movement of Indigenous academics and community members pushing for fundamental change in how research around Indigenous issues is conceived and executed. Richmond explains that the challenges experienced in Indigenous communities are multi-faceted and complex, which, in turn, necessitates different approaches to research. Canadian Geographic spoke with Richmond, who recently became a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, about her work.

Ian Haase, William Haase, Maya Haase and Chantelle Richmond, on Biigtigong Nishnaabeg territory. (Photo courtesy Chantelle Richmond)
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On her work

I am a health geographer by training. I look at how the environments that people live in —where we work, places we spend time, and places that hold meaning for us — impact health. Environments take many shapes and sizes, so it’s not just mountains and rivers that we’re exploring, but it may be structures. So, these are places and spaces that have a lot of dimensionality to them and we’re looking at how these varying environments can impact people’s health and wellness and opportunities for healing. I do this research fully in the context of Indigenous people’s health and wellness.

On trauma 

I thought that because I grew up in Marathon, Ont., [a town located on the north shore of Lake Superior] and I didn’t live on reserve, I probably didn’t endure the same types of violence and trauma that my cousins might have. Because I didn’t experience that directly, I thought I had escaped it. But I didn’t. My mother lost her ability to live on the community property [Richmond’s mother lost status after marrying her father]. We were essentially kicked off the reserve and that’s a major trauma. My Mom holds that experience to this day, and I think it has shaped a lot of how she understands her beliefs and her ideas of inclusion and belonging. These are central to identity formation and concepts of wellness.

Chantelle Richmond with members of her research team Emily Beacock, Victoria Bomberry, Veronica Reitmeier, Katie Big-Canoe, on Western Campus, London Ontario. (Photo courtesy Chantelle Richmond)
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On restoring relationships with the land 

I’ve come into this place [academia] where I am asked to speak about big concepts and share research, but really what we’re doing is talking about people’s experience in restoring relationships with the land, restoring relationships between people. That is very valuable for our humanity. I owe a tremendous depth of gratitude to my ancestors who lived in this place that is very beautiful, but rugged. Our people were so focused on the strength of their community, and the strength of future generations, that they kept going.

On Indigenous methodologies 

In the last 20 years, there’s been a real shift to try to bring in more Indigenous people [to the academic sphere]. But we can’t attract more Indigenous people, or do more work with Indigenous communities, if we keep using the same methods or methodologies; if we don’t take the time to establish good relationships; if we don’t recognize that Indigenous nations are actually sovereign; if we don’t value Indigenous knowledge in the same way that we value, say, climate modelling. So we’re understanding that there are parallel systems of knowing and doing.

On making change 

Transforming universities and systems is incredibly difficult work and we do it because we absolutely love our communities. We love our students, and we are so eager for this transformation to happen because there’s so much at stake. Universities understand how precious a resource Indigenous scholars are, but the structures are not changing fast enough. We need more Indigenous people in these places and I’m hoping the structures will shift at the same time and become more accepting and better places overall.

Interview by Sophie Price 

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