Director of Indigenous Research, VCH Indigenous Health and Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity; assistant professor, Division of Social Medicine, UBC Faculty of Medicine
For Brittany Bingham, taking over as director of Indigenous research at Vancouver Coastal Health and CGSHE with two kids during the pandemic meant juggling work and school. But she thinks the hardest part was not being able to meet the people and communities she typically sees in person. “We work with a lot of Indigenous elders, so keeping them safe was a priority,” Bingham says. “The elders have been amazing at learning how to get on Zoom.”
A member of the shíshálh Nation on the Sunshine Coast, Bingham was previously lead research and evaluation adviser at VCH Indigenous Health and has worked in community-based Indigenous health research since 2004. The Vancouverite, who is also assistant professor of social medicine at UBC, earned a master’s and a doctorate in public health from SFU. “I’m actually the first Indigenous person to graduate with a PhD from my department,” she says.
Bingham, whose work aims to decolonize health-care research and policy, notes that First Nations communities have historically been misrepresented in data. “What we see is all devastating data,” she says. “We haven’t focused on using Indigenous voices for the actual recommendation.”
For her PhD dissertation, Bingham held a talking circle in East Vancouver that included elders, Indigenous community members, service providers and those with lived experience sharing their stories about housing and homelessness. Rather than use a traditional interview or survey, Bingham turns to elders as key leaders in her research and often relies on arts-based and Indigenous approaches to data collection, such as giving participants agency over their stories through weaving, photography or carving. “Graphic facilitation is a big part of the arts-based method,” she says. “We have a graphic artist draw out all of the key themes and findings from what people are sharing.”
For a project funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research, Bingham is now talking to Indigenous women and two-spirit and gender-diverse people about their experiences accessing sexual and reproductive health care during the pandemic. “Witnessing is very important in Indigenous culture,” she says. “As a researcher, I’m simply a witness to what people are sharing, and part of the witnessing is your duty and responsibility to take that forward and share it for good, for change.