University of Manitoba Researcher Wins Award for Work on COVID-19 Indigenous App

Image: Osani Balkaran

Dr. Moneca Sinclaire, a researcher at the University of Manitoba’s department of environment and geography, was recently presented with the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation – Indigenous.

The award was in recognition of her work on an app that helps Canada’s Indigenous communities survey their residents about health and social issues, and own the data they collect — reports CTV News Winnipeg.

“I think what it does is it opens the door for others to know about the project,” she said about her award during an interview with the news outlet on Friday.

“I’m very honoured it got selected, because to me it shows that people are listening and people are understanding that we as Indigenous people want to be able to collect our own data and have data sovereignty.”

The app was originally designed to help Indigenous communities collect data on COVID-19 from within. When community chiefs and councils asked if it could be used for other purposes as well, the app was expanded to collect other types of information.

“The whole notion of data sovereignty is that it’s research for Indigenous people and by Indigenous people, so we said, ‘Yes, why not?'” said Sinclaire, a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

According to Sinclaire, the app has since evolved to cover various topics in various Indigenous communities across the country, including language, health, and other social issues.

Speaking of language, we recently covered an app from the Ditidaht First Nation that’s designed to teach their native language to kids through games.

In fact, communities can tailor the app to fit their specific data needs, with help from Sinclaire and the rest of her team. “We can train people in the communities to use the app, and then they can collect data in their community,” said the researcher.

“Part of the training is that we’ll show them how to use the data and what it could be used for.”

Sinclaire joined the project during its second year of development as an outreach coordinator for the app. She said her job is to take the app to various communities, show what it could do, and help develop relationships with them.

“The plan is to have long-term relationships with the communities,” said Sinclaire.

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The researcher stressed the importance of the app for the Indigenous landscape in the country, noting that it not only gives communities ownership of their own data but also enables them to decide what information to collect and how that information will be used.

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