Setting new directions to support Indigenous research and research training in Canada

The timeline for this strategic plan is extended to March 31, 2026. For more information, visit Extension of Strengthening Indigenous Research Capacity Strategic Plan to 2026.

About this Strategic Plan

The strategic plan is published by the federal research granting agencies—the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council—and fulfills a priority of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee to co-develop with Indigenous Peoples an interdisciplinary research and research training model that contributes to reconciliation.

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The Canada Research Coordinating Committee would like to acknowledge the many First Nations, Métis and Inuit voices that helped shape Setting New Directions to Support Indigenous Research and Research Training in Canada. We would like to sincerely thank all those who shared their wisdom and their experiences on Indigenous research to help inform these strategic directions. It is our hope that these strategic directions reflect your goals for new models of support to Indigenous research and research training that lead to meaningful new relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Bentwood Box carved by Coast Salish artist Luke Marston (credit National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation)

Starting the Journey

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released its report Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, which identified 94 Calls to Action, and highlighted the important role of research to advance the understanding of reconciliation. Ten principles of reconciliation were provided, notably that reconciliation requires constructive action on addressing the ongoing legacies of colonialism (no. 4), and that reconciliation requires political will, joint leadership, trust building, accountability, and transparency, as well as a substantial investment of resources (no. 9).Footnote 1

In 2017, the Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) was created. The CRCC brings together the presidents of Canada’s research granting agencies, namely the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC); the National Research Council (NRC); the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI); the chief science advisor; and the deputy ministers of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and of Health Canada. As one of its key priorities, the CRCC reaffirmed the federal granting agencies’ commitment to the Calls to Action of the TRC with the creation of a national dialogue with Indigenous communities to co- develop an interdisciplinary Indigenous research and research training model that contributes to reconciliation.

In Budget 2018, the federal government committed $3.8 million to SSHRC to support this priority by developing a strategic plan that identifies new ways of doing research by and with Indigenous communities. This includes strategies to grow the capacity of First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities to lead their own research and partner with the broader research community. In support of these objectives, SSHRC, in collaboration with the other federal granting agencies, CIHR and NSERC, as well as the CFI, has been leading the implementation of the Strengthening Indigenous Research Capacity initiative. This document summarizes that process and highlights the issues and concerns raised by First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in the context of Indigenous research and research training, as well as reflecting their experiences with the broader research community in the past and the present.

Four strategic directions are presented to guide the ways forward in building new models to support Indigenous research and training. The proposed mechanisms within each direction reflect areas that are within the scope of the granting agencies’ mandates. In some areas, they build upon initiatives that have been and continue to be developed in collaboration with Indigenous communities in recent years. These have included the creation of new Indigenous research programs, the introduction of guidelines for the merit review of Indigenous research, the extension of funding eligibility to Indigenous organizations; and the revised Tri-Agency Policy Statement 2 on ethical conduct for research with a chapter on research involving First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Engaging with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples

Three main objectives have guided a process of respectful and reciprocal engagement activities with Indigenous partners:

1. Building of new relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples

Engagement activities are setting a course for fostering and sustaining mutually respectful relationships with Indigenous Peoples and have generated ongoing opportunities for meetings and gatherings.

2. Co-development

New directions to support new models for Indigenous research and research training are being co-developed with Indigenous communities, collectives and organisations, and researchers. Dedicated outreach was undertaken with national and regional Indigenous organizations, Indigenous women’s organizations, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, post-secondary institutions, academics, Elders, Indigenous knowledge keepers, women, youth, community leaders and representatives, and rights-holders.

3. Coordinated approach

A coordinated approach with granting agencies is being maintained in support of the CRCC’s mandate to achieve greater harmonization, integration and coordination of research and research-related programs and policies.

Engagement is not envisioned as a consultation, but rather as an opportunity to develop and strengthen long-term relationships with Indigenous Peoples in a peer-to-peer context. This has included, but was not limited to, co-developing research questions and agendas, taking time to establish mutually respectful relations, respecting Indigenous ethics and protocols, and reflecting regularly with Indigenous partners on the priorities of First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities to shape strategic directions. Opportunities for engagement were presented along two main streams, as follows.

Stream A: Regional engagement events

A series of 14 regional engagement events, including roundtables and workshops, were organized in collaboration with Indigenous partners between July 2018 and March 2019. These events were held with Indigenous organizations and communities across Canada, reflecting a diversity of voices that included Elders and knowledge keepers, youth and students, researchers, business leaders, women’s groups, and community research organizations. A full list of the engagement events is provided in Appendix 2.

A National Dialogue was held in Ottawa in March 2019 that convened Indigenous Research Capacity and Reconciliation Connection Grant holders (see below), Indigenous community members as well as Interagency and CRCC representatives. Three hundred participants gathered at the National Dialogue to discuss emerging themes identified during the engagement events and in the position papers submitted by the Connection Grants holders.

These events emphasized collaboration and leveraged on-going engagement with Indigenous organizations and partners. An online platform (via GCCollab) was also developed to provide further opportunities for engagement and discussion among individuals at post-secondary institutions, government, businesses, associations and communities.

Stream B: Indigenous Research Capacity and Reconciliation Grants

A dedicated funding opportunity for multi-disciplinary Indigenous Research Capacity and Reconciliation Grants was also launched through SSHRC’s Connection program on June 21, 2018, National Indigenous Peoples Day. These grants supported community gatherings, workshops, and events that mobilized and exchanged knowledge on Indigenous research and reconciliation. A total of 116 Connection Grants, funded by CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC, were awarded across Canada with a value of up to $50,000 each.

For the first time, Connection Grants were also extended to Indigenous not-for-profit organizations with a research mandate. Proposals submitted by Indigenous not-for-profit organizations had an 85 percent success rate, and comprised the majority of the Connection Grants awarded. A full list of Connection Grant award holders is available in Appendix 3.

Gathering Voices

During the course of the engagement process, First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples shared their stories and perspectives and expressed their needs, concerns and aspirations for Indigenous research. The role of research to address the priorities of communities was acknowledged, citing many positive examples of current community-led research in areas such as language revitalization, economic development, and health.

Summary reports of the regional engagement events, reviewed by participants, were shared with the granting agencies and the CFI by the event organizers. In addition, Connection Grant holders also provided, as part of the grant, some 94 position papers on the respective topic of their project. A summary of discussions at the National Dialogue is provided in Appendix 4.

An analysis of the summary of discussions and the position papers identified the following key issues and concerns, as well as opportunities for action:

Decolonizing research

Many participants in the engagement events viewed current research and research funding models as reinforcing power imbalances that negatively impact Indigenous spiritual, mental, physical and emotional well-being. Indigenous People expressed a greater need to set their own research priorities and to lead their own research. They called for research that directly addresses issues and concerns tied to community well-being and healing, and that contributes to sustainable socio-economic development. Nothing about us without us was often repeated in engagement sessions. Stronger mechanisms to ensure the ethical conduct of research with Indigenous communities and on Indigenous lands, and stronger commitments to Indigenous leadership in federal research institutions and funding agencies, are discussed further below.

At the same time, it was also widely recognized that decolonization is a highly complex topic with no single definition or interpretation. Research was acknowledged as playing a critical role to furthering a better understanding of decolonization in ways that reflect the distinct experiences among different Indigenous communities. The federal granting agencies’ engagement with Indigenous communities is seen as an important step for ensuring a sustained commitment towards decolonizing historical structures and processes of research funding.

Data governance and intellectual property rights

Indigenous Peoples have made repeated calls for greater ownership and control over Indigenous data. Participants in the engagement events spoke emphatically about the harms that have been caused to their communities through the mismanagement of data, and explained how misinterpretation of data has contributed to the continued misunderstanding and marginalization of Indigenous Peoples, their cultures and their knowledge systems. In an era where personal data is easily bought and sold, issues about how Indigenous data is used, stored and shared by external researchers was seen as a top priority. Ownership, control, and access were often highlighted as key principles for Indigenous data governance, and caution was expressed that the current model did not respond to the distinct needs and interests of all First Nations, Inuit and Métis regions and communities.

Research ethics and protocols

Stronger mechanisms to more effectively regulate the ethical conduct of research by and/or with Indigenous Peoples, in their communities and on their lands were requested. Participants in the engagement events shared experiences with non-Indigenous researchers who failed to provide communities with adequate information on their research or to obtain consent from the community. Participants spoke of research findings as misrepresenting or discrediting Indigenous communities and knowledge holders. Indigenous community leaders have challenged skepticism about the legitimacy of Indigenous knowledge, despite the many scientific advances that are directly attributable to First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. Concerns were expressed that increasing interest in research involving Indigenous Peoples is putting undue pressure on many members of their community, notably Elders. Specific challenges were further identified for regulating the ethical conduct of international researchers, who may not be bound by the same regulatory codes as Canadian researchers. In the Arctic, Indigenous People expressed increasing alarm about noise, pollution and other harmful impacts of international research on people, wildlife and the land.

Funding eligibility and accessibility

The exclusion of Indigenous organizations from funding given current requirements for institution affiliation as a condition of funding, is seen as a consistent barrier to growing their capacity. Current funding models were seen as enabling institutions to control the research agenda and further enabling the extraction of data from Indigenous communities with inadequate attention to potential negative impacts. Indigenous organizations with a research mandate seek eligibility criteria that recognize Indigenous ways of knowing, and called for more transparency and accountability in the adjudication of funding proposals, including appropriate mechanisms for verifying Indigenous identity. Better accessibility to information on funding opportunities, including the step-by-step processes of applying for grants, will also enable greater understanding, accessibility and participation in research by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.

Research partnerships and community-led research

Indigenous People expressed an urgent need for long-term research relationships built on trust, respect and mutual interests. They stressed that mutually beneficial relationships take time and cannot be accomplished without involving the entire community. Dedicated funds for community outreach and relationship building to lay the groundwork before the research can start were seen as an important step towards improving research partnerships. Participants at the engagement events also pointed to the need for funding to support core administration costs that would enable Indigenous organizations to lead their own research. Furthermore, they highlighted that research conducted in remote communities in Canada, and notably in the Canadian North, generates substantial additional costs and time commitments, which require special consideration for funding and supports.

Supporting Indigenous students

Indigenous People pointed to the need for greater targeted support for Indigenous students. Many students shared the challenges and barriers they experience in pursuing successful education pathways, and called for more funding flexibility. They also noted that the current academic advancement model often competes with their ancestral values. Indigenous students and young researchers often find themselves torn between conforming to the expectations of their post- secondary institutions and staying true to their knowledge systems and responding to the needs of their communities.

Indigenous leadership and representation

Importantly, First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples called for more representation in leadership and decision-making roles—from peer review and policy development, to merit review practices and adjudication of research proposals.

Setting New Directions

Through the engagement events, position papers and the National Dialogue, concerns were shared about experiences with past and present research, and numerous ideas, solutions and possibilities for the future were offered. The analysis of all these reports, papers and discussions has led to four proposed key strategic directions that reflect new models for Indigenous research and research training. The goals identified in the National Inuit Strategy on Research, produced by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), have also helped guide development of the strategic directions and their objectives, as outlined below.Footnote 2

These four strategic directions also reflect key commitments by the federal research funding agencies to build new models for Indigenous research and research training. The agencies recognize that implementation of the mechanisms identified across the four directions will be undertaken in collaboration with Indigenous partners. It is understood that gender-based analysis+ (GBA+) will also be applied at the implementation stage to ensure that mechanisms and outcomes take into account intersectionality within the Indigenous population. The four strategic directions are inextricably linked, where the success of each direction depends on the success of the others. The commitments recognize that each of the federal granting agencies are at different stages of development with respect to previously established Indigenous research priorities.

They are intended to build on the progress of advancing Indigenous research, and provide a basis for strengthened ongoing collaboration. These strategic directions were further guided by the following key principles:

Self-determination: fostering the right for First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to set their own research priorities

Decolonization of research: respecting Indigenous ways of knowing and supporting community-led research

Accountability: strengthening accountability in respecting Indigenous ethics and protocols in research and identifying the benefits and impacts of research in Indigenous communities

Equitable access: facilitating and promoting equitable access and support for Indigenous students and researchers

Strategic Direction: Building relationships with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples


A commitment to sustained engagement with Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples highlighted the importance of time and support to develop meaningful, respectful and sustaining relationships and to build trust with partners in the pursuit of Indigenous research. These relationships need to be mutually beneficial and contribute to meeting Indigenous research needs.

The granting agencies have pursued stronger engagement with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in the development of their respective Indigenous research guidelines, policies and programs over the years, notably through research dialogues and gatherings with Indigenous communities, the establishment of Indigenous advisory circles, and, most recently through CIHR’s Network Environments for Indigenous Health Research. Further background on the federal granting agencies’ (CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC) Indigenous research initiatives is provided in Appendix 5.

The Strengthening Indigenous Research Capacity initiative has aimed to set a new course for fostering and sustaining mutually respectful relationships with Indigenous Peoples, and the granting agencies are committed to sustaining these relationships. Opportunities to continue to build new relationships are noted as follows:


  1. Offer funding opportunities to support relationship building between Indigenous communities, organizations, researchers and students in developing, undertaking, and reporting on research projects; and for Indigenous partners to promote learning and sharing of research and research practices.
  2. Create effective tools and resources to facilitate access for Indigenous communities, collectives and organizations to connect with researchers and students involved in Indigenous research, as well as to help identify potential researchers with whom they may wish to collaborate.

Intended Outcomes

Strategic Direction: Supporting research priorities of Indigenous Peoples


A commitment to the revision and development of the federal granting agencies’ guidelines for Indigenous research

The development and improvement of Indigenous research policy guidelines has progressed in recent years. Notably, the Tri-Agency Policy Statement 2 included a revised chapter on ethical conduct for research involving First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. CIHR and SSHRC have recently released new Merit Review guidelines, funding eligibility criteria, and definitions of Indigenous research to more effectively support Indigenous researchers and organizations. Concerns were expressed, however, that these guidelines are not consistently enforced and should be further improved. In particular, Indigenous communities have expressed a strong need to reinforce and strengthen guidelines for merit review, data management, and the ethical conduct of research with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities and on their lands. They also highlighted the crucial role of Elders and knowledge keepers in the decision-making process.

To address concerns about respectful engagement with Indigenous communities, collectives and organizations, as well as ensuring that research addresses community priorities, new or revised research guidelines will further require researchers to engage significantly with First Nations, Métis and Inuit community members.


  1. Revise and introduce new merit review criteria to ensure that researchers are accountable to Indigenous communities, and that First Nations, Métis and Inuit knowledge systems (including ontologies, epistemologies and methodologies) are recognized and contribute to scientific/scholarly excellence.
  2. Champion and support Indigenous data management protocols to ensure community consent, access and ownership of Indigenous data and protection of Indigenous intellectual property rights.
  3. Strengthen adherence to Indigenous ethics and protocols to recognize the role of Elders in guiding and mentoring Indigenous research projects, and recognize the importance of regional engagement and consent.

Intended Outcomes

Strategic Direction: Creating greater funding accessibility to granting agency programs


A commitment to greater accessibility to funding

First Nations, Inuit and Métis people have expressed the need to set their own research priorities and to lead research projects that directly benefit their communities. At the same time, insights shared by Indigenous students have highlighted consistent barriers and challenges in their student experience and pathways to education, which may be addressed through new models to support Indigenous research and student training.

Noteworthy is the recent 2019 Federal Budget which presented a significant funding commitment of $824 million over 10 years to support a distinctions-based approach to Indigenous post-secondary education. These funds will be administered in part by Indigenous Services Canada’s Post-Secondary Student Support Program, as well as by other government and non-government bodies. Though not targeted for Indigenous students directly, Budget 2019 also announced increased funding to the Canada Graduate Scholarships Program. This includes an additional 500 master’s level scholarships and awards annually, as well as 167 more three- year doctoral scholarships and fellowships annually to be administered across CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC.


  1. Revise eligibility guidelines to ensure equitable access to research funding and infrastructure support for Indigenous organizations with a clear research mandate.
  2. Offer funding opportunities for Indigenous students providing increased and flexible support through scholarships and fellowships, including undergraduate research skills training and mentoring opportunities.
  3. Create effective tools and resources to build and strengthen understanding and user-friendliness of granting agency programs, including simplifying language, administration and application processes.

Intended Outcomes

Strategic Direction: Championing Indigenous leadership, self-determination and capacity in research


A commitment to reconciliation and the decolonization of Indigenous Research

First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples seek stronger leadership roles in decision-making of research funding policies among the granting agencies, with greater respect and recognition for Indigenous ways of knowing in research and scientific inquiry. Notably, Indigenous scholars emphasized that reconciliation in research also means reconciling western scientific traditions with Indigenous worldviews and cultural practices, as well as recognizing and understanding the vast diversity that exists among Indigenous groups in Canada.


  1. Offer funding opportunities to strengthen capacity among Indigenous communities.
  2. Promote leadership of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in guiding and determining Indigenous research and research training.
  3. Require Indigenous cultural safety training at the federal granting agencies to strengthen understanding and respect of Indigenous perspectives, histories and worldviews within these agencies.
  4. Establish greater Indigenous representation at the federal granting agencies to include Indigenous voices in decision-making, notably at management levels.
  5. Create an Indigenous Leadership Circle to guide the implementation of the strategic directions outlined in this document.

Intended Outcomes

Looking forward

This document outlines key commitments made by the federal research granting agencies to support new models for Indigenous research and research training. These commitments aim to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and to grow the capacity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities to lead their own research and partner with the broader research community.

The implementation of the mechanisms proposed across the four strategic directions will take time and sustained efforts and collaboration to realize over the coming years. Building respectful relationships between First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and the research community through ongoing engagement and in regular collaboration among the federal funding agencies will continue to guide our path forward.

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