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Unpacking cannabis use and mental health in Manitoba Metis communities

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

A community-based research study, funded by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, is investigating cannabis use and mental health in Metis in Manitoba. In a conversation, Minister Frances Chartrand and Julianne Sanguins (research team members) from the Manitoba Metis Federation, described the project by emphasising how the research design was adapted during the pandemic, why a community-based approach was taken, and what impact they hope the study will have.

1. What inspired this research study?

There is a lack of information about the use of cannabis within the Red River Metis population, or any impact its use might have on mental health. In 2018, cannabis was legalized for recreational use. We wanted to ask our Citizens from across Manitoba what they know about cannabis, who uses it, how it is impacting them and their communities, and what mental health resources exist in their community. We understand there are pros and cons to cannabis use. It can be used for relaxation or medicinal purposes, but it can also be harmful for youth whose brains are developing. There is no research to say if cannabis use is helping or harming people with mental health challenges, which is concerning.

A study published in 2010 (The Metis Atlas) found that Metis in Manitoba experience a higher rate of anxiety and depression disorders compared to the rest of the Manitoba population. We are interested in learning if the Metis community has noticed any changes in their community upon the legalization of cannabis.

2. Who is on your research team?

We have a large team. The principal investigator is Julianne Sanguins, Research Program Manager at the Manitoba Metis Federation. The co-investigators in no particular order include Minister of Health Frances Chartrand, Manitoba Metis Federation; Dr. Michelle Driedger, Professor, University of Manitoba; Olena Kloss, Research Associate, Manitoba Metis Federation; Evelyn Nepinak, Health & Wellness Coordinator, Manitoba Metis Federation; Kirsten Fleury, Research Assistant, University of Manitoba; Alex McLean, Research Assistant Manitoba Metis Federation; and Elizabeth Genaille, an Elder on our team who grounds us.

3. How did you adapt your study design due to the pandemic?

We had to problem solve how to engage and hear from the Red River Metis during a pandemic. Our initial design included nine discussion groups with Metis including Elders and youth, from urban, rural, and northern areas of Manitoba. Due to COVID-19 we could not do in-person group discussions, so we adapted them to be held online. We further evolved our means of gathering input by holding a virtual health summit. This approach enabled us to approximate the sample size we would have gained had we gone out to the individual communities.

It is a challenge to conduct research virtually because I believe Indigenous people are visual learners. Metis people like to see each other, laugh, be in a group setting to share our stories, learn from our Elders, and learn from our youth. Our research is driven from the bottom up, it is different from a traditional research approach. A challenge that we are encountering with conducting research virtually is that we miss out on the relational element. It is difficult to build relationships when you are one-dimensional. Some Elders or youth are shy on Zoom. Also, for the Metis people, sharing a meal is important.

There are also challenges to mobilizing knowledge and community during the pandemic. If there was no COVID-19, we would meet face-to-face, have lunch, and share the findings. Now we try to share findings virtually by posting written reports on our website and discussing our research at online meetings. Facebook has also proven to be a popular and effective method to share findings.

4. What is it about a community-based research approach that appealed to you?

We believe community-based research builds capacity and addresses the often-tense relationships between researchers and community by providing an ethical space in which to negotiate how knowledge can be used to best serve the Metis community. Community-based research is collaborative, it involves all partners and recognizes the strengths that everyone brings and privileges the voice of our citizens as it recognizes and values Indigenous knowledge. The research process benefits the community by translating the knowledge gained into prevention and policy change. We are committed that the information we gain should not sit on a shelf. We will take it back to our citizens, they will add to it, and we will plan next steps together.

5. What would you like to see as a result of your research study?

We hope our learnings will influence policy and service delivery regionally and provincially. We want to learn what we can do better as a Metis government to serve our Citizens. The findings from our various studies give our President and Cabinet a good basis for taking action to promote wellness, such as creating a substance use and treatment facility for Metis in the province should that be indicated.

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