Developing palliative care programs in indigenous communities using participatory action research: A Canadian application of the public health approach to palliative care

Mary Lou Kelley*, Holly Prince, Shevaun Nadin, Kevin Brazil, Maxine Crow, Gaye Hanson, Luanne Maki, Lori Monture, Christopher J. Mushquash, Valerie O’Brien, Jeroline Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
1605 Downloads (Pure)


Background: The Indigenous people of Canada include First Nations, Inuit and Metis. This research focused on four diverse First Nations communities located in Ontario and Manitoba. First Nations communities have well-established culturally-based social processes for supporting their community members experiencing dying, loss, grief and bereavement. However, communities do not have formalized local palliative care (PC) programs and have limited access to medical services, especially pain and symptom management. Methods: Researchers conducted participatory action research (PAR) in partnership with four First Nations communities to create local PC programs. A conceptual framework for community capacity development (Kelley model) and an integrative framework for PC research with First Nations communities guided the research over 6 years. Based on a community assessment, Elders and Knowledge Carriers, community leaders and First Nations health care providers created PC programs grounded in the unique social, spiritual and cultural practices of each community, and integrated them into local health services. Maintaining local control, community members engaged external health care organizations to address gaps in health services. Strategies such as journey mapping clarified roles and strengthened partnerships between community and external health care providers. Finally, community members advocated for needed funding, medication and equipment to provide palliative home care. The research team provided mentorship, facilitation, support, education and resources to the community leaders and documented and evaluated their capacity development process. Results: Our findings contribute to PC practice, policy and research. Four unique PC programs were created that offered First Nations people the choice to receive PC at home, supported by family, community and culture. A workbook of culturally relevant resources was developed for use by interested First Nations communities across Canada, including resources for program development, direct care, education, and engaging external partners. Policy recommendations and a policy framework to guide PC program development in First Nations communities were created. All research outcomes were published on a website and disseminated nationally and internationally. Our work also contributes to furthering discussions of research methods that can advance public health and PC initiatives. We demonstrated the achievements of PAR methods in strengthening community action, developing the personal skills of community health care providers and creating more supportive environments for First Nations people who wish to die at home. The Kelley model was adapted for use by First Nations communities. We also identified keys to success for capacity development. Conclusions: This research provides a Canadian example of implementing a public health approach to PC in an Indigenous context using PAR. It provides evidence of the effectiveness of a community capacity development as a strategy and illustrates how to implement it. This approach, fully grounded in local culture and context, has potential to be adapted to Indigenous communities elsewhere in Canada and internationally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S52-S72
JournalAnnals of Palliative Medicine
Issue numberSupplement 2
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2018


  • Community capacity development
  • Indigenous
  • Palliative care (PC)
  • Participatory action research (PAR)
  • Public health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Advanced and Specialised Nursing
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Developing palliative care programs in indigenous communities using participatory action research: A Canadian application of the public health approach to palliative care'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this