Alexandra Sawatzky

Award Winning Poster about Inuit Health by Alexandra Sawatzky

Contributing to our series on award winning poster presentations, this beautifully designed poster was presented by Dr. Alex Sawatzky at the 2016 Labrador Research Forum and the 2016 ArcticNet Annual Scientific Meeting. At both of these conferences, Alex won awards in the poster competition.

Through this poster, Alex presents work that she conducted in collaboration with Nunatsiavut Inuit to identify pathways for achieving and sustaining good wellbeing.

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Award Winning Poster

2016 Labrador Research Forum & 2016 ArcticNet ASM

How can integrated health & environmental monitoring support climate change adaptation? Check out our new publication to find out!

Congratulations to Alexandra Sawatzy on her recent publication. Alex reviewed integrated surveillance used for responding to climate and environmental change impacts on human health in the Circumpolar North. The article can be accessed, for free, at: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/15/12/2706

Key Messages:

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Key Message 1:

The wide range and diversity of integrated surveillance systems described in the literature can help guide and target evidence-based public health responses in support of climate change adaptation in the North.

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Key Message 2:

2: Findings offer insight into how these systems can be designed to be more responsive to public health concerns within rapidly shifting Northern environments.

What are key components of integrated surveillance?

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Recommendations & Next Steps:

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Article citation:

Sawatzky, A., Cunsolo, A., Jones-Bitton, A., Middleton, J., Harper, S.L. (2018). Responding to Climate and Environmental Change Impacts on Human Health via Integrated Surveillance in the Circumpolar North: A Systematic Realist Review. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health.15(12), 2706. Click here to access the article (free open-access)

Abstract:

Environments are shifting rapidly in the Circumpolar Arctic and Subarctic regions as a result of climate change and other external stressors, and this has a substantial impact on the health of northern populations. Thus, there is a need for integrated surveillance systems designed to monitor the impacts of climate change on human health outcomes as part of broader adaptation strategies in these regions. This review aimed to identify, describe, and synthesize literature on integrated surveillance systems in Circumpolar Arctic and Subarctic regions, that are used for research or practice. Following a systematic realist review approach, relevant articles were identified using search strings developed for MEDLINE® and Web of Science™ databases, and screened by two independent reviewers. Articles that met the inclusion criteria were retained for descriptive quantitative analysis, as well as thematic qualitative analysis, using a realist lens. Of the 3431 articles retrieved in the database searches, 85 met the inclusion criteria and were analyzed. Thematic analysis identified components of integrated surveillance systems that were categorized into three main groups: structural, processual, and relational components. These components were linked to surveillance attributes and activities that supported the operations and management of integrated surveillance. This review advances understandings of the distinct contributions of integrated surveillance systems and data to discerning the nature of changes in climate and environmental conditions that affect population health outcomes and determinants in the Circumpolar North. Findings from this review can be used to inform the planning, design, and evaluation of integrated surveillance systems that support evidence-based public health research and practice in the context of increasing climate change and the need for adaptation.

The article can be accessed, for free, at: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/15/12/2706

Reflecting on the Arctic Change Conference

Written by Jacqueline Middleton, PhD Candidate This year’s annual ArcticNet meeting (Arctic Change 2017) was held in the historical Quebec City, QC, from December 11-15, 2017. The international conference hosted Arctic researchers, stakeholders, and community representatives from across the North. Over 60 topical sessions and more than 350 posters across disciplines encouraged learning and discussion among attendees. The venue also promoted relationship building as it conveniently provided space for side meetings necessary for project partners to collaborate.

Once again, a fantastic Student Day was held with a focus on ‘International Cooperation and Collaboration in Arctic Research’, and had its inaugural ‘Elevator Pitch’ competition, where students from across disciplines were challenged to engage audiences with a one-minute oral presentation on their poster. The Harper Lab’s own Anna Manore participated in this competition – presenting on her Master’s work with the PAWS project on shellfish contaminants in Iqaluit.

The Harper Lab contributed a number of oral and poster presentations, showcasing our research group’s work on environmental health surveillance and monitoring, mental wellbeing, as well as water and food security.

After an engaging week learning about the forefront of Arctic research, the conference ended with a beautiful banquet where awards and acknowledgements were presented, including PhD candidate Alex Sawatzky who won first place in the Health and Social Sciences category in the graduate student poster competition! The evening closed with a fantastic performance by Iqaluit artists The Jerry Cans. It was a privilege and a tremendous pleasure to participate and attend Arctic Change 2017. The Harper Lab can’t wait for next year!

 

Lessons from the Labrador Research Forum: Truth, Respect and Reciprocity, Humility, & (Re)framing Research as (Re)conciliation

Written by Alexandra Sawatzky, PhD Candidate Between April 30 and May 3, Jacquie, Mel, and I were privileged to attend the first biennial Labrador Research Forum in the Upper Lake Melville Region of Labrador. This gathering involved the communities of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Sheshatshiu First Nation, and North West River, and engaged the three Indigenous nations of this region: the Innu, Nunatsiavut Inuit, as well as NunatuKavut Inuit. Over 150 delegates, including researchers, government representatives, community leaders and organizations, and the broader public came together to engage in dialogue and co-learning surrounding research in the North, by the North, for the North.

The Forum kicked off with an afternoon of cultural activities in Sheshatshiu First Nation, including beading, sewing, and snow shoe making. These activities, together with the opening ceremony at the beautiful Sheshatshui Ussiniun Youth Centre, instilled a strong sense of community among the attendees that set the tone for the rest of the Forum.

This Forum was structured differently to more conventional research gatherings, with presentation sessions containing a 5 minute research outline, followed by a 10-minute discussion with the audience. This led to engaging, dynamic sessions that encouraged deeper dialogue, as well as many opportunities for continued dialogue outside of the session during coffee breaks. As an audience member, I felt there were more opportunities to be an active participant within the session, and more space for deeper listening and engagement with the ideas and topics.

Grounding these ideas and topics were several intellectually and spiritually stimulating plenary panel discussions. The first plenary of the Forum was comprised of a panel of Indigenous leaders from across the region, who discussed their views on research as reconciliation and challenged the conventional understandings of the words “research” and “reconciliation.” These words carry great weight, and we have a responsibility to unpack and understand their connotations in order to use them effectively and with an awareness of their history. This first plenary, and all of the plenaries, presentations, and discussions that followed, emphasized the importance of our distinct contributions to research as reconciliation, which is premised on core values of truth, respect, and humility.

Truth

Starting from a place of truth, we can work towards reconciliation. President Todd Russell of the NunatuKavut Community Council emphasized this point in the first plenary panel, as he explained that pathways toward research as reconciliation must be developed in partnership with Indigenous peoples, partnerships wherein the research community understands its own truth, its own place.

Respect and reciprocity

Practicing respectful partnerships with people, plants, and animals can help move research forward in a good way – towards reconciliation. This idea was explored through a plenary on Caribou and people in Labrador, where the panelists described how hunters should position themselves as caretakers of the animals they choose to hunt, and engage in partnerships with these animals. These types of partnerships are also important in the research community, where there is a long history of researchers viewing people, plants, and animals merely as “subjects of study,” rather than respecting them as partners in research endeavors. Cultivating respectful partnerships requires researchers to position themselves as caretakers of data, as explained by Dr. Margaret Kovach in her keynote address titled: “Indigenous research, Indigenous methodologies, and the power of Indigenous knowledges in informing research practice.” Dr. Kovach went on to say that the word “data” in Latin means gift. The knowledge and stories shared by Indigenous peoples through research partnerships should be understood and accepted as gifts, which connects to the responsibility of all those involved in research to practice and uphold respectful, reciprocal partnerships.

Humility

The importance of cultural humility was also introduced in the “Research as Reconciliation” plenary, and was frequently revisited throughout the Forum. In research, cultural humility involves reflecting on where we are coming from as we enter into research partnerships, and where we hope to go together with that research. Moreover, cultural humility involves coming to the table with an open mind, as well as with the willingness to step back from the table every so often to listen and learn. We must be mindful of the questions we ask, and aware of the words and language we use to ask those questions. We must accept the value of the answers we receive and the lessons we learn from asking those questions – beyond accepting knowledge, we must value that knowledge. In reflecting on these ideas with Mel and Jacquie, Mel noted that she was particularly impacted by President Todd Russell (NunatuKavut Community Council) questioning the term “higher education,” as well as the ways in which we determine who is an “expert.” Jacquie and I felt similarly to Mel in that President Russell’s words reminded us that the research we do involves knowledge systems and worldviews that we have very little understanding and lived experiences of.

(Re)framing research as (re)conciliation

Participants were encouraged to critically reflect on how we frame “research as reconciliation” through unpacking the meaning of each of those terms. Unpacking these terms from a place of truth, respect, and humility is crucial in order to understand the role research has played, and can continue to play, in colonization of Indigenous peoples and lands. The plenaries, keynotes, presentations, and workshops at this Forum encouraged further explorations of the ways in which “research” transcends beyond academia to involve the communities, governments, and environments within which the research takes place. Furthermore, many panelists and presenters reiterated the fact that “reconciliation” needs to be understood as more than just a buzzword. Reconciliation involves action. Part of this action involves coming together as community, through opportunities like this Forum, to discuss and develop pathways toward reconciliation through research. Ultimately, moving towards and along these pathways requires a commitment to cultivating and sustaining relationships premised on truth, respect, and humility.

Congratulations to Alex on her PhD Candidacy!

Congratulations to Alexandra Sawatzky for successfully completing her PhD qualifying exams! Alexandra finished her undergraduate degree in Arts & Science with a cumulative GPA of 89%, and directly entered into a PhD program in Public Health at the University of Guelph.  Her research interests include the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples in Canada, integrated environment and health surveillance, as well as physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social impacts of climatic and environmental change in Inuit communities.  Recognizing her academic aptitude, she has been awarded over $100,000 in scholarships and travel grants to support her PhD research.

Sharing her research with the scientific community include two peer-reviewed publications, as well as seven oral and five poster presentations at national and international conferences. In addition, she has authored 25 research-related reports, and writes an insightful and reflective blog, "Unlearn. Relearn. Repeat."

It has been a pleasure working with Alexandra over the past two years, and we are thrilled to continue working with Alexandra as she begins her PhD Candidacy!

 

 

Research Photos of Alexandra