Using Boundary Objects to Co-Create Community Health and Water Knowledge with Community-Based Medical Anthropology and Indigenous Knowledge

Keywords: Indigenous knowledge; community-based methods; biocultural health; water governance and health; environmental determinants of health; co-creating knowledge


This article explores how Indigenous Knowledge and medical anthropology can co-construct community health knowledge through boundary work and the use of boundary objects. It will highlight how community-based participatory research (CBPR) in medical anthropology can help co-develop methods and strategies with Indigenous research partners to assess the human health impact of the First Nations water crisis. We draw on a case study of our community-based approach to health research with Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation community stakeholders and McMaster University researchers. We highlight how framing a co-constructed health survey as a boundary object can create dialogical space for Indigenous and western academic pedagogies and priorities. We also explore how this CBPR anthropology approach, informed by Indigenous Knowledge, allows for deeper foundations of culturally centered health to guide our work in identifying current and future community health needs concerning these ongoing water contamination and access issues. Through three health survey versions, priorities and research questions shifted and expanded to suit growing community health priorities. This led to collaborative action to communicate specific messages around water contamination and access across governance, community, and institutional boundaries. We demonstrate how our co-constructed approach and boundary work allows for the respectful and reciprocal development of these long-term research partnerships and works in solidarity with the Two-Row Wampum (Kaswentha) treaty established by the Haudenosaunee Nation and European settler nations. 

Author Biographies

Sarah Duignan, McMaster University

is a Ph.D. candidate in medical anthropology at McMaster University, Hamilton, ON. Her research interests are exploring the relationships between holistic health and water security using a biocultural approach. She is the coordinator of the community health assessment team for Co-Creation of Indigenous Water Quality Tools. Email: 

Tina Moffat, McMaster University

is an associate professor of anthropology at McMaster University. Her main area of interest is nutrition and food insecurity as it relates to the social, cultural, and physical environment. Her research perspectives are grounded in biocultural and political-economic approaches. She is the Co-Investigator for Co-Creation of Indigenous Water Quality Tools. 

Dawn Martin-Hill

(Mohawk Nation, Wolf Clan) is an associate professor with appointments in the Department of Anthropology and the Indigenous Studies Program at McMaster University. Her research is grounded in the principle that solution-based research in the area of Indigenous health must occur alongside building capacity for community collaborations. She is the Principal Investigator for two Global Water Futures projects, Co-Creation of Indigenous Water Quality Tools, and Ohneganos—Water is Life. 


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How to Cite
DuignanS., MoffatT., & Martin-HillD. (2020). Using Boundary Objects to Co-Create Community Health and Water Knowledge with Community-Based Medical Anthropology and Indigenous Knowledge. Engaged Scholar Journal: Community-Engaged Research, Teaching, and Learning, 6(1), 49-76.