WRFN scholar Dr. Lorrilee McGregor joins national research body

Dr. Lorrilee McGregor

OTTAWA – Whitefish River First Nation citizen Dr. Lorrilee McGregor is a founding member of a national Indigenous research review reference group, a position she will use to help guide practices and principles for researchers completing Indigenous-focused work in Canada.

“It’s really exciting,” said Dr. McGregor, an assistant professor in Indigenous health at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM). Dr. McGregor is the only member of this new committee from Northern Ontario.

“I’m hoping it has huge impacts in terms of the kinds of research that gets funded and the researchers who will get funded,” she said.

The reference group works on behalf of the ‘tri-agency’ made up of Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). The tri-agency members each fund and support researchers across Canada, many of whom seek to do work in Indigenous communities. 

Research involving Indigenous communities has a long and complicated history. Many past research projects have not run in collaboration with Indigenous peoples and have in many cases been used to reinforce colonial beliefs, bringing harm to the very communities in the studies.

Further, many Indigenous scholars are passed up for funding applications in favour of those whose heritage has a longer history in the world of academia.

Dr. McGregor is well-versed in research best practices from her extensive work on Manitoulin Island. She has been on the Manitoulin Anishinaabek Research Review Committee (MARRC) since shortly after its inception in 2001, with most of that time spent as chair. 

MARRC is the consulting body whenever researchers seek to conduct studies within Island First Nations; all studies have to gain approval and work in partnership with the committee to ensure research is undertaken with respect and fairness.

“The work (MARRC) has been doing is really exceptional and groundbreaking,” she said. “I know that because we get frequent requests for information from First Nations around the country and requests to do presentations or share our documents.”

She added that MARRC’s work with elders has especially brought a new layer of context to  deciding which research projects it chooses to approve or deny.

The new reference group will work with the tri-agency to build a framework against which it will measure all funding requests. The reference group will not directly approve or deny any specific proposals.

Dr. McGregor said she recognized some of the names of her fellow reference group members because they had all previously submitted successful funding applications for their own work in years past, such as MARRC’s 2019 Island research conference in Little Current that received SSHRC funding.

She first heard about the council through her sister Deborah McGregor, another well-known scholar who teaches at York University.

“I saw this as a good opportunity for me because I’m a recent (PhD) graduate and have a new position at NOSM,” said Dr. McGregor.

The reference group will sit for either a two- or three-year term, but when she spoke to The Expositor, Dr. McGregor said the group hadn’t had its first meeting yet and she was unsure about her own term length.

This tri-agency team could have strong impacts on ensuring Indigenous-focused research in Canada will be meaningful and positive to the communities it serves. Dr. McGregor said some research applicants have learned how to word their proposals to get approved, but they often lack the true long-term engagement and collaboration that responsive research should include.

“Some unscrupulous researchers know what words to say to get their funding, and then in the project the Indigenous voices are gone to the wayside and they use their standard research methods. I’m hoping that this process will help us figure out how to spot those and make sure they’re asking the right questions,” said Dr. McGregor. “It’s not enough to have a letter from band council, you need to demonstrate how you’ll engage with the community and collaborate and be quite specific.”

She described the reference group as a move toward supporting self-determined research that respects the directions in which Indigenous communities and peoples want to go.

“We want to be able to decide what kind of research gets done, how it gets done, and make sure (the research) actually helps the people it’s intending to help,” she said.

Dr. McGregor added that she hoped the tri-council would change the way grant funding gets administered to the researchers. In the case of her 2019 conference’s SSHRC grant, the funding flowed through Noojmowin Teg Health Centre. Having the involvement of a community partner is an exception, because many schools prefer to administer grants themselves, but Dr. McGregor said community intermediaries would likely have a better understanding of the local realities.

The presence of an Indigenous-led council in the funding approval process might embolden new and emerging scholars with the confidence to apply, knowing that they have a shot at getting funded, said Dr. McGregor. Having funded research on one’s resumé is a considerable factor to future academic successes.

Dr. McGregor still carries her duties as a NOSM instructor in addition to this new reference group. She nabbed a SSHRC grant last spring to study Anishinabek perspectives on Indigenous knowledge and intellectual property, and how to protect those principles. 

That research team, which includes her sister Deborah McGregor, Cindy Peltier and Susan Manitowabi, was working hard on a literature review this past summer.

Dr. McGregor is also working on a research grant related to the Aboriginal Children’s Health and Well-Being Measure, related to children’s consent in research.

Further, she is a member of a CIHR-funded research team led by Dr. Marion Maar, completing opioid research.

And despite the heavy workload and new opportunities, Dr. McGregor is still firmly embedded into the work of MARRC back home on Manitoulin.

“The work that (Island) committee has been doing is just outstanding and groundbreaking. I feel really fortunate and lucky to work with such a great group of people. I’m the one who gets all the emails but they’re the ones who come to meetings, provide insights; everybody is so dedicated and it’s a great community to be a part of,” she said.

Other Ontario-based members of the new tri-agency reference group include Aimée Craft from University of Ottawa, Rebekah Jacques from University of Western Ontario, Logan MacDonald at University of Waterloo, Julian Robbins of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres and Suzanne Stewart from University of Toronto.