Beginning with Our Voices: How the Experiential Stories of First Nations Women Contribute to a National Research Project

  • Sharon Acoose Assistant Professor Indian Social Work, First Nations University of Canada, Saskatoon Campus
  • Debbie Blunderfield Community Member
  • Colleen Anne Dell Research Chair in Substance Abuse, University of Saskatchewan & Senior Research Associate, Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse
  • Val Desjarlais Community Member
Keywords: Stigma, healing, identity, drug use, criminalization, community-based research, Aboriginal methodology, feminist research practices


The purpose of this paper is to review how the experiential stories of First Nations women contribute to a national research project. The project focuses on how women’s healing is impacted by their views about themselves as - and the stigma associated with being - a drug user, involved in crime and an Aboriginal woman.

Our project began with three First Nations women on our research team documenting the role of stigma and self-identity in their personal healing journeys from problematically using drugs and being in conflict with the law. In this paper we discuss how key components of feminist research practices, Aboriginal methodology and community-based research helped us position the women’s experiential stories in authoritative, recognized and celebrated ways in our study. We illustrate how the women’s stories uniquely contributed to the creation of our interview questions and the research project in general. We also discuss how the women personally benefited from writing about and sharing their experiences. Key benefits include the women discovering the impact of the written word, promotion of their healing, personal recognition of their ability to offer hope to women in need, increased self-esteem, and increased appreciation of the importance of sharing their lived experiences with others. Our method of research differs from a conventional western scientific approach to understanding, and as such made important contributions to both the project itself and the women who shared their experiential stories.