Laurier’s Melody Morton Ninomiya named Canada Research Chair in Community-Driven Knowledge Mobilization and Pathways to Wellness

WATERLOO – Melody Morton Ninomiya has been named the Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Community-Driven Knowledge Mobilization and Pathways to Wellness. An assistant professor in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Department of Health Sciences, Morton Ninomiya works with First Nations, communities and organizations to co-develop research projects centred around local knowledge systems, protocols and priorities.

The prestigious CRC program aims to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds. Morton Ninomiya will receive research funding for a five-year term, including support for Laurier student researchers.

“As a Canada Research Chair, I plan to raise the profile of community-driven knowledge mobilization and expand networks of community research partners and collaborators,” said Morton Ninomiya. 

“Knowledge mobilization” refers to activities and efforts made to share research findings.

“If research is intended to make a difference, then knowledge mobilization is critical,” she said. “It is often the reason non-academic communities and organizations are motivated to be part of research in the first place: for the tangible benefits that come from the findings. Unfortunately, knowledge mobilization theories, practices, skills and approaches are not always taught or prioritized in research training.”

Morton Ninomiya’s research is largely focused on health and wellness in Indigenous communities throughout Canada. Her collaborations have contributed to local priorities such as strategic wellness plans and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder prevention. Morton Ninomiya has been studying and establishing conventions for knowledge mobilization in Indigenous contexts and has trialed accessible approaches such as community feasts, online viewing parties, art exhibitions and land-based gatherings.

With funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Morton Ninomiya recently co-developed an online training resource to guide researchers who are considering research partnerships with Indigenous communities. In 2019, she was awarded a New Frontiers in Research grant for a national study demonstrating how including Indigenous knowledge in research benefits Indigenous peoples.

“Laurier research is largely driven by enriching community partnerships, and Dr. Morton Ninomiya epitomizes that approach,” said Jonathan Newman, Laurier’s vice-president: research. “Her respectful, innovative research and knowledge mobilization have made her a sought-after collaborator, as evidenced by her longstanding partnerships with Indigenous communities. I am pleased to see her work influencing her peers and shaping best practices globally.”

At Laurier, Morton Ninomiya leads the Interdisciplinary and Indigenous Pathways to Wellness Research Group, which partners on applied health research projects requested by communities, organizations and governments. She prioritizes hiring Indigenous graduate students as research assistants so they can be co-mentored by Indigenous scholars, knowledge keepers and Elders. Her research partners include Dehcho First Nations in the Northwest Territories, where Morton Ninomiya and her students are helping staff assess the needs of community members to inform culturally relevant health and wellness services; and Sheshatshiu Innu First Nations and Mushuau First Nations in Labrador, whom she has been collaborating with for more than a decade.

“My relationships with people in both communities, originally stemming from a research project, have grown in ways that have instilled mutual trust, respect and longstanding friendships,” said Morton Ninomiya. “By investing in the relationships, we get to know more about each other’s worlds, which inherently improves the quality and relevance of research.”

Morton Ninmoyia is a Laurier alumna, having graduated with a bachelor’s degree majoring in Kinesiology and Mathematics. Before returning to Laurier as a faculty member in 2019, she completed her PhD in Community Health and Humanities at Memorial University of Newfoundland and worked for organizations including the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Centre for Community Based Research and Well Living House at St. Michael’s Hospital.