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Release issued 25th June 2009
A Memorandum of Understanding between Walpole Island First Nation (WIFN) and The University of Western Ontario has established a policy for all Western researchers who are currently working on collaborative research projects with the WIFN Health Centre, and Heritage Centre, as well as for those university faculty members who are interested in future community-based research.
Walpole Island First Nation, situated at the mouth of the St. Clair River, just downstream of Sarnia. For many years, toxic chemicals have been released from point sources into the St. Clair River by industries located on or near its banks.
Pollutant release has disrupted the culture, lifestyle and economy of the WIFN community, as well as created considerable fears in the community. Members of the WIFN are concerned about the effects of these chemicals on environmental and human health, because Ojibwe cultural teachings stress the importance of preserving a healthy environment for seven generations.
In 2004, WIFN approached Western Professor Jack Bend (Department of Pathology), to carry out a feasibility study for an epidemiological assessment of the impact of toxic pollutants, particularly methylmercury, on the health status of adults and children consuming contaminated water and natural foods, such as fish and muskrats.
WIFN community members identified the issues being studied as priorities, and this led the university to establish on-going collaborative community-based participatory research projects, which have developed over the last few years.
As an indication of the strong support of the WIFN community for evaluating potential adverse health effects of pollutants, the Chief and Band Council have passed resolutions to will facilitate this, including granting permission to clinical members of the Western Ecosystem Health Research Team to access the health records of WIFN band members who agree, to begin to evaluate potential adverse health effects from exposure to environmental contaminants
In November 2008, the research group also partnered with the Attawapiskat First Nation from the James Bay area that collect hair and blood samples from those band members who agree, determine the content of an array of environmental contaminants that may be linked to the burden of disease, including from type 2 diabetes.
The research partnership has been built on the foundation of an excellent pre-existing relationship between WIFN and Western researcher Regna Darnell (Department of Anthropology), who is a participant-researcher in the current work.
Ethics approval for all aspects of this study (biomonitoring; interviews; and examination of health records) was obtained from the Ethics Review Board of the university and of the London Health Sciences Centre.
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