Hoèla Weteèst’eèdeè: Understanding Community Wellbeing Around Giant Mine

Regions: North Slave Region

Tags: arsenic, environmental health, Giant Mine, stress

Principal Investigator: Shankardass , Ketan (1)
Licence Number: 16986
Organization: Wilfrid Laurier University
Licensed Year(s): 2022
Issued: Apr 29, 2022
Project Team: Dr. Sue Moodie

Objective(s): To evaluate the overall health impacts of stress in the population currently living in proximity to Giant Mine and to understand the impact of stress related to arsenic-exposure and potential arsenic-exposure as part of a comprehensive human health risk assessment as well as measure the impacts that stress related to arsenic-exposure and potential arsenic exposure has to health and quality of life and improve public confidence in the Giant Mine Remediation Project and reduce the Giant Mine related health burden in the population.

Project Description: This licence has been issued for the scientific research application No.5105.

The purpose of the Study is to: 1) Meet Measure 10 of the Environmental Assessment to: a) Evaluate the overall health impacts of stress in the population currently living in proximity to Giant Mine: residents of Yellowknife, Dettah, and Ndilo who have been living in the area for at least one year; b) Understand the impact of stress related to arsenic-exposure and potential arsenic-exposure as part of a comprehensive human health risk assessment; c) Measure the impacts that stress related to arsenic-exposure and potential arsenic exposure has to health and quality of life; and d) Improve public confidence in the Giant Mine Remediation Project (GMRP) and reduce the Giant Mine related health burden in the population; 2) Meet the measure in a way that responds to concerns raised in relation to Giant Mine to: a) Strengthen and promote Yellowknives Dene culture and values, including incorporating the Wii`lii`deh language into the Study; b) Limit stress caused by participation in the study and provide supports to address potential harms; c) Inform people of any potential psychological and intergenerational effects of arsenic exposure.

This is a mixed methods study. The main outcome of interest is stress, which will be measured via a survey that asks about: self-report of current symptoms and recent chronic stress (using a modified version of the Stress-in-Context scale); and via biomarker measures to characterize lifetime/cumulative chronic stress based on the Allostatic Load Index score. To capture the total burden of illness related to stress effects, the study will also examine a range of self-reported related health manifestations in the survey. Participant experiences with various sources of stress related to the legacy of the Giant Mine will be captured on the survey through a series of close-ended (yes/no and ratings) and open-ended questions. In addition to measuring stress comprehensively, the research team aims to identify communities within the study population with relatively high burdens of stress ('vulnerable groups') so that we can inform interventions that target relevant sources of stress and otherwise provide supports.

Information from biomarker collection and survey questions will be analyzed to meet the following objectives: 1) Assess the burden of chronic stress and related health manifestations in the study population; 2) Assess the relative contribution of different Giant Mine-related sources of stress; 3) Identify subpopulation groups at higher risk for stress related to Giant Mine (i.e., vulnerable groups); 4) Characterize the unique burdens of stress and related health manifestations, and resilience, of vulnerable groups; 5) For vulnerable groups, analyze how the Remediation Project and other activities can address important sources of stress; and 6) For vulnerable groups, analyze how healing and mitigation activities can improve wellbeing.

Participants will be asked to complete a survey. There are five different surveys for different age groups: a caregiver report for adult caregivers of children aged 5 to 9; a 5 to 9 year-old child survey; 10-13 year-old survey; a 14-18 year-old survey, and; a 19+ year-old survey. Only participants who are 16+ years of age will be able to complete the survey online; they may also complete the survey with assistance from a research assistant or counsellor. For participants between ages 5-15, surveys will have to be completed with support from an interviewer or counsellor. Participants who are age 20+ will also be invited to provide biomarkers to measure Allostatic Load Index using a standardized approach. Prior to their appointment, participants will receive information via email.

Biomarkers to measure Allostatic Load Index include: 1) Hip-to-Waist ratio measurement; 2) Blood pressure measurement; 3) Heart Rate measurement; and 4) Blood collection (which will measure Serum Albumin, C-reactive protein, High Density Lipoprotein, Total Cholesterol, and Hemoglobin)

An intake form will also be used to screen these participants for Covid-19; identify known allergies and sensitivities to clinical settings; and collect information about emergency contacts.

Following analysis of biomarkers, participants will receive a report of their allostatic load index. As the research team analyzes data, the team will also be identifying vulnerable groups with higher levels of stress related to Giant Mine than other participants. The research team may invite participants from vulnerable groups to discuss findings and seek input on potential interventions to ameliorate stress in workshops. This will not involve data collection, rather the team will take notes on the discussion without retaining personally identifying information in order to help us interpret our findings and make recommendations.

Given the disproportionate impact of the mine legacy on the territory and livelihood of the Yellowknives Dene, the study has been designed to be relevant to and culturally appropriate for Yellowknives Dene with a goal to strengthen community well-being, Dene values, sense of connection, and pride and dignity of the community. The study integrates Wii`lii`deh language and well-being concepts. More generally, a key objective of the study is to facilitate improvements in stress and mental health in all vulnerable groups identifying in the study area through targeted mitigation and healing activities. The study will also involve members of local communities in the interpretation of the findings, and aim to build research capacity by hiring local researchers and other study personnel, where possible.

Capacity Building: This stage aims to raise awareness for the project and create buy-in from local resident community members and organizations. Building a network of community organizations and other key stakeholders will support the identification of recruitment strategies and methods in order to achieve the target sample sizes and groups. The objective of this stage is to communicate that this study is a community-building effort. Its purpose is to catalyse healing and wellness by making achievable recommendations that can be implemented to lessen the burden of chronic stress associated with Giant Mine. Through implementation, the study will be providing and promoting access to counselling among study participants and affected communities.

Recruitment: The project has budgeted for a series of town hall events to talk about the study as recruitment begins. The plan is to have one public discussion in each community (Ndilo, Dettah and Yellowknife) about the study leading up to its launch. Public advertising and recruitment campaign will consist of radio and newsprint ads, posters, a social media page and website. Study staff, based out of a study office in downtown Yellowknife, will also be available to discuss the research study with interested participants. Objectives: Recruit 1,084 study participants to form a representative sample of the people living in the Yellowknife area. Explain the project and obtain informed consent from participants (and legal guardians in the case of minors). Secondary objectives: A public recruitment campaign will also create general interest in the project and present an opportunity to answer questions/create dialogue about its guiding principles and main objectives.

Post- Data Collection Community Engagement: This stage is crucial to fulfilling the mandate of this project to inform actions that will catalyse healing and wellness within the communities impacted by Giant Mine. The study plan includes a period of community engagement to discuss the statistical picture of what we’re finding. This will identify vulnerable groups based on the preliminary analysis, and further engage with these groups to drill down on the stress they are experiencing, better understand their responses to the initial survey, and ascertain what can be done to help reconcile the stress related to Giant Mine that they are experiencing. Another aspect of ongoing communication with participants after the data collection stage is ensuring they have continuous access to counselling - not just immediately after participating in the survey.

Communicating the Results of the Final Report: After the research team delivers the final report, there will be a round of more formal gatherings to communicate the findings with the public. The study budgets and plans for events in each community. These will be public forums which will specifically target those who have participated in the study with invitations, and also be open to the public.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from April 29, 2022 to December 31, 2022